Quick Shifts: When will the Maple Leafs sign Matthew Knies?

Sam Cosentino joined Sportsnet Central to break down this weekend's slate of games in the NHL, if the Toronto Maple Leafs can defeat an Oilers team coming off a win vs. the Bruins, if the Senators can continue inching closer to playoffs and more.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. An inclusive space specializing in selective outrage.

1. While the Maple Leafs’ rematch with the Edmonton Oilers takes centre stage in Toronto Saturday night, another Leafs-relevant game will be played simultaneously.

Matthew Knies and the wagon that is the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers embark on their bid to win the Big Ten, with hopes of advancing to the NCAA’s Frozen Four and capturing the national title that eluded them in 2022.

Whenever Knies’ sophomore college season ends, be it following the Big Ten tournament (March 18) or the Frozen Four (April 8), focus will shift to his signing and skating for the Maple Leafs.

No pressure, kid.

It’s no fluke that GM Kyle Dubas stickhandled past the trade deadline with a shade over the $925,000 in salary cap room Knies will soak up with his entry-level contract.

Dubas recently attended Gophers games to peer at the future firsthand.

“They have done a great job to continue to build into Matt’s game developmentally the ability to use his size and strength to make plays and build space for himself and then take advantage of it. He plays with two other elite prospects, which is fun to watch,” Dubas said of the six-foot-three, 210-pound Knies.

“I can’t rave enough about the job they’ve done at the University of Minnesota with him. It is being able to utilize his strengths to the best of his ability, which is a huge developmental task. It sounds obvious, but it isn’t as smooth in execution as it is in ideation.”

Dubas notices his powerful left-wing curtailing the urge to take on defences one-on-one. He’s playing within the Gophers’ system while still imposing himself physically. (Something that will no doubt be a challenge against professional men.)

As a result, the 20-year-old has racked up 20 goals and 37 points through 33 games.

Knies chose to stay in school because he wanted to exercise patience with his path — and check the box of a national title.

“That is important for our prospects,” Dubas said. “Those are high-pressure, one-and-done games. We hope for a long time he is in them, and this is a good chance for him to get used to them.”

Is there any concern that Knies won’t sign his ELC as soon as the Gophers’ run concludes? Is Dubas 100 per cent confident in a done deal?

“I never know. I mean, it’s not a discussion we’ve had at a great deal of length,” the GM replied. “So, until any player actually goes down that path, I don’t know. I don’t have any reason to be heavily alarmed at this point. But our focus is for him helping his team win the Big Ten, and then hopefully they can push to win the national championship.

“We don’t want to distract him with anything and certainly don’t want to distract their program.”

Theoretically, Knies could squeeze in as many as 13 or as few as three regular-season NHL games before participating in Toronto’s most pressure-packed post-season in 30 years.

“Hopefully, I can join them at the end of the season,” Knies said over the summer.

“Once I’ve matured myself as a player, I think that’s when I can make the step and kind of give the Leafs a boost and try to make them a better team.”

The money and the minutes on the left side are waiting …

2. Way back at training camp, the 2023 class of UFA forwards was something to salivate over.

But with David Pastrnak, Bo Horvat, Dylan Larkin, Joe Pavelski and Andrei Kuzmenko all inking mid-season extensions, the remaining crop has been chopped frighteningly thin.

Good luck signing a frontline centre on Canada Day.

Thirty-seven-year-olds Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are sticking it to Father Time, but they’re much more likely to choose retirement or another encore in Boston than the open market.

Ryan O’Reilly is the best of the bunch, and he’s currently a 2C/3C on a roster with Stanley Cup dreams.

Max Domi deserves his due for a 50-point showing, but most view him as a middle-six asset.

Same goes for solid but fading two-way pivots Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, J.T. Compher, Nick Bjugstad, Lars Eller, and David Kämpf.

This explains the early buzz around a possible Kevin Hayes trade out of Philadelphia, so we wonder if a trade market for good centres on rebuilding teams kicks up.

Free-agent impact wingers will also be scarce.

Most pending UFA stars on the flanks are slowing or injury-prone or both: Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Max Pacioretty, James van Riemsdyk and Gustav Nyquist.

Absolutely, important top-six role players can still be found. Sign a Michael Bunting, Alex Killorn, Tyler Bertuzzi, or Ivan Barbashev, and your hockey club gets better.

But there is a severe lack of game-breakers at any position here.

Consider: Not one impending UFA is averaging a point per game. (Krejci is the most prolific at 0.88 points per game.)

There is no John Tavares or Artemi Panarin or Johnny Gaudreau or Dougie Hamilton this summer. And no Nathan MacKinnon next summer.

Security, comfort, and guaranteed money still inform most hockey stars’ decisions.

Fingers crossed, we get trades instead.

3. The date was July 15.

Jack Campbell was all of 48 hours removed from signing his first monster NHL contract — five years, $25 million with the Edmonton Oilers — when he attended a Toronto party with a cluster of Maple Leafs.

It was a Mitch Marner–led charity fundraiser. But it was also a goodbye goalie gala of sorts.

Campbell has never been an expert at disguising his feelings, so one needn’t be a psychologist to spot multiple emotions at play that night.

“Just super honoured that they believe in me,” Campbell said of Ken Holland’s group.

His Leafs mates were thrilled that night to see Campbell finally secure the bag — 12 years and three franchises after getting drafted 11th overall.

Said Marner: “Everyone is so happy for him. He deserved this contract. There isn’t a guy that really works harder or perfects his craft more than Jack. He’s battled throughout his entire career, really. To now earn this contract and get this money, he deserves it so much. Edmonton is a very lucky team to have him.”

John Tavares: “Jack obviously came in, and things really took off for him. He really helped us at a critical time. And then the way he performed over the last couple of years, tremendous person, obviously a great goaltender, and I’m really happy for him. He obviously got a great contract. That type of person, that type of player, you’re always going to miss.”

During his Maple Leafs tenure, Campbell hit 30 wins for the first time, posted save percentages of .915, .922, and .914, and was invited to an all-star game.

He returns to the city richer and humbler.

Stumbling with an .882 save percentage and losing his crease battle to youngster Stuart Skinner (.913), the up-and-down Campbell is at low ebb.

Skinner just stood tall Thursday in an impressive road win over the big, bad Bruins — and coach Jay Woodcroft raved about his new No. 1’s “mental strength” afterward.

Campbell has allowed four or more goals in 43 per cent of his starts and in each of his past five.

Woodcroft did not give Campbell the start against his old team in Edmonton last week and will sit him on the bench again Saturday at Scotiabank Arena, where he once triggered those bottomless “Soooooup!” chants.

“A lot of buddies over there. A lot of great memories. Special organization. Definitely am honoured to be a part of that organization in my career, and obviously they’re playing great this year. So, it’s always fun to play the best teams in the league,” Campbell says.

And if he gets the tap?

“Can’t wait to battle some buddies,” he replies. “We’re still close friends. I talk to quite a few of the guys here and there, and I’ll definitely be seeing them in the summer.”

Facing Auston Matthews‘ shot not in practice but with valuable points on the line?

“It would just be fun to compete against one of the best in the game, and we’ll see what happens.”

We chatted with Campbell just hours after Jonathan Quick’s unceremonious ouster from Los Angeles to Columbus. Campbell has often cited the long-serving Kings goaltender as a mentor.

His reaction to the original Quick trade?

“Ooof…” Campbell said. “I’m giving him time to decompress. I feel for him, for sure. He’s done a lot for that organization.”

Credit Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen for, uh, quickly flipping the goaltender close to home and back in a playoff race. A rash of injuries have paved the way for Quick to play meaningful hockey with Vegas.

4. Impressive that Tage Thompson is on pace for 53 goals, no doubt.

Even more so when you consider his luck.

No one in the NHL has hit more posts. Thompson has pinged the iron an unlucky 13 times, 14 when you count crossbars.

The NHL’s other top ironmen reads like a list of elite shooters: Elias Pettersson (14 posts/crossbars), MacKinnon (13), McDavid (11), Kyle Connor (11), Nikita Kucherov (11), Steven Stamkos (11), and Tyler Toffoli (11).

Toffoli is living up to his NSFW nickname, as he is tied with Pettersson for most dinged crossbars (five).

5. Only four forwards rank among the top 60 skaters in average ice time — and they belong to two teams.

In order, they are McDavid (37th, 22:42), Mikko Rantanen (44th, 22:23), Nathan MacKinnon (45th, 22:22), and Leon Draisaitl (53rd, 22:00).

The lean-on-superstars formula in Edmonton and Colorado is as close to basketball usage as you’re bound to see.

6. Quote of the Week.

“It was great. I finally scored on him.” —Radko Gudas on Roberto Luongo climbing down from the front office to practise with the Florida Panthers.

7. Wrote about Rasmus Sandin seizing his sudden opportunity with Washington.

There is a flip side to the equation, however.

Here are Erik Gustafsson’s ice times in his final eight games with the Capitals: 23:06, 22:50, 22:52, 21:17, 23:35, 24: 56, 22:13, 22:06.

After being dealt to the deeper Maple Leafs, Gustafsson skated 9:52 in Calgary and 14:02 in Vancouver — the lowest two ice times all season — then got healthy-scratched in New Jersey.

Quite the adjustment.

“I need a little practice with the guys here, feel the puck a little more,” says Gustafsson.

The veteran has had to flip a mental switch from running a power-play and being counted on as a top-four guy to a seventh man.

He’s processing the bittersweet feeling of getting traded to a better team but taking on a less meaningful role.

“It was just tough. I’ve got a family and everything. Kids. When I came here, it was an exciting moment. Great team to play for. Great city, too. Right now, I’m so excited to be here,” he says.

Knowing William Nylander and the other Swedes on the squad helps, plus former Blackhawks teammates Kämpf, Jake McCabe and Sam Lafferty.

But Gustafsson’s offensive resurgence appears to have come to an end.

The 30-year-old’s seven goals, 38 points, and plus-nine rating in Washington were all his best totals since his 60-point explosion with Chicago in 2018-19.

“Played big minutes there, power play, everything. I had a good role. Good confidence with the puck and without the puck,” he says. “The points just came.”

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8. Let’s stay with the ripple effects of the Leafs’ defensive deadline dealing for a second.

Prior to the McCabe, Luke Schenn and Gustafsson additions, Timothy Liljegren had played four straight games of 20-plus minutes.

Liljegren’s ice time sunk to 12:52 in last week’s ugly 5-2 loss to Edmonton. He was scratched the following two nights and logged 15:37 in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over the Devils.

It’s a reminder of how quickly situations shift.

Enjoying a breakout winter, Liljegren looked to be an indispensable piece of Toronto’s six.

Now he’s one of a few D-men battling internally for shifts — a “good problem,” according to coach Sheldon Keefe.

“He’s an important guy for us. But as I’ve talked to him about,” Keefe explains, “our team is deeper on defence now. The standard is higher in terms of staying in. He was in a similar situation last season.”

A fire has been lit under the blue line: Step up or sit down.

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9. As a hockey dad who has witnessed the nonstop joy these NHL papas experience on club-arranged fathers’ trips, it’s fun that Patric Sandin gets to double-dip this season.

Patric followed his youngest son, Rasmus, on the Maple Leafs’ January road trip.

He flew back to North America Friday to join the Washington Capitals in New York City for theirs. Two fathers’ trips in under two months.

“Lucky me,” says Patric, who enjoys everything about the excursions. “Spending time with great, awesome parents and players. It’s unreal, actually.”

Rasmus echoes the sentiment.

“It’s amazing. They’ve been a huge part of our trip to get to the NHL since we were young, driving us to rinks and how much time they put into us. It’s great that they get to see how we live over here,” said Rasmus, whose dad remains dedicated — albeit overseas in Sweden.

“He’s nervous, always watching. So he’s pretty different from me, I guess. He just enjoys watching me and my brother (Linus) play hockey. He’s pretty into it. I don’t think he’s missed a game since I came over here, since I played in the Soo. He’s up every night watching every game.”

(For every yin, there’s a yang: Former Capitals Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway missed out on two chances to bring someone close to them on the road. They were dealt to Boston after the Bruins’ siblings’ trip.)

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10. When Sandin first linked up with the Capitals, he got asked if he knew franchise centre Nicklas Backstrom.

“All Swedes know each other,” Sandin smiled. “He’s one of the best Swedes that we have.”

11. The Minnesota Wild have not lost in regulation in 11 games, a streak that has bumped the club into a tie with Dallas for top spot in the Central Division.

That the Wild are winning despite rolling out the NHL’s 26th-ranked offence (2.75 goals per game) is incredible.

The next-weakest offence for a team in playoff position belongs to the slumping Jets at 18th overall (3.08).

Clearly, Wild GM Bill Guerin is aware of his group’s deficiency. He did a fine job adding value forwards Gustav Nyquist (22 points), Marcus Johansson (29) and Oskar Sundqvist (23), plus offenceman John Klingberg (24) at the deadline.

Scoring just got more challenging, though. Kirill Kaprizov — a factor in 40 per cent of all Wild goals — is out three to four weeks.

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12. I understand why the NHL is toying with growing the league further.

The commissioner works for the 32 current owners, who split those juicy expansion fees without the annoyance of sharing that income with the players.

Vegas paid $500 million in 2017.

Seattle paid $650 million in 2021.

Imagine what Houston might pay in, say, 2025.

But as a fan of the sport, I do worry about the quality of the product.

There aren’t 32 true No. 1 goalies, defencemen, or centres to go around. Not even close.

Ninety-six goalies have already played in the show this season. The bottom of the league is now dressing lineups that might get beat by a good AHL squad.

Relocation would make for better hockey. (We see you, Quebec City and Toronto 2.0)

Alas, cash rules everything around us.

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