If you don’t know who Rasmus Sandin is, you’ve been living under a rock for a while. Picked with the 29th pick in the 2018 draft, and impressed in his first professional season in North America, playing the season with the Marlies. Sandin had a good chance to make the team out of camp, and he did just that. He joined the opening night roster, proving he’s already an effective NHLer.
Kevin Gravel has been a very solid depth defenseman for the past couple of years. With 106 NHL games to his name, the 27-year-old isn’t a terrible option for the Leafs depth-wise. He’s been used as a spare defenseman for most of his professional career. He’s very solid defensively, and can pitch in offensively at times.
Why did they send down Sandin!?
A lot of Leafs fans, including myself, were a bit shocked by this move at first. There are quite a few reasons for this move though.
The reality is, Sandin would probably only be playing around 12 minutes a night in the NHL this season. No special teams time, and bottom-pairing minutes. In the AHL, Sandin has much more room to develop, and absolutely dominate. He has the time to improve on a very impressive rookie season in the AHL. With top-line minutes beside Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin gets a lot more time to develop, and with a future long-term NHL partner.
Kevin Gravel is accustomed to being a depth defenseman, at 27, he’s not a prospect that needs developing. Gravel can handle the healthy scratches that come with a potential Travis Dermott return, and can easily slot into the lineup when needed. Gravel will be a solid cushion behind Martin Marincin and Justin Holl, and he should be very easy to send through waivers if needed.
The Salary Cap
With this team, it isn’t a Toronto Maple Leafs’ move if there’s no salary cap influence involved. Kevin Gravel makes minimum salary this season, putting him at a $700k cap hit. Rasmus Sandin, who’s still on his ELC (we’ll get to that in a second), does not make the minimum salary, and counts as $194 167 more against the cap. Does that matter that much? Not really, but it could still potentially help the Leafs after Dermott and Zach Hyman recover.
Another potential reason could be Sandin’s ELC. ELCs can slide if given to 18 or 19-year-old players. That means – if you’re an 18 or 19-year-old player signed to an ELC – your ELC essentially extends another year, if you don’t play 10 games in the NHL which includes regular season AND playoffs. Sandin’s contract slid once last year, and has the ability to this year, and he’s 19 years old. Sandin has still only played 6 games with the Leafs, meaning he can still play three more games without his contract losing the ability to slide. It’s probably unlikely Sandin doesn’t see the NHL much more often this year, but it’s still a consideration.
Travis Dermott (and others)
A significant amount of this is tied to Travis Dermott. Okay, not just Travis Dermott, but if it weren’t for his recovery, Sandin’s demotion would probably have been delayed. This ties in with experience, but is still significant. Currently, the Leafs are rolling with Morgan Rielly/Cody Ceci, Jake Muzzin/Tyson Barrie, and Marincin/Holl. With Sandin, the last pairing is Sandin/Holl. Justin Holl has impressed this season, so it’s hard to imagine the Leafs end up benching him… again. The more obvious odd man out would be Martin Marincin in the first situation, but the easiest to move around/send down is Sandin. That makes sending him down a much more desirable option, compared to benching both Martin Marincin AND Justin Holl. That while still giving Sandin limited ice time.
Mike Babcock said after the move “I didn’t like it last game when he got hit in the head. I didn’t have much appreciation for that, to be honest with you, but I also say to myself: What am I doing? You want [him] to be ready for everything and I think that’s a big part of managing your assets.” Babcock obviously didn’t like when Justin Abdelkader hit Sandin in the head during a 5-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings. He has a point too, they’d hate to see Sandin go down, something he’d probably be more likely to avoid in the AHL.
If you’re curious why the Leafs loaned – and not assigned/sent down – Sandin, Jeff Veillette had a great explanation here.
In the end, it’s probably not as much of a surprise that Sandin will join the Marlies. Leafs fans should look forward to him dominating the AHL, and soon enough, the NHL.