Signs of health abound for damaged Maple Leafs defence

Mike Babcock addresses the media ahead of Monday night's contest against the Florida Panthers, mentioning that Calle Rosen will get his chance with the Toronto Maple Leafs later this week, and that Gardiner and Dermott are nearing return from injury.

TORONTO – Suddenly, positive signs abound for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ injury-ravaged blue line.

Travis Dermott ditched the non-contact sweater, Jake Gardiner is skating regularly, Martin Maricin is through with the flu, and next man up Calle Rosen is back to racking up points in the farm system.

“It looks like our D is starting to get healthy,” coach Mike Babcock said Monday, “and that’s an important piece for us.”

The lefties are getting closer to feeling all right.

The left side of the Maple Leafs’ defence — believed to be a source of organizational depth, especially following the deadline addition of Jake Muzzin — has flooded sick bay over the past month, with Dermott (shoulder), Gardiner (back), Marincin (illness), Rosen (foot) and Andreas Borgman (concussion) each getting sidelined for multiple games.

Here’s your happy Monday update, Leafs Nation:

• Dermott, who’s been out of the lineup since suffering a shoulder injury from a Brad Malone check on Feb. 27, participated in Toronto’s optional morning skate Monday, ditching the red, non-contact sweater for the first time.

“He sat out a few drills yesterday,” Babcock said. “I don’t think he’ll sit out anymore.”

Dermott has been focusing on leg work during his rehabilitation and has no concerns about his conditioning. He’s simply being cautious to ensure his shoulder is strong enough to absorb hard checks.

“I don’t know if I’m in better shape or I’m just happy to be excited to be out there with the guys,” said Dermott, who holds no ill will toward Malone for ramming his shoulder out of place. “It’s more frustration. Especially this time of year, you don’t want to go down and risk hurting your team at all.”

• Prior to taking a puck off his foot on Feb. 22, Rosen was enjoying such a productive season on the Marlies’ top pair that he’d earned a two-year contract extension and was firmly in the running for the AHL’s Top Defenceman of the Year Award.

“I know he’s having a career year, but he was this good last year,” said rookie Leafs defender Justin Holl, who hoisted a Calder Cup with Rosen last spring.

“He’s a great skater, really good with the puck. Really good in transition and closes out fast. Doesn’t give guys much time and uses his skating ability to his advantage.”

Rosen finally returned to game action Sunday, notching an assist for his 44th point of the season, and Babcock said the big club plans to recall Rosen after one more game with the Marlies. That would make him available for Saturday’s game in Ottawa.

“I thought he looked good. I thought we used him probably 10 minutes more than I wanted to use him today just given it’s his first game in a month or so,” Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters after Sunday’s 5-4 loss to Rochester. “However long it’s going to take [to reach his pre-injury form], I don’t know.

“We are obviously happy to have him in the lineup and get him back going, but I’m sure he’s quite tired right now.”

• Marincin sat all three of Toronto’s games last week as he recovered from a bout with the flu, forcing Babcock to fill out the bottom of his lineup card with two unproven righties, Holl and Igor Ozhiganov.

Marincin is good to go Monday versus Florida. Ozhiganov draws out, which is an encouraging sign for Holl, who will get his seventh start in March after playing just three games total prior to this month.

“To go through all the workouts and all the practices and not get the reward is tough,” said Holl, savouring his newfound ice time. “It’s great to be in the lineup, string some games together and get some confidence going. I’m building on it every game.”

• The big question mark remains Gardiner and the severity of his back ailment.

“I haven’t talked to anyone about him today. I don’t really know,” said Babcock, who has yet to provide a timeline for Gardiner’s return.

The Leafs’ second-best defenceman skated again with a small group Monday in a red, non-contact sweater, but team p.r. did not make him available to speak.

“He’s moving really well,” said Dermott, a glass-half-full guy who hit the ice with Gardiner while the rest of the club travelled last week. “I’ve seen him progress exponentially.”

With the playoffs set to begin in 16 days, that’s music to the ears of Leafs Nation.

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