Friday practice saw a new set of forward lines and defense pairs as Sheldon Keefe has shuffled the groupings around. Let’s jump right in and then talk about what it all means.
New-look Leafs lines and D:— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) March 4, 2022
Bunting — Matthews — Marner
Robertson — Tavares — Nylander
Mikheyev — Kampf — Engvall/Kase
Kerfoot — Spezza — Simmonds
Rielly — Liljegren
Brodie — Holl
Dermott — Lyubushkin
*Rasmus Sandin is not practising
First off, Nick Robertson has moved up to the second line after trialling the kid with Tavares and Nylander for 3:22 in the last loss to Buffalo. Robertson has been playing five minutes a night on the fourth line since getting called up last week for what’s pretty obviously a showcase ahead of the trade deadline.
Whether the Leafs end up seeing Robertson as the 2LW of the present, or a piece they’ll need to sacrifice in order to get that player, will be determined by how well this second line does.
I don’t think this puts Robertson in the best position — he’s clearly not ready — and it’s not helping John Tavares, who is in a massive shooting slump. Unless there’s some magic that’ll make everything better, I’m skeptical. That said, Tavares and Nylander can carry enough of a line on their own where Robertson can just run and gun, and be a forechecker. He’s good at that in the NHL at least. That’s the silver lining for me.
Robertson played with Tavares and Nylander last season against the same Canucks on April 17th, with Nylander scoring his 100th goal in the game.
Turnover in the neutral zone and Nylander converts pic.twitter.com/BiVk1gBKQI— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) April 18, 2021
The Third Line
This is really interesting, both Ondřej Kaše and Pierre Engvall are listed on the third line, either meaning one of them is not quite ready to play, one is going to be scratched, or one of them is going to be traded. I’ll be more clear, either Kaše isn’t ready to return yet or Engvall is getting scratched or traded.
On the fourth line, Kerfoot hasn’t shown a reason for him to stay, and at $3.5 million, he’s a prime suspect to be traded. I can’t see him on the fourth line as anything more than as a consequence of other, more important things.
One thing that jumps out at me in this new arrangement of the defense is that the Leafs believe they’ll have a better chance finding a partner for Morgan Rielly, and putting TJ Brodie next to Jake Muzzin when he returns instead. I know, I know, the Leafs have had an issue finding a partner for Rielly for his entire career until Brodie showed up, why mess with it now. Firstly, they can’t clone Brodie. Secondly, it leans towards the idea of getting a left-shot defender, like Mark Giordano, who has been linked to the Leafs.
Sandin is out tonight, in what could either be nothing or massive news, like everything else here. Sandin could be sick or injured or there’s a need to get Dermott in for a game, in which that’s no big deal. But on the other hand, this could be the Leafs sitting Sandin in preparation for a trade. Normally I wouldn’t think of it being that, but we are in March now and considering why Robertson is where he is makes me more inclined to see it that way.
And finally, Mac Hollowell was called up, but wasn’t part of the practice lines. This could lean into the idea that Sandin isn’t healthy to go (or being held out) and they need an extra as insurance. With Muzzin on LTIR, the Leafs have plenty of space to reach the 23-player limit.
The Maple Leafs have recalled defenceman Mac Hollowell from the Toronto Marlies (AHL)— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) March 4, 2022