Maple Leafs Commentary: Liljegren, Sandin, Engvall, Muzzin & Kase

It was announced earlier this week that the Toronto Maple Leafs signed 23-year-old Timothy Liljegren to a two-year bridge contract for $1.4 million per season. 

Related: The Maple Leafs’ Best Defenseman? Rasmus Sandin

Our goal here is to examine what that means for the Maple Leafs as they add one more piece in their build toward the 2022-23 season. We believe it will have an impact on the entire roster and the moves the Maple Leafs will make going forward.

Liljegren: One of Six Maple Leafs’ Defensemen

Liljegren joins Morgan Rielly ($7.5 million), Jake Muzzin ($5.625 million), T.J. Brodie ($5 million), Justin Holl ($2 million), and Mark Giordano ($850,000), giving the Maple Leafs six defensemen signed for next season.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly is undoubtedly the Toronto Maple Leafs best defenseman
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That gives Sheldon Keefe the minimum complement of three right-side defensemen (Brodie, Liljegren, Holl) and three left-side defensemen (Rielly, Muzzin, Giordano) with the additional option of playing Brodie on the left side if needed.

Maple Leafs’ Salary-Cap Considerations

Altogether the six defensemen have a total cap hit of $22.325.000. Adding that to the ten forwards the Maple Leafs have on their roster at $48,968,116, two goalies at $4,550,000, and a salary-cap recapture penalty (for bonuses paid to Liljegren) of $212,500, gives the Maple Leafs 18 players signed for the 2022-23 season at a total cap hit of $76,055,616.

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That gives the team  $6,444,384 in remaining salary-cap space.  

Related: Maple Leafs’ Goalie Kallgren Will Challenge For NHL Playing Time in 2021-22

According to the website Capfriendly.com, the present Maple Leafs’ roster includes Kyle Clifford ($762,500), Nick Abruzesse ($850,000), and Erik Kallgren ($750,000).  Removing those three players from the roster by sending them to the Marlies would give them an additional $2,362,500 in cap space for the total space of $8,806,884. Clifford would have to clear waivers. Abruzesse and Kallgren would not.

Liljegren’s Status with the Maple Leafs

Unless Kyle Dubas has another move planned that would involve trading Liljegren, which we highly doubt, it means that Liljegren is all but guaranteed a full-time roster spot for the 2022-23 season. He now has to clear waivers to be sent down to the AHL, and there is no way we feel he would not be claimed if he were placed on waivers. 

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

What this bridge deal means is that Liljegren will still be a restricted free agent once his contract is up but he will be eligible for arbitration. The deal pays Liljegren $1.3 million in year one and $1.5 million in year two, which means that Liljegren’s qualifying offer will have to be a minimum of $1.5 million on his next deal guaranteeing him at least a $200,000 raise.

As far as his status on the defense depth chart, although Holl pushed Liljegren out of the top six in the playoffs, we feel that – with the whole next regular season in front of them – Liljegren now slots in ahead of Holl on the right side into the top four.

Unsigned Maple Leafs UFAs

Technically, unrestricted free agents Jack Campbell, Ilya Mikheyev, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Colin Blackwell are still roster players for the Maple Leafs, giving them until July 13th to negotiate with them before they are officially removed from the roster and become UFAs.

Related: Meet the Kraken: Forward Colin Blackwell

While we have no way of knowing for sure, various insider sources suggest that negotiations are not happening with either Campbell or Mikheyev.  We’ve heard nothing in regard to either Lyubushkin or Blackwell. 

That leaves the Maple Leafs with three restricted free agents yet to sign in Rasmus Sandin, Pierre Engvall, and Ondrej Kase. We’ve also heard nothing in regard to negotiations with any of these players. 

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the case of Sandin, despite many fans feeling that Liljegren passed Sandin on the depth chart for the Maple Leafs this past season, the website Evolving-hockey.com had predicted the next contract for Sandin would be higher than Liljegren’s. They forecasted Liljegren’s to come in at about $1.25 million and Sandin’s to be about $1.6 million. 

With the Maple Leafs having Rielly, Muzzin, and Giordano ahead of Sandin on the depth chart, we wonder if a move to the right side could be in store for Sandin. If so, he would most likely slot in ahead of Holl, pushing him out of the top six. 

Related: What Patrick Marleau Taught Mitch Marner & Auston Matthews

We have already speculated about the Maple Leafs possibly looking to deal Muzzin, thus making room for Sandin on the left side. If that were possible, it would clear just over $5.6 million in salary-cap space. The question then becomes, would it weaken them significantly defensively?

Unless Engvall has an unreasonable ask for his next deal, we don’t expect there to be too much of a problem getting him re-signed. Engvall is eligible for arbitration. The worst case scenario is that the Maple Leafs qualify Engvall at his present $1.25 million and take their chances with the arbitration.

What Will Happen to Kase?

As for Kase, our gut tells us the only way the Maple Leafs would be willing to extend him is if it was for less than the $1.25 million he earned on his last deal. They certainly don’t want to have to go to arbitration with him. With his history, it might be a gamble. On one hand, there’s his concussion history to take into account. On the other, he’s a former 20-goal scorer and has shown he has offensive skills when healthy. An arbitrator could go really high or really low on his value. 

Related: Marner Could be Moved if Maple Leafs Decide to Retool

We expect in Kase’s case the Maple Leafs will not qualify him. They’ll most likely let him become an unrestricted free agent, and negotiate with him as a UFA with the goal of bringing him back for an amount that can be fully buried in the AHL. It is also possible, with his injury history they just let him walk.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]