Thursday night marks crossing the halfway point of Rasmus Sandin’s nine game tryout before his entry level contract no longer slides. Normally I’d say that burning a year of an entry level contract isn’t a big deal, but I think it’s important we reflect on just how terrible Kyle Dubas is at contract negotiations and what rushing that year will look like.
What we know so far is that Rasmus Sandin has been a perfectly serviceable bottom pairing defender in the NHL, and what we have to ask ourselves is that enough to keep him around. Before you all answer, yes, he should be kept around it’s important to consider that with the return of Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin will be in an entirely new dynamic. He won’t be the 5th defenseman, with platooning partners. He will be the 6th defenseman and possibly be platooning himself. There’s also the chance that he’ll be moved from the left side of the ice over to the right, and that could impact the numbers we’ve seen from him so far.
|Game #||Home/Away?||Result||GF||GA||CF||CA||CF%||CF Rel||xGF||xGA||xGF%||xGF Rel||TOI||Partner|
* played 4:10 with Holl and 3:57 with Ceci as his top two partners
All data from NaturalStatTrick.com
So first things first, Sandin seems to be doing better with Marincin as his partner. This certainly fits with the notion that Marincin is a statistical golden boy, and perhaps to some extent he could be helping carry those numbers.
Beyond that, we can also see that Sandin has done better at home. We only have the one road game to go off of, but what it tells us that when other teams have the final change they are taking are possibly taking advantage of the bottom pairing being out there, and Sandin was more or less shelled. Okay, by shelled I mean gave up a pretty much the number of shot attempts we’ve seen in most of his outings.
Probably most importantly at this stage is the fact that Sandin is averaging just under 12 minutes a night, not unreasonable ice time considering he’s on the third pairing.
Leaders in Blue (and how great has Tyson Barrie been?)
Okay, I didn’t intend to pull the defensive leaders as a means of showing how great Barrie has been, and how much we all should already love Jake Muzzin, instead I meant to show it as Sandin being decidedly middle of the pack while facing the easiest competition and having the weakest linemates.
When it comes to high danger chances, Sandin has particularly seen an excessive number of them, although he’s still not been on the ice for a goal against. His numbers show him as being stronger than his partners, which is encouraging as well, and might make the case for him lasting beyond the nine game mark.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that four games doesn’t say a whole lot, but when a decision needs to be made by game nine it doesn’t hurt to start looking at this.
The Dermott return
Assuming that Dermott returns at the beginning of November, that still leaves at least 4 game window where Sandin will have exceeded his 9 games, and Dermott isn’t ready. Of course the Leafs could go with any number of their other defensive options but with a certain level of talent drop involved. This is probably a case for Sandin exceeding his 9 games, and right now the numbers support that anyway.
The question then comes with Dermott back in the lineup, what do the Leafs do? Sandin slides into the 6th spot on the depth chart, and potentially is seeing less ice time and may be a health scratch from time to time, especially if Babcock is reluctant to play him on the road. We will also see one of Dermott or Sandin playing on the right side, something both are capable of, but not where they are strongest and where the Leafs would likely use them in their long term plans.
The Dermott return really shouldn’t impact Sandin because the idea of having the best possible lineup of defensemen should be a no brainer, but there are factors like getting Sandin ice time, playing on the wrong side, and waivers exempt status that also may come into play.
I can’t imagine the Leafs are too worried about losing Justin Holl on waivers at this point, and if for some reason they want to keep Holl over Marincin, I’m sure they could live with that fate as well. The one lingering thought is around ice time for Sandin, and the past three seasons point to Sandin already seeing less icetime than Mike Babcock has been giving his 6th defenseman in previous years. Presumably there’s nowhere to go but up and if we’ve made peace with 12 minutes a night, we should be happy with where it goes from here.
The Next Five Games
Over the next five games there will be some interesting tests for Sandin that might challenge my strongly held belief that he’s good enough to stay.
There are two more road games in the mix, and if Sandin is struggling when the opposition can put out their best players against him that might be sign he’s not ready.
The Leafs have games against Tampa, Boston, and Washington, and if the results are similar to what Sandin had against St. Louis, perhaps his time would be better spent with the Marlies.
The main things that would make Sandin a lock for the Leafs in my eyes would be a reduction in high danger chances against and an increase in offensive output when he’s on the ice. A large part of that would need to come in the form of offensive zone starts, which is something you don’t see a lot of when you are paired with Martin Marincin and often are out there with Freddie Gauthier’s line.
Sandin has been getting some icetime with Kerfoot’s line, and it would be interesting to see what he can help them achieve when getting the puck into the offensive zone. They have been success on breaking the puck out of their own zone so far this season, but pining down opposition hasn’t occurred too frequently. If Sandin can help sustain pressure, his case as a NHL defenseman improves.
As a betting man, I’m betting on Sandin. Not for certain that he will stay, but that he will preform well enough to stay. I am willing to bet that the Leafs will keep him right up until Dermott returns, and that’s when my very real worry about a demotion sets in, as the organization is no longer getting any sort of return out of that move, although they will eventually get a very good defenseman in their lineup.