Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Aston-Reese, Sandin, Gio & Goat

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share insights about Zach Aston-Reese’s arrival and what that might mean to the team. Second, I’ll wonder if Rasmus Sandin is missing a career opportunity by not taking advantage of the time to partner with Mark Giordano.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe

Third, staying with Sandin, I’ll consider whether Sandin’s issue might not be the length of his contract as opposed to the amount of money. Finally, I’ll make a short note about the team’s coming fourth line and take a look back at Frederik Gauthier to see where he is now.

Item One: How Do You Not Like Zach Aston-Reese PTO?

How can a fan of hockey NOT like the Zach Aston-Reese PTO signing? On the face of it, it just seems he can do far more for the team than either Kyle Clifford or Wayne Simmonds. And, that’s not to deprecate either of those two veteran warriors. They have a place, but perhaps it’s not with this version of the Maple Leafs.

Aston-Reese is a forechecking force. He’s a left-winger who hits. Averaging only 13:02 over the 69 games he played, he ranked 11th for all NHL forwards in hits with 231 in 2021-22. He’d top the Maple Leafs by a mile.

Sign up for our regular 'Maple Leafs Newsletter' for all the latest.

In short, Aston-Reese is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL, one of the best fore-checkers and back-checkers around, and a great skater who’s made a career out of physical play. Given how David Kampf helped solidify the team’s third line last season, it can’t hurt to have another strong defensive player to go along with the Maple Leafs’ firepower. 

Related: 12 of the Fastest Skaters Ever in the NHL

Is there a chance to really double down on the defense and put Aston-Reese with Kampf? If the third line became Aston-Reese, Kampf, and Calle Jarnkrok, that would allow Pierre Engvall to move to the left-wing position on the second line. On the face of it, that would be a move I wouldn’t mind seeing.

Given that he’s come in on a PTO but not a regular contract, he’s looking to make the team. But from where I sit, that seems a given. And, if it is, might that allow the team to trade from strength as opposed to simply moving out a contract and the player who goes with it? In specific terms, what might this signing mean for Alex Kerfoot?

Item Two: Is Sandin Missing a Career Opportunity?

Nobody’s asked, but if I were to offer Rasmus Sandin some advice (as an old guy), it would be to take advantage of his unique situation with the Maple Leafs. I specifically mean that he has one of the best veteran defensemen around in Mark Giordano, who’s already shown his loyalty to the team by taking a hometown discount. Given the organizational ethos of veteran players working with younger colleagues (think Jason Spezza’s example), what an opportunity the team would have to pair Sandin and Giordano.

Jason Spezza Toronto Maple Leafs
Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Although the left-side of the defense is loaded, the right side isn’t. Is there a chance that head coach Sheldon Keefe could put those two together on a pairing that would engage in on-ice, game-time instruction at the same time as the game is occurring? Giordano could “school” and mentor Sandin during games (or before and after). Last season, Giordano showed the ability to make every defenseman who played with him better. Why not Sandin?

Related: Matt Murray’s Legacy with the Penguins

In fact, would it be possible to have the two switch sides, with Giordano on the right sometimes and Sandin on the left – then vice versa? Taking the long view, Giordano is only signed for two seasons. Those two seasons would offer Sandin a way to solidify his place in the team’s future.

Item Three: Is Sandin After Something Other than Money?

Given the apparent lack of logic that seems to be fueling his holdout, is it something other than the yearly salary that Sandin is after? How likely is it that Gross sees that Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas already has already “contracted away” Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander and wants the same for his other client? In other words, when Matthews, Marner, and Nylander’s current contracts expire, they will automatically become UFAs (unrestricted free agents).

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Right now, Dubas has tons of negotiating power over Sandin, but he won’t have similar power when his three forwards end their contracts. Is Sandin holding out for a four-year contract that would also take him to UFA status? When Gross represented Nylander, he already was able to negotiate that deal.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs’ fourth line is starting to look as if it has a chance of being special this season. When I first started covering the team almost four years ago (which will come in October), the fourth line was sort of rag-tag. It was a bit of a whatever player could be thrown out there. The biggest deal was that the total salary of the three players come in at under $3 million.

Related: Maple Leaf’s Commentary: The Honeymoon’s Over for Dubas & Shanahan

Speaking about the 2018-19 season, the team’s fourth-line center was Frederik Gauthier. That season, The Goat played 70 games and scored three goals with 11 assists (for 14 points). Last season, Gauthier played with the Utica Comets, scoring eight goals and 24 assists (for 32 points) in 51 games. 

As far as I can see, he remains unsigned this season. Good luck to him, he seemed like a character.