Maple Leafs, Rasmus Sandin hit contract rut: ‘Negotiations are going nowhere’

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has been a restricted free agent for more than a month and appears no closer to inking a contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Negotiations are going nowhere,” Lewis Gross, Sandin’s agent, told Sportsnet Wednesday during a phone call.

Why the standstill?

“I can’t answer that. You know I don’t usually say much (publicly) anyway. But they’re just going nowhere right now.”

Gross declined to dive into the details of the Maple Leafs’ final unsigned RFA.

“Negotiating contracts via the media have an adverse impact on player (and) team reputation and traditionally do not create resolutions to private matters,” Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas texted Wednesday when informed of Gross’s comments.

Multiple factors — money, term, and Sandin’s role in a crowded defence corps — are at play.

With training camp not set to open until September, Gross said it was too early to discuss whether Sandin would participate without a contract in place.

Outside of signing an offer sheet, withholding services is Sandin’s only leverage point. (The 22-year-old was not eligible for arbitration.)

“I’d rather not get into Rasmus’s feelings,” Gross said.

Fellow RFAs Timothy Liljegren (April 30) and Pierre Engvall (July 17) both agreed to short-term deals a while ago, leaving Sandin as Toronto’s only unfinished business.

At the moment, the Maple Leafs have little to no salary cap space to shoehorn in a raise for Sandin without making another move, per, though clubs can exceed the cap during the off-season.

The belief is that Sandin was offered a deal similar to Liljegren’s a two-year, $2.8-million bridge contract.

In 2018, Gross and Dubas memorably took their difficult negotiation of RFA William Nylander’s contract all the way down to the wire.

With so many veteran left-shot defenders under contract — Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie (who plays the right), and Mark Giordano — it remains unclear exactly where Sandin immediately fits into a lineup he did not crack in the post-season after rehabbing a knee injury.

Dubas has said that he prefers Sandin on his natural side.

The Maple Leafs need cap-friendly talent on board to offset their top-heavy salary structure.

“They’re massive parts of our future,” Dubas said at the draft, lumping Liljegren into an answer on Sandin’s negotiation. “They’re significantly younger than the other full-time members of our defence corps. And we need them to continue to take steps.

“In Rasmus’s case, one of the major focuses is on trying to set him up to continue to be healthy all the way through the year and putting the proper resources into him to arm him to do that.”

Sandin scored five goals and 16 points in 51 games, predominantly in a third-pairing role for the Maple Leafs this past season.

Dubas has praised Sandin’s talent and competitiveness but has also challenged the Swede to grow into a top-four mainstay in Toronto.

“We see he and Timothy as both massive parts of it moving ahead,” Dubas said.

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