After a holdout that seemingly never made much sense to begin with, the Rasmus Sandin negotiations ended with a contract that only reinforced that notion.

Kudos to the Leafs for holding their ground.

It was well documented throughout the summer that the Leafs wanted to give Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren the same contract. When it’s all said and done, they each will carry a $1.4M annual average cap hit for the next two seasons. There is a minor difference in that Sandin has a $1.6M qualifying offer after his contract is up while Liljegren’s is $1.5M. That was not worth holding out over, and if either of these amounts is even remotely relevant for either player’s next contracts in two years’ time, something clearly went wrong.

Of course, it wasn’t just about the money. Sandin wanted opportunity, and with six other NHL defensemen on the roster – four of them left-handed – he didn’t think he was going to get it. But when injuries started piling up on the Leafs‘ back end – Jake Muzzin, Jordie Benn, Carl Dahlstrom, and Liljegren – Sandin and his agent reached out to the Leafs to finally put pen to paper on pretty well the same contract he always could have signed.

It was always the safe bet that injuries would happen and opportunities would emerge. The old adage that a team can never have enough defensemen always rings true. Apparently, Sandin and his camp needed to see it to believe it. He never really had any leverage in the negotiation, but if he ever owned a sliver of it, it would’ve been right now as the injuries pile up. Clearly, opportunity was the crux of the issue.

For Sandin, it is important to get back to playing hockey as soon as possible. We mentioned this in an article discussing training camp storylines, but Sandin has played the following number of games in the past four seasons:

  • 2018 – 2019: 44 + 13 playoff games
  • 2019 – 2020: 49
  • 2020 – 2021: 10 + 5 playoff games
  • 2021 – 2022: 51

That’s not nearly enough hockey for a 22-year-old in his prime development years. Now, with injuries in play, there is an opportunity, but he has to seize it. He’s already missed most of training camp, which has an impact. Auston Matthews missed training camp last year, albeit returning from an injury, and he got off to a slow start (for just a few weeks because he’s a superstar). William Nylander – already an established, very good NHLer – missed camp and nearly two months of the season during his holdout and was not himself when he returned.

Looking at the Leafs‘ defense now, with the injuries, it’s roughly projecting like so:

Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Sandin – Giordano

It appears Muzzin is working towards a return and his absence is mainly precautionary. That could change in a hurry, but we’ll work with that assumption for now. The only starting defenseman we definitely know is out to start the season is Liljegren, who might be an LTIR candidate as Brandon Pridham and the Leafs will need to perform cap gymnastics to get this team – now $2.9 million over the upper limit on a 23-man roster – cap compliant.

The question now will be whether Sandin can get himself up to speed to make the season-opening lineup. The season starts on October 12 against Montreal, so he has two weeks to ramp up. Even if he doesn’t play in the first game, the Leafs open with three games in four nights, so there will be plenty of games right off the hop to get into the lineup and establish himself on the roster.

Sandin signed the contract that was always on the table, and now he has the opportunity to earn the minutes as the injuries pile up. It’s up to the player to seize it.

GM Kyle Dubas on the Sandin contract

This morning, Rasmus Sandin and Lewis Gross reached out to us and informed us that after watching our game last night and seeing more injuries accrued by our defense, they wanted to get this locked in today so Rasmus could get over to Toronto and help his teammates. 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 your team and we are excited today that he is en route to Toronto to ready for opening night in Montreal.

Rasmus Sandin’s agent Lewis Gross on his client’s new contract