TORONTO — This was never about money only.
Opportunity and ice time were always intertwined in Rasmus Sandin’s prolonged contractual stalemate with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which mercifully ended Thursday morning with a two-year, $2.8-million bridge deal, signed eight days after training camp’s opening.
“This morning, Rasmus Sandin and (agent) Lewis Gross reached out to us and informed us that after watching our game last night and seeing more injuries accrued by our defence, that they wanted to get this locked in today so Rasmus could get over to Toronto and help his teammates,” GM Kyle Dubas said in a statement. “We appreciate Rasmus and his camp taking that step today to get this contract done and allow him the time to ready for the final preseason games.
“As stated throughout this process, Rasmus is a key member of the present and future of (our) team, and we are excited today that he is en route to Toronto to ready for Opening Night in Montreal.”
The subtext here: Sandin blinked first.
And that’s OK.
The defenceman accepted a bridge contract similar to one tabled months ago, for the same term and total dollars as friend and fellow RFA Timothy Liljegren. He won’t miss a paycheque.
The deal is fair market value for both sides. No one “won” the dispute, and if there is any loss it may be Sandin’s fitness needing to play catchup — but let’s see how he looks on the ice before ruling.
If Dubas made any concession in the deal, it’s that the final season of Sandin’s agreement carries a salary of $1.6 million, meaning he’ll receive a richer qualifying offer as an RFA upon the conclusion of the 2023-24 season.
Ultimately, flying Sandin from Sweden to Toronto — he’ll make the journey Friday — is in the best interest of all involved.
From the club’s perspective, NHL-calibre defencemen were getting scarce fast. Veteran Jake Muzzin (back) has yet to participate in a full team practice. Liljegren (hernia) is still a minimum of five weeks away from seeing action.
And next-men-up Jordie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) both suffered significant injuries in Wednesday’s pre-season action, further clearing a path for Sandin to seize not only a regular role but make a case for the top four.
Continuing to sit at home and ask for money the cap-strapped organization doesn’t have to give (without making a trade) would have hardly served the 22-year-old well.
With only 88 NHL games on his resume, the 2018 first-round pick needs to see action for his own sake.
“It goes without saying,” coach Sheldon Keefe said this week, that there are prime shifts just waiting for Sandin as soon as he signs.
Once Sandin is up to speed, it will relieve pressure on the Leafs to rush Muzzin or Liljegren back from recovery.
More important, a strong showing by the confident left shot could set him up for the payday and security he really desires by 2024.
The lone Maple Leafs defenceman signed beyond that summer is Morgan Rielly.
That means a top-four role — and top-four salary — is dangling like a carrot in the distance. The onus falls on Sandin to go out and snatch it.
With Sandin’s business tidied up, the Maple Leafs currently stand $2.9 million over the salary ceiling, per CapFriendly.com.
To become cap compliant — and sign PTO Zach Aston-Reese as hoped — Dubas must shed salary via LTIR and/or the waiver wire prior to Opening Night.
Provided Muzzin’s recovery from back pain goes smoothly, the Maple Leafs’ blue line should look something like this when their season opens on Oct. 12 at Bell Centre:
Morgan Rielly – T.J. Brodie
Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin – Mark Giordano