Quick Shifts: How does Rasmus Sandin fit into Maple Leafs’ plans?

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin (38) celebrates his goal against the Dallas Stars with teammtes on the bench during first period NHL action in Toronto on Tuesday March 15, 2022. (Frank Gunn/CP)

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Igor’s better (so far).

1. Pretend to be Kyle Dubas for a minute and sketch — pencil only! — your proposed defence pairings for Opening Night 2022, based solely on players under club control.

You’ll likely come up with something like this:

Morgan Rielly – T.J. Brodie

Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl

Mark Giordano – Timothy Liljegren

Rasmus Sandin

Remember, we said pencil.

Liljegren and Sandin are restricted free agents in need of raises, which should be manageable because neither has arbitration rights nor the gaudy stat lines that would demand long-term commitments right away.

Midseason rental Ilya Lyubushkin received positive reviews and was a welcome physical presence on the right. He’s a UFA and could be re-signed.

More intriguing: Holl is in the final year of his deal and respected veteran Muzzin’s trade value may never be higher than it is on July 2. It’s conceivable one of the two might be moved.

But as things stand, the Maple Leafs’ left-side logjam leaves Sandin — a Soo alum and Dubas’s original first-round pick — on the outside looking in.

Surely, the confident 22-year-old could not be thrilled by sitting out the 2022 postseason after rehabbing his injured knee.

Coach Sheldon Keefe was reluctant to throw an inexperienced player into the fire after so many weeks away from game action. And, hey, the Leafs never trailed the Lightning series until it was all over.

Still, dropping from five playoff appearances in 2021 to zero the next spring, and watching the club double-down on a more cap-friendly left-side fixture and PP2 quarterback has to get the wheels turning.

Despite two knee injuries, the hungry Sandin took a step in his platform season. He was willing to throw the body (88 hits in 51 games). He thrived in mostly sheltered minutes and saw his ice-time climb to 16:58.

But the triple-whammy of the Giordano acquisition, his rehab, and the curve of his stick saw good friend Liljegren’s prominence on the third pair rise down the stretch.

Keefe once experimented with Sandin on his off-side, with Rielly, and it blew up like a science-fair volcano.

OK. So, what can be done to smooth things out here as Sandin and agent Lewis Gross prepare to negotiate?

There are options:

• Sandin himself would represent a heck of a trade chip with his best hockey still ahead of him and an intense love of the game and desire to improve driving him. And if the Leafs could find a true top-four right shot to partner with Rielly — a top priority, in my opinion — the rest of the corps would slot in better.

• Push Sandin to improve as a right defenceman over the summer. Maybe he can develop into the next Brodie, comfortable on his unnatural side. Or maybe he becomes the next Travis Dermott — high-potential, no niche.

• Trade Muzzin and trust the kid. This is tricky. The Cup winner’s presence both in the room and on the ice is incredibly valuable to teammates and staff alike. That said, he a tradable asset.

Eliminating Muzzin’s cap hit ($5.625 million through 2024) would allow Dubas to spend on his crease and right side. And if he were to be dealt after his $2 million July 1 signing bonus kicks in, Muzzin’s base salary for 2022-23 would be just $2 million. A bargain.

Muzzin has a 10-team no-trade list, and that’s not an easy conversation to have. Further, replacing Muzzin with Sandin doesn’t immediately make the Leafs a better defensive group — when they need to win. Only if a Muzzin deal yields a return to aid the right side, be it directly or through freeing money to sign a UFA, does this option work.

No easy answers, certainly. But we’re curious to see how this plays out.

Not nearly as curious as Sandin must be, though.

2. St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong is facing some compelling free-agent decisions this summer, as 27-goal man David Perron, top-four defenceman Nick Leddy and 1B goaltender Ville Husso are all unrestricted.

His $9 million in cap space isn’t enough to take care of them all, and it sounds like dealing away a resurgent Vladimir Tarasenko ahead of his contract season to free up room is not in the cards.

Asked this week whether the Russian power forward would be on his roster in 2022-23, Armstrong told reporters: “I’m not concerned about Vladi for next year at all.”

Perron, 34, sounds like the best bet to re-sign. Age be damned.

“He fights Father Time better than anyone, than 95, 99 per cent of the NHL. What he did this year was spectacular. He’s a very good player, and more importantly, he’s a better person,” Armstrong said.

“I’ve seen him grow and become a husband and a father. I’ve seen the influence he’s had on our younger players. They see the competitiveness that he has on a daily basis. He’s a true pro and (has) been a very good St. Louis Blue. And if we can make it work out, I’d love to.”

Perron said he’d like to extend his third tour in St. Louis: “I’d love to be back. I feel like I’ve built myself as a player over the years, and I want to keep this going, for sure.”

We’re power-ranking the homegrown Husso as the second most likely to stay put. But the money and opportunity to be a No. 1 goaltender in another market threatens to pull him away.

“I’m a Ville Husso fan. I told him I’d love him to come back, but it’s a business for him also,” Armstrong said. “He’s put himself in a spot now where if he wants to test the market, I would understand it.”

We know how thin the UFA goalie market will be. Husso must weigh comfort and development versus a swift payday, perhaps with a weaker team.

If Husso walks, Leddy's chances of staying improve.

Armstrong’s immediate decisions will be shaped by the future of captain Ryan O’Reilly, a 2023 UFA who is worthy of a raise above his current $7.5-million cap hit and becomes eligible for a long extension on July 13.

O’Reilly said he “absolutely” wants to re-sign: “It’s a place I want to be.”

With Tarasenko’s salary coming off the books the same summer an O’Reilly raise would kick in, there is a path to get an extension worked out sooner than later.

3. Quote of the Week comes courtesy of TNT broadcaster Wayne Gretzky.

Watching his Edmonton Oilers and the Colorado Avalanche combine for 14 goals in that beautiful mess of a Game 1, littered with breakaways and breakdowns, odd-man rushes and loose checks, Gretzky sounded off nicely.

“I wish I could’ve played this kind of playoff hockey in my day,” he said.

“Listen, I was the most offensive player maybe to ever live. You gotta play defence, man. That’s how you win Stanley Cups.”

4. We should weigh the amount of time we’ve wasted by video-reviewing borderline offsides and goalie-interference calls (lots) versus the amount of controversy we’ve eliminated since implementing these video reviews (not so much).

Hockey may be a game played with a black puck on white ice, but there is no killing of the grey area.

Fans are just redirecting their anger at the behind-the-scenes review folks instead of the on-ice officials. But the frustration level feels unchanged.

5. Sixteen teams make these playoffs.

Through two rounds, 30 goaltenders — or an average of 1.875 goalies per team — had already made at least one appearance.

That’s already the most since 30 were used in the entire 1999 tournament (excluding the 24-team 2020 bubble).

Dallas (Jake Oettinger), Florida (Sergei Bobrovsky) and Tampa Bay (Andrei Vasilevskiy) are the only teams to not reach for a backup or two.

Most goaltenders ever used in the playoffs?

Thirty-two, in 1990 and 1996.

6. Imagine winning the William Jennings Trophy and getting unravelled when it matters, at least partly, due to substandard goaltending.

The Carolina Hurricanes took a gamble betting on their brand-new tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta. Both are excellent when on their game. Both are notoriously prone to injury.

And so, the Canes’ season ends with Pyotr Kochetkov — a man you must both Google and spellcheck — and his .869 save percentage in the crease.

As was the case last playoffs, Andersen never appeared.

He’d been nursing a torn MCL since April 16, and his coach grew weary with the health uncertainty and status updates. A movie we’ve seen before.

“I'll tell you when he's an option — how about that?" Rod Brind'Amour told reporters during the series.

Andersen said he was "really close" to being ready, suggesting Round 3 might’ve been an option.

“That’s kind of why we got him, for these moments. But injuries happen. This time of year, it’s part of the game,” Brind’Amour said.

Still, Andersen’s unavailability — particularly against a dialled-in Igor Shesterkin — lingers as a sore spot for an organization whose identity is preventing goals, not scoring them.

The list of Hurricanes free agents is a long one this off-season, and it includes key contributors Vincent Trocheck (who says he wants to stay), Anthony DeAngelo, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Necas, Max Domi, Ian Cole and Brendan Smith.

Goaltending is the only position that won’t require a re-signing.

But after seeing Andersen and Raanta go down (again, with MCL of his own) at the most critical time, GM Don Waddell must ask himself if he’s willing to run back a $6.5-million tandem of 33-year-olds with another year of wear and tear under their belts.

7. Very cool accomplishment by journeyman Valtteri Filppula.

By captaining Finland to its overtime win over Canada at the IIHF world championships Sunday, Filppula became the first Finn and just the 30th player ever inducted into the Triple Gold Club (world title, Stanley Cup, Olympic gold).

“Feels really great. We worked so hard for the whole tournament and then we beat Canada. That’s an ultimate prize. It was not just about me. There were more leaders in the team. There was a lot of captaincy in the locker room. It made my job a lot easier,” Filppula told reporters at home.

“I am just really proud of guys and really happy that I can be a part of this team. It is gonna be a great summer, I think.”

8. Jesperi Kotkaniemi will turn 22 next month.

Time is on his and the Carolina Hurricanes’ side when it comes to making his monstrous $6.1-million offer sheet and subsequent $38.6-million contract extension worthwhile.

At the moment, however? This spiteful bit of business is not wearing well.

Kotkaniemi ranked 13th in team scoring in the regular season (29 points) and 15th (two points) in playoff scoring.

Kotkaniemi was a team-worst minus-4 in the postseason and watched stay-at-home D-men Ian Cole, Brett Pesce and Brendan Smith pot goals when he could not.

9. Saw a few skeptics roll their eyes, but I believe Jason Spezza chose Sunday — a rare break in a busy playoff schedule — to announce his retirement out of respect for those still playing. He didn’t want his news to encroach on the attention of important games.

Spezza, as expected, was wonderfully candid in reflecting on his run and explaining his difficult decision to hang ’em up. But not everything could be squeezed into my story.

Spezza confirmed that he and Paul Stastny were the last NHLers to hang on to their wooden sticks.

“I wish they never stopped making them,” he said, smiling.

And I appreciated his thoughts on how his career is so intertwined with his family:

“The most important things in my life are family and hockey — and I don't see that changing,” Spezza began.

“My wife and daughters, they're so unselfish that they're just worried about me, and they worry about how I'm going to cope and how I'm going to be. But for me, I worry about them and make sure they're getting enough time with Dad and husband."

“You don't have any sort of success at all without family in this sport. And my wife and kids are absolutely pillars for me."

“Probably the hardest conversations as I’ve gotten older are with my dad (Rino). He loves the game as much as I do. He and my mom, they still come to every game. They drove around the rinks in junior. It's their life, too. So, to know that it's over, it's not just over for me. It's over for them. So, that's hard, because I know how much joy they get out of getting into the games and watching. So, it's all just hard."

“And it really is a family effort.”

10. Spezza’s addition is not the only off-season alteration of the Maple Leafs’ front office.

Jim Paliafito, formerly the club’s senior director of player evaluation, and Cam Charron, a hockey research and development analyst, are no longer with the team.

Dubas is leaving open the possibility to further changes in the next few weeks as he evaluates the current structure.

The departure of the long-serving Paliafito just weeks before the draft is significant.

Hired by president Brendan Shanahan in 2015 and growing in rank, he has been the Leafs’ top scout for more than six years and is credited with recruiting overseas free agents Ilya Mikheyev, Nikita Zaitsev, Mikko Lehtonen, and Alexander Barabanov.

In the 2021 off-season, the Maple Leafs parted ways with director of amateur scouting John Lilley and director of pro scouting Troy Bodie, who joined other franchises.

11. Here’s Jordan Binnington explaining why he chucked a water bottle at Nazem Kadri after getting his crease crashed in Game 3 of the Blues-Avalanche series:

“I went to get my knee checked out mid-game. I was coming back to the rink, and the game just ended. Walking down the hallway, I couldn't find a recycling bin on my way down the hallway.

“Right before I walked into the locker room, I see him kind of doing an interview there, smiling, laughing. And I'm there in a knee brace, limping down the hallway. I just felt like it was a God-given opportunity.

“I could just stay silent and go in the room, or I could say something and just have him look me in the eye and understand what's going on, something to think about. Yeah, I just threw the water bottle, an empty water bottle. It landed, like, two feet from him.

“It’s hockey, and it's a competitive game. So ... that's it.”

Gotta seize those God-given opportunities.

12. Congratulations to Carey Price on winning the Bill Masterton Trophy.

The Montreal Canadiens goaltender’s perseverance has continued into a complicated off-season.

Price said Friday night that he recently had a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection in his injured knee, and he’s waiting for it to settle. The hope being that Price’s own reparative cells will stimulate and accelerate natural healing.

Nothing is guaranteed, but Price is trying to get back on the ice this summer and vows to take every step necessary to play in 2022-23.

“I wish I felt better about the situation,” Price said, “but I don't.”

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.