Today, with the Leafs off to a monastery to reflect on their sins for a week, Adam Brooks and Timothy Liljegren will return to a Marlies team that will be very happy to see them.
Last night while the Leafs were doing whatever that was for the first two periods against Chicago, the Marlies were struggling against the Charlotte Checkers, while playing on a tough road trip that tries even great teams. Running on a depleted roster, and outshot 14-7 in the first period, the Marlies ultimately lost in a shootout after Mason Marchment scored all their goals for them. Sometimes a player like Marchment comes back from a short NHL assignment on fire, and they have to hope Brooks and Liljegren will too.
Adam Brooks, who played limited minutes in most of his seven appearances with the Leafs, leaves the NHL (for now) with some good on-ice results. In 52 minutes, he has a Corsi % of 48, but an Expected Goals % of 54, which is very unusual for a depth player. Even, better, Brooks put up very good Expected Goals Against numbers, so he wasn’t just on the ice for a lot of shots against hapless fourth lines.
While Brooks looked a little over his head in some games against very good quality fourth lines, he often looked like he fit right in, and no one is going to suggest that Frederik Gauthier or Dmytro Timashov are quality linemates. He finishes up as at least the equal of Timashov, and we know he has more individual scoring talent. Back in the AHL, he will be given some things to work on, and he’s never shown any sign of not attacking his homework with gusto.
Timothy Liljegren played one game, a blowout where he was the seventh defender, so let’s not read too much into his appearance. He had slightly above average results, which few Leafs did, in 10 minutes on the ice.
Liljegren is desperately needed on the Marlies, as Mac Hollowell left the game last night injured, and his status is uncertain. But more than that, he’s needed because Rasmus Sandin is not joining him back in the AHL.
Sandin appears to be getting an NHL bye-week vacation. He is slated to represent the Marlies at the AHL All-Star Game on January 26, but if the Maple Leafs have no intention of sending him back to the AHL once Jake Muzzin returns to the lineup (which seems like it will be right after the All-Star break) then Sandin might be replaced in that game by another North division defender (Liljegren himself is a possibility).
Sandin has appeared in nine games, so this is the first decision time for the Leafs. One more game, and his contract doesn’t slide. In those games, he has a Corsi % of 56 and an Expected Goals % of 49, but it bears remembering that most of his 115 minutes at five-on-five came in the early part of the year when that sort of extreme erosion of shotshare when weighted for quality was a team-wide problem. For him, that pattern has persisted in his three most-recent games, however.
Sandin’s issue is extremely low Expected Goals For while he’s on the ice, and the first place to look for an explanation for that is his teammates. He’s played mostly with Cody Ceci and Justin Holl, and he shows up as the better player in both pairings. He’s been used through the whole lineup with approximately 30 minutes on-ice together with Alexander Kerfoot, John Tavares and Auston Matthews. He’s also got 22 minutes with Frederik Gauthier. The low quality of offence while he’s been on the ice is attributable first to variance and then to a slightly defensive zone usage. He hasn’t been tossed out in the offensive zone all the time, and has been relied on to actually defend.
The Leafs defence roster is a wide open question right now. Sandin might play the rest of the season; Liljegren might get a return engagement, or the trade deadline might see new faces on the team entirely. For now, all three of these players made positive impressions in NHL play. They just have to build on that, no matter which team they’re playing on.
Note: numbers and concepts from Evolving Hockey and Hockey Viz.