Insanity is defined as repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting to yield different results. That is essentially what writing about Josh Leivo is like on a season-to-season basis.
Leivo sits in the same position now that he did four years ago. Just on the cusp of a full-time NHL job, he has never quite proven worthy of forcing his way on to the roster. Leivo would be widely considered as the Toronto Maple Leafs most perplexing prospect, if not for the fact that, at 24 years old, he can no longer identify as one.
The 2017-18 season serves as the pivotal moment of Josh Leivo’s career. There are really only two paths he can follow. He can have a phenomenal training camp and season, proving himself to be a useful roster component for the foreseeable future. Alternatively, he could spend another season barricaded in the press box, finding himself on the outside of the Leafs organization altogether.
Time will tell which path he ultimately follows.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Josh Leivo
When it came to Leafs players remaining in the press box, Frank Corrado was typically the first name that came to mind. However, Leivo suffered practically the same fate, with his being less justified than Corrado’s.
In the 13 NHL games that he managed to suit up for, Leivo put up 10 points. Fitting in perfect on a line with Nazem Kadri, he additionally earned some coveted power play time as well. Performing at nearly a point per game pace in such limited playing time is undoubtedly impressive. Yet, it was not impressive enough to secure a full-time job.
The remarkable health of the Leafs last season left Leivo on the outside looking in. During a typical season, a winger would inevitably be lost to injury, thus opening a spot for Leivo to slot into. Unfortunately for him, that never happened.
When Nikita Soshnikov suffered a season ending injury in February, it was Kasperi Kapanen who filled in for him, ahead of Leivo. Mike Babcock cited that this was due to Kapanen’s ability to play on the penalty kill, an ability Leivo lacks.
As a relatively one dimensional offensive player, Leivo is limited in what he can bring to the Leafs. This is a troublesome fact when considering his roster status. As a fringe NHL player, his chances of carving out a roster spot would certainly increase, were he able to competently play at both ends of the ice.
Instead of capitalizing on a rare chance to receive extended playing time when Soshnikov went down, Leivo’s lack of defensive ability stood in his way.
Leivo’s underlying numbers have been stellar from year to year. He registered a fantastic 55.3% CF in 2016-17 at even strength, showing he, in fact, does have value outside of the power play. Furthermore, Leivo managed to produce offensively while beginning 53.9% of his shifts in the defensive zone.
With such fantastic underlying numbers, why hasn’t Leivo been able to crack the lineup consistently? The fact that he too often becomes a passenger on his own line seems to play a large part in that.
Leivo’s CF% when playing alongside his most common linemate, Nazem Kadri, clocked in at an astounding 57.69%. However, that number drops all the way down to 51.04% when the two were separated, clearly revealing Kadri to be the player on his line who drives play. Leivo is still a positive possession player in his own right, but such a dip in possession is not a good look on him.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 203 lbs
NHL Entry Draft: Third round, 86th Overall in 2011 by Toronto
Contract (via CapFriendly)
Josh Leivo signed a two-year contract with a cap hit of $612,500 in July 2016. His contract works to handcuff the Leafs, as due to his age and NHL experience, he is waivers eligible. Leivo is stuck in roster purgatory. Unable to crack the NHL lineup, he also cannot be sent down due to the risk of the Leafs losing him for free.
If Leivo were to become a full-time Leaf and produce to his potential, having signed for under a million dollars is fantastic value. But that is a big “if”.
Once the 2017-18 season is over, Leivo becomes an RFA once more. However, if he fails to prove he is a piece for them moving forward, it is entirely possible that he does not even receive a qualifying offer.
It looks like Josh Leivo will be doing the same thing again this season, hoping to yield a different result. With the Leafs signing Patrick Marleau to play the wing, the hurdle of a lack of roster spots is destined to bedevil him once again.
Leivo’s one glimmering hope is rooted in injuries. The Leafs were so healthy last season that they are destined to regress in that department. All it would take it one long term injury to a winger and Leivo could seize the opportunity.
Unless it’s on a conditioning stint, Leivo cannot be sent to the Marlies without passing through waivers first. It truly is NHL or bust for him. Unfortunately, all Leivo can do is patiently wait for an opportunity to present itself, and make the most of it. If he fails to do that, his days in Toronto could be numbered.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images