Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kadri, Sandin & Liljegren Offer Sheets

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a bit of an eclectic look at some of the news that’s going around the NHL. One item has to do with former Maple Leafs’ player Nazem Kadri. I’ll also take a bit of a revisionist look back at the round-one loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in light of their dominating round-two sweep over the Florida Panthers, a team that was the 2021-22 President’s Trophy winner.

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Finally, I’ll share a possibility that I’ve been thinking about that lies in the shadow of Mark Giordano’s recent signing with the team. I believe there’s a possibility that the team’s two up-and-coming defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, who are on expiring entry-level-contracts, might be ripe for offer sheets from other NHL teams.

Item One: Ex-Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri Shows Up Big in St. Louis

For some reason, when I think of Nazem Kadri and the playoffs, a science concept I learned in grade 9 comes to mind – colloidal suspension. It’s a phrase that refers to two things that don’t mix perfectly, and they’re always little crystals from one mixture that are insoluble in the other. When he was with the Maple Leafs, Kadri would be having a great playoff series, but then something would happen to show that things just weren’t perfect.

Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara Toronto Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri Jake DeBrusk
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara pulls Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri off teammate Jake DeBrusk during the playoffs.

With Kadri, you get the great with the other. If you’re a Maple Leafs’ fan you probably have a soft place in your heart for Kadri. I do. He was a player who truly bled blue. So, if you’re like me, part of you wish he were still with the team – even if he wasn’t having a career season. Still, you’re happy he landed well in Colorado and has found a home. And found a home he has. I admit love the guy.

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During Game 3 action between Kadri’s Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues, Kadri carried another ex-Maple Leafs’ player in Blues’ defenseman Calle Rosen into Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington. What a stir that caused. Binnington suffered a lower-body injury and won’t be able to return to the series. 

It was the kind of on-the-edge play that happens so often in the NHL playoffs. Afterward, the response of Blues’ fans was sadly over the top. Kadri became the victim of racial slurs and received death threats and other threats of violence via social media. The Avalanche organization even became involved with the St. Louis police to try to ensure Kadri’s safety.

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Kadri came out in Game 4 on fire. Noting that the threats helped motivate him (although I doubt he needed motivation), he turned in a dazzling on-ice performance by scoring his first playoff hat trick in helping to lead his Avalanche team to a 6-3 Game 4 victory. 

That win gives the Avalanche a 3-1 series lead over the Blues. As for Kadri, he’s continuing his career season and now has scored five goals and added five assists (for 10 points) in eight playoff games. It’s his best season ever, this time both during the regular season and the playoffs.

Item Two: Rethinking Maple Leafs’ Postseason in Light of Tampa Bay’s Sweep

Last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning swept the best team over the NHL’s regular season in their round-two series with their neighbor the Florida Panthers. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy looked unbeatable in this series, and the Tampa Bay skaters carried the team to a series win that never seemed in doubt.

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner celebrate a goal against the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy
(Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

A few questions emerge from that series for me. Is it now time for Jumbo Joe Thornton – who’s had an amazing NHL career – to finally settle down in Davos, Switzerland? Second, given Mark Giordano’s recent signing with the Maple Leafs, will Ontario-native Claude Giroux, who’s on an expiring $8.275 contract, sign a similar team-friendly contract with what he thinks will be a Stanley Cup-contending team? Will he stay with the Panthers for a much smaller salary-cap hit?

The total domination of the Lightning also suggests that they’re not yet at the end of their dynasty but perhaps right in the midst of it. They might yet be beaten; and, in the long run, perhaps Kadri’s Avalanche will do it. They still probably have to beat the Carolina Hurricanes; but, with the Canes’ goalie situation, it’s difficult to see them going all the way this postseason.

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The round-two sweep also gives me pause to re-view the Maple Leafs’ performance in round one with new eyes. The Maple Leafs’ were different than other postseasons. They were not outplayed. They weren’t out-coached. They made Vasilevskiy look mortal. They went toe-to-toe with a very strong team and almost won. They pushed the Lightning to the brink.

The Maple Leafs didn’t quit. They had answers. They came back from being down. The players – all of them from stars to depth – showed up. They still came up short, but only by a whisker. There were more positives and only one BIG negative; they didn’t win the series.

Sadly, that’s a big negative that most Maple Leafs’ fans won’t let them forget. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Although the narrative of the Maple Leafs’ management is that they will likely stand pat on changes to the team, that seems more a philosophical concept than a roster reality. There have to be a large number of changes to the team’s roster for the upcoming season.

One area that I’m really interested in is the team’s defense. My opinion is that Giordano’s signing helps. However, part of the value of that signing is the mentorship he’d likely provide the young Maple Leafs’ defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren as they mature into the top-pairing defensemen the team expects.

Timothy Liljegren Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The issue is whether they will still be here. They are ripe for offer sheets. They fall in a salary range where it would cost another team very little – perhaps at the most a second-round draft pick – to sign them. That salary range might also be steep for the Maple Leafs to match. 

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As a result, I think there’s a chance that one or both of them might be traded. Could it be as a rider to sweeten a Petr Mrazek salary-cap dump? We’ll see soon.