Maple Leafs place struggling Nick Ritchie on waivers

One too many failed back checks. At least for now.

As healthy as they have been all season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have decided that winger Nick Ritchie is the odd man out, placing him on waivers Thursday. The intent is to stash the high(ish)-earning winger on the taxi squad in the event that he clears, Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun reports.

Toronto will accrue just over $1 million in cap space if successful with the move.

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 16: Nick Ritchie #20 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on against the Ottawa Senators during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 16, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
Nick Ritchie hasn't had a great start to his Maple Leafs career. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Ritchie re-entered the Maple Leafs' lineup on Wednesday versus the Edmonton Oilers after sitting on New Year's Day, and finished the game with two shots and a minus-one rating in 7:31 of ice time. He earned a sizeable share of the blame on Edmonton's first goal of the night when he was late to close on Brendan Perlini on a back check.

It was a rather accurate snapshot of his tenure so far with the Maple Leafs. Slipping from the first line to the fourth line while mired in a lengthy goal drought to begin the year, Ritchie has struggled all season to provide value on the two-year, $5-million contract signed in the offseason.

He will finish his first stint with the franchise with one goal and eight points in 30 games.

Ritchie's acquisition — Toronto's most expensive this past offseason — is a definite blemish on Kyle Dubas's summer remodelling, but the Leafs GM has earned a pass on the deal due to the success he's had elsewhere. David Kampf and Ondrej Kase, who have formed an extremely effective third line for head coach Sheldon Keefe, and top-six winger Michael Bunting, have each played major roles in the Leafs' success, and combine to earn only $3.7 million — or $1.2 million more than Ritchie.

All signs point to Ritchie still being an important part of Toronto's plans in the intermediate term. Keefe has continuously gone to bat for the forward, who will likely be the first call if and when the Maple Leafs are dealt another injury, assuming the salary cap allows for it.

And, of course, that the other 31 teams pass on his services.

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