The salary cap was always going to be an issue this season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and it has now created a rare scenario.
With an injury to one of their goaltenders and other players unavailable on a short-term basis, the team was forced to sign an amateur goaltender to dress as their backup against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.
Alex Bishop, a third-year University of Toronto goaltender from Richmond Hill will put on the Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.
"It just comes down to that the flat cap has created some situations that are difficult to manage even [more] than they were a year ago," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.
On Thursday night, Leafs goaltender Petr Mrazek injured his groin in the second period of the team's 3-2 loss to Ottawa Senators. His injury hasn't been fully assessed as of Saturday morning, but Keefe said they don't expect the goaltender to be out long-term.
With Matthews still recovering from wrist surgery and Mrazek unavailable to play, the Leafs were left with 20 skaters and no cap space on the active roster. The simplest move would have been to send defenseman Timothy Liljegren down (one of two players on the team that can be sent down without waivers) to the minors and call up Michael Hutchinson to serve as the backup.
However, Leafs defenseman Justin Holl is also unavailable to play due to cold symptoms.
"His PCR test hasn't come back yet and that created another situation for us," Keefe said.
Regardless of the COVID test result, Holl will not suit up. That left the Leafs with 18 skaters and one goaltender.
Under Article 50.10 (e) of the NHL's salary cap, the Leafs have to dress under the minimum of 20 players for at least one game in order to call up a goaltender to exceed the cap. That player's cap hit cannot exceed $850,000 (NHL league minimum plus $100.000).
Instead of opting to go this route, the Leafs chose to sign Bishop as an amateur to serve as the backup.
Last season, amendments were made to Article 50.10 (e) that allowed the team to carry a goaltender on the taxi squad and activate that goaltender. That's no longer in place for 2021-22 and the Leafs were left less-than-ideal options.
There were many teams last season that dressed less than 20 players for one game in order to call up players on an emergency exception.
This specific scenario where the team is short on goaltenders but not skaters (with no available cap space) has never happened before and the interpretation of how this unfolds is something that teams will keep an eye on.
The key takeaway for the Leafs is that Mrazek's injury doesn't appear to be a long-term issue and that's should breathe some sigh of relief for a team worried about goaltending depth.