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Wednesday FTB: key storylines heading into Toronto Maple Leafs training camp

2022 NHL Media Tour - Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 15: Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs gives two thumbs-up as he is recorded for part of a trivia game during the 2022 NHL player media tour at Encore Las Vegas on September 15, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. | Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Camp begins today, are you in the best shape of your life?

Welcome to the first day of Toronto Maple Leafs training camp. I’m relieved the Leafs finally put PPP on their required reading list this semester. Medicals will be happening today, presumably along with the release of the camp roster. We are expected to get the official news about Timothy Liljegren and Pierre Engvall’s injury status, and possibly more. But before that all begins, let’s have a look at the biggest storylines heading into today.

Rasmus Sandin

The past month has seen nothing of significance with regards to the Rasmus Sandin situation — though I know certain people have just been winding themselves up about Sandin every day he doesn’t sign as if they expected something to happen on August 29th. But now with training camp starting, the ticking timer is active again. Sandin is currently in Sweden skating on his own and won’t be at a training camp he desperately needs to be at to prove he deserves the lineup spot he wants, that changes leverage.

At the current moment according to Elliotte Friedman, the Leafs want a cheap one-year deal, or a Timothy Liljegren equivalent two-year contract, whereas Sandin wants Liljegren’s AAV for a one-year and more than $2 million on a multi-year deal.

Six or Seven Defensemen?

With the current cap space they have, the Leafs will only be able to have six defenders on their NHL roster. Depending on Timothy Liljegren’s status, they might only have five at the moment. The current contenders to fit some version of those five, six, and seven spots are Sandin, Jordie Benn, and Victor Mete. Benn currently has the edge on Mete based on games played and establishment in the NHL. but it will be a battle between them to see who gets the extra, or “next one up” spot in the lineup. The loser will likely be lost on waivers, or hopefully continue to have life in the Leafs org on the Marlies.

The Middle Six

The biggest question coming from the forward lines is who is going to play 2LW next to John Tavares and William Nylander. The incumbent is Alex Kerfoot, but the Leafs sign Calle Järnkrok to their biggest contract of the offseason and he might have more of the specialized skills to beat out Kerfoot, who is the most “fine” player possibly in the NHL.

It’s very comforting to have David Kämpf on the team and anchored as the 3C. I’m actually curious to see whether Engvall can anchor himself next to him or if the Leafs think a cap-clearing move is a better option. He’ll be some sort of injured to start camp (we’ll know this morning what it is exactly), so things aren’t exactly off to the best start for him.

The long shots for the third line beyond promoting fourth liners are Nick Robertson and Pontus Holmberg, and it should be clear they’re long shots. Even if Nick Robertson has the best preseason in the league, he’s going to be on the Marlies and he’s going to be evaluated there for a call up in November or December parallel to decisions being made on Engvall, Kerfoot, and the fourth liners.

The Fourth Line

Okay, maybe I’m hyperbolizing with Robertson a bit, if he has an excellent preseason and camp, he could force the Leafs hand and give him a fourth line job for opening night. But that would require several players currently in the running to seriously disappoint.

The current class of fourth liners includes six names: Adam Gaudette, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, Wayne Simmonds, Zach Aston-Reese (PTO), Joey Anderson, Kyle Clifford, and the rest of the waivers exempt Marlies. Three of these guys are going to be put on waivers (or in ZAR’s case, released) and most likely lost because there’s no space for spares.

Robertson’s job is to put a fourth player on that list, which is a poor managerial move because it reduces depth in the organization. The only way it can be justified is if Robertson can be a dominant, all-around player in bottom six minutes.

Marlies Opportunities

Robertson, Abruzzese, Steeves, Holmberg, Douglas are the five main Marlies (in terms of age and previous NHL chances) who have a legitimate chance at playing in the NHL this season. They will be competing with each other to be “next one up” if and when someone who wasn’t sent through waivers doesn’t play up to scratch in the first part of the season. And obviously injuries.

I have surprised myself by putting Douglas’s name on this list, but I watched all the media availabilities from coaches and management over the summer on the Leafs YouTube page and Douglas was on the list along with the other names I mentioned, so the Leafs are definitely looking at him (how can you not, he’s 6’9”). He is a very long shot, but he will be Kyle Dubas’ Magnum Opus if he hits big.

Cap Space and LTIR

The Rasmus Sandin question continues to loom, with questions swirling outside the negotiation with regards to cap space, trades, and injuries. I do think this contract discussion can and is happening independently of what the Leafs cap space is. How much space there is isn’t a consideration for Sandin’s camp and the Leafs know the general range where the contract will end up and what trade they’ll have to make depending on the scenario. What helps the Leafs on the trade front is the fact that they have time to figure it out beyond training camp. LTIR (for Liljegren or Engvall, at least for the moment) should bridge the gap before a decision needs to be made.

What the Leafs probably can’t afford is having Sandin remain unsigned into the season and ending up with an inflated pro-rated salary in his first year — same as William Nylander who “made” $10 million in the first year of his deal and then has a cap hit under $7 million for the rest of it despite a $7.5 million AAV. Remember when certain people we making a big stink about that? Sadder days.

Auston Matthews

As much as we don’t want to talk about it, this is the final season the Leafs have with Auston Matthews before a contract extension can be made. This is the final year the Leafs have to prove the quality of their program to Matthews before he potentially goes into a season as a UFA.

Connor McDavid got $12.5 million five years ago (16.7% of the cap). Nathan MacKinnon got $12.6 million yesterday (15.3% of the cap). One has a Stanley Cup ring, but both have playoff series victories. McDavid has two Hart trophies, MacKinnon has been a finalist three times, and now Matthews has one for himself along with a Pearson and two Rockets.

Matthews is going to get paid as much or more than those other two as the salary cap rises slowly, everyone and their toddlers know that. The important question is does Matthews want to sign that contract here, or in Los Angeles — err, I mean, somewhere else (probably LA).

The Leafs need to do something this season because they cannot risk letting Matthews walk to free agency.

This. This is the most pressure Kyle Dubas has ever, and will ever face in his life once the playoffs come because this franchise cannot lose Auston Matthews.


Various Leafs and Branches

Now I’ll turn off my Katya voice and turn on my Species voice (with a brief interlude of Seldo talking about cow legs).

Here are some things to read:

Nathan MacKinnon signed the biggest contract in the salary cap era yesterday, eclipsing the Connor McDavid contract by $100k. What Baugh is referring to is the Auston Matthews contract.

Yesterday we also saw a trio of defenders retire. PK Subban, Zdeno Chara, and Keith Yandle have all accomplished a lot in hockey.

The PWHPA will announce their rosters for this upcoming season this morning at 7am.

The Montreal Canadiens are making it clear that literally anybody can make the team as they’ve invited 74 players to their training camp. Last season the Leafs brought in about half as many at each position. One last tidbit, with all the retired numbers and players at camp, there’s only nine numbers that went unused. 25, 26, 42, 46, 50, 66, 69 (cowards), 87, 92. Some good numbers in there.

Alex Galchenyuk is getting a PTO with the Colorado Avalanche.









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