This is a rant about Rasmus Sandin
I want Rasmus Sandin in the NHL for the rest of this season. My motives are mixed, and some of them are selfish, and some of my reasons are based on knee-jerk reactions, recency bias and just good old fashioned telling myself what I want to hear. Some reasons are more player-focused, rational and at least a little bit objective. A normal mix, in other words.
I also want Sandin in the NHL because I’m really sick of this will they or won’t they game that’s gone on as agonizingly long as it did with William Nylander (and may one day with Nick Robertson). I never want to write this article again. Just put him in, call it done. I’ll shut up about it.
Look, if Dmytro Timashov, Adam Brooks, Mason Marchment and Frederik Gauthier can look like an NHL line as long as you’re judicious about usage and don’t play them much, then Sandin can join the roster and the Leafs can play an 11-7 setup the rest of the season. Which is something I hate, by the way, and consider silly, but it beats the status quo for entertainment purposes.
No NHL roster should be organized for my personal entertainment, however, and I have a reputation to maintain as someone who disdains the endless complaints about who the team plays the least to the least import. I also have a reputation as someone who doesn’t think the prospects should be played too soon, so what gives?
Justin Holl and Martin Marincin trying to defend McDavid, that’s what. Okay, maybe I’m not really suggesting that Sandin get dumped in that deep right this second, but at least it wouldn’t feel like giving the game away without trying.
No what’s really behind this whining is Garret Sparks.
Now it’s about Garret Sparks
Garret Sparks is the poster boy for delaying the prospect’s NHL time too long. I’ve complained before about the Leafs habits of late — caused by their tight cap situation and over-investment in asset management — where they leave players a total mystery until they aren’t waivers-exempt, whereupon the script is flipped and part-time press-box prisoners are born, logjams are formed and stasis sets in.
The current system of yo-yoing Marlies on and off the NHL roster and playing them in extremely brief cameos, if that, is annoying. It beats leaving them all inside the mystery box as Schrodinger’s prospect — both great and a bust at the same time — until the final act of their drama reveals no spark of life inside the box at all when it’s too late to get rid of them. Adam Brooks is not absurd in the NHL, and is very plausible against a particular kind of depth opponent. Good to know! Even better to know this now, not next year.
Suddenly Timothy Liljegren is involved
The Sandin issue is actually more the Timothy Liljegren issue. Because there isn’t a lot of mystery about Sandin, and he’s had six NHL games already. He plays precisely the Leafs system like it was crafted for him. He knows exactly what to do, when to do it, and his judgement about when to hit the Activate D™ button is superior to most of the Leafs defenders currently on the roster. If anything, in his six games under Mike Babcock, he held himself back a little too much.
Liljegren keeps getting almost called up, but not really. He hasn’t played in a real NHL game, and yet he’s doing everything he needs to do in the AHL. He looks good there right now while the rest of the team is careening off the rails as the slow-mo coaching change takes its toll on the team. He’s also the righty, in case we’ve all forgotten.
At this point, it looks suspiciously like the Liljegren game going on is ye olde dodge where the queen is kept ostensibly marriageable in case France or Spain ever need to be bribed out of a war. By not quite playing Liljegren in the NHL, he stays firmly inside the mystery box where he could be anything! Even Nik Lidstrom! And that might be a try at making him more valuable in a trade.
The Leafs are in an all-options-open state right now where the only NHL defenders under contract past this year are Morgan Rielly and Justin Holl. In the AHL, they have Sandin until 2023, if this year slides, and 2022 if he plays at least 10 NHL games. Liljegren goes to 2022, and then there’s Joey Duszak, Mac Hollowell and Jesper Lindgren who are fainter hopes of moving up to the NHL.
The thing about having all your options open is that you really should know now if Liljegren can kick Holl down the depth chart and if Sandin is better than Dermott (yes, he is, or he will be).
Where the hell am I playing him?
Sandin (although this is also true of Liljegren) has the right skills for this Leafs team now, playing this system now, and can be brought into the lineup in a way that doesn’t mean he must play top four or not at all.
The depth chart can’t be your religion. Yes Martin Marincin is on the roster, so is Travis Dermott, but is this a senority system? Dermott, who is only three years older than Sandin, hasn’t exactly wowed anyone this season. Play Sandin on the right side with Dermott for all I care, but get some skill on that blueline now. Share out some of Marincin’s minutes, play Sandin with Tyson Barrie, see if that somehow works. Try it all, and don’t wait.
Maybe the 11-7 system actually is a good idea.
What’s holding them back?
On Liljegren? Other than theorizing about how they want him kept mysterious, I have no idea. He’s a year older than Sandin, his contract can’t slide, and it would be a simple thing to call him up for actual playing time while there’s space due to injuries. He can always be sent back.
For Sandin, it’s probable that some attention is being spared for the 40-game rule. For the purposes of defining the age at which a player turns UFA, he has to be on the NHL roster during 40 games for that season to count. You’ll see more than a few rookies called up in this second half of the season as teams have decided to keep them under 40 games but do want to play them.
William Nylander played 22 games his first year, burning the year off his ELC, which was eligible to slide, but not having that year count towards his UFA status. Did that make a difference in the amount of the contract he signed a year ago December? It’s hard to imagine, if it did, that the difference was significant. I suspect this concern is something that shouldn’t be a concern for a team that’s looking to contend and is extremely weak on talent on defence. In Nylander’s first year, the team was tanking, so playing him less was likely wise.
Sandin could, theoretically, be called up before Wednesday’s game against the Jets, and if the LTIR pool was doled out so he could stay all season (which is very plausible now with Ilya Mikheyev out long term), he would be on the roster for 44 games. If the Leafs wait until game 50 to call him up, that falls after the bye week and All-Star Game, and pushes his debut to January 27 which is exactly one month from the date of Jake Muzzin’s injury.
This is the complicating factor. Muzzin is injured now, and that opens up roster space, playing time and LTIR pool now, not a month from now. Meanwhile this next few weeks on the Marlies is going to be interesting.
The Marlies leave this week for the Boat Show road trip where, unlike their Royal Winter Fair road trip, they don’t jaunt off to Belleville and Laval and essentially stay at home. They are on the road for real in Texas and North Carolina, and they sure need the bonding time with the new coach Greg Moore. They have three wins in eight games since he took over, and they’ve lost 6-1 and 8-2 in that stretch. They’re getting extremely outshot and almost everyone on the ice fails the eye-test right now.
Why toss Sandin into that for the sake of that 40-game limit? And further to that, what does this Marlies team, and this new coach, have to teach him after a season spent playing for Mike Babcock, Sheldon Keefe and Tomas Montén?
If Sandin does return to the AHL from the Swedish team roster, and he stays there, he’ll appear in the AHL All-Star Game which is the same weekend as the NHL version. Far be it from me to take away his chances at a free trip to California, with the chance to camp out in Carl Grundstrom’s apartment in Ontario and eat In-N-Out Burgers, but the Leafs could find four games between now and the trade deadline to send Sandin down for, if they really care about that 40-game limit.
Just get him on the roster for real, and while you’re doing what I tell you, Leafs, play Liljegren. Know what you’ve got there before you make any more term deals for depth defenders.
UPDATE: So, no then, is what I’m hearing from you, Leafs. Don’t think I won’t demand again.