Can Waiver Acquisition Seth Griffith Help the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Nov 18, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center Seth Griffith (53) keeps the puck away from St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) during the second period at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 18, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center Seth Griffith (53) keeps the puck away from St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) during the second period at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

It was just a week ago on October 11th that the Toronto Maple Leafs made a waiver wire claim picking up Seth Griffith. Where he is an unknown to most Leafs fans, assistant GM Mark Hunter knows this player quite well and how he might help the Leafs.

One day prior to the opening night of every NHL season, all teams in the league must trim their rosters to 23 players. It is during this time period, which generally takes place over the three days leading up to the lineup pruning deadline, that any number of waiver eligible players are exposed to the waiver wire around the league.

As a result of last season’s 30th place finish, the Maple Leafs have the number one waiver priority, which they will maintain until at least November 1st of this year when waiver priority is reassigned based on points in the current season’s standings. This year’s waiver period was a unique opportunity for the rebuilding Leafs as essentially, they had first crack at any  player exposed to waivers.

It is important to note that during the process of determining whether or not a waiver wire acquisition can help your team, there must be a roster spot awaiting that player. This is the single biggest reason that substantially more waiver claims are not made at the beginning of the season when so many players are exposed for reassignment.

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Every team in the league has just gone through the painstaking process of determining their 23 man roster with little consideration given to who might come available on the waiver wire. It is an unknown after all, a last-minute opportunity, or lack thereof, dependent entirely upon the variables of team needs and who might be available.

The Leafs exposed four of their own players to waivers:

  • Andrew Campbell
  • Brooks Laich
  • Colin Greening
  • Byron Froese

The reality here, however, is that only Byron Froese was truly at risk of being claimed. Campbell had been destined to captain the Marlies again this year and was signed to a two-way contract with an unusually high $400,000 AHL salary. For a marginal NHL depth defenseman who would inevitably be reassigned to the AHL, his high AHL salary acts as a “poison pill” deterrent to any team with thoughts of claiming him.

Laich and Greening have one year each remaining on one-way NHL contracts with high salaries that were not likely to be claimed. Froese on the other hand is a serviceable depth player on a league minimum two-way contract.

This may all be interesting but why did the Leafs claim Seth Griffith?

I would contend that this is an inherent aspect of this stage of an organizational rebuild, the targeting and/or acquisition of players that represent upgrades in skill and ability to specific players at certain positions that are currently under contract.

In Griffith’s case, he was the runner-up in the AHL scoring race last season and has been an offensive threat at every level he has played. As a fourth year pro on a one year — just above league minimum contract — he is a low risk bargain that can play center or wing and regularly chip in some secondary offense. This versatility alone will help the Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Oct 6, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Boston Bruins center Seth Griffith (53) against the Columbus Blue Jackets during a preseason hockey game at Nationwide Arena. The Bruins won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

"“I don’t know much about him to be honest,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “Mark Hunter and his group obviously felt he was a guy who might be able to help us.”"

This type of player acquisition, where no assets are given up in return, is laudable enough but there is even more to be encouraged about in this particular case. Arguably, the most unique and ultimately successful managerial and player acquisition philosophies in major league sports of the recent era, have been utilized by Theo Epstein.

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Epstein was/is the brilliant architect of the recent rebuild and dramatic turnaround of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs. Deep within Epstein’s “rules of player acquisition” is the simple premise of acquiring the known player over the unknown player whenever possible. Griffith is by all measures that known player. With the London Knights organization from 2009 to 2013, where Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter drafted him No. 65 in the OHL Priority Selection, he was also coached by Hunter for a full season, to a Memorial Cup second place finish.

Griffith’s first task is to make his abilities known to coach Babcock. This may take some time and will likely delay his Leafs audition, but it will come and when it does there are a few things we can look forward to. Griffith is smallish and stocky: standing at 5-foot-9 and weighing192 pounds, but he has an unusual hockey sense complimenting offensive abilities and a tenacious style of play. He acquitted himself quite well over 34 NHL games played with Boston producing 11 points in total.

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As a roster player and the only spare forward sitting in the press box, Griffith will likely see NHL action with Leafs as the first injury replacement at virtually any forward position throughout the lineup. It is the simple fact that he can do just that, play any forward position as a fill in from the first to the fourth lines, that makes him such a valuable acquisition. Griffith will help the Leafs at some point and somewhere in the lineup.

We just don’t know when and where yet … Your thoughts?