It’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs, like a lot of the top teams in the NHL, have a salary-cap problem. According to Capfriendly.com, the team has about $7 million in salary-cap space and they still have a number of players to attempt to re-sign if they want to keep this group together.
Two of those players are the young Swedish defensive “twins” 22-year-old Rasmus Sandin and 23-year-old Timothy Liljegren. They’re not twins, but we speak about them so much in the same breath that it sometimes seems that way. Both are restricted free agents (RFAs) this summer.
Sandin’s and Liljegren’s Development Has Been Pretty Consistent
Since they were first-round picks drafted in back-to-back years (in 2017 and in 2018), Sandin and Liljegren have seemingly been joined at the hip and always seem to be compared with each other in the media and comment sections by fans. Going into the offseason, both are on expiring ECL deals that pay them almost identical money. Sandin’s deal was for $894,000 a year while Liljegren’s was for $863,000.
As for which player is better, that also varies from person to person. Both players have averaged 0.32 points per game in their short careers, Sandin for 88 games and Liljegren for 74 games. Liljegren is the slightly bigger of the two players at 6-foot and 198 pounds to Sandin’s 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds.
However, Sandin is the more physical of the two, with 132 hits to Liljegren’s 98. Liljegren is slightly the better shot blocker with 72 blocked shots to Sandin’s 68 in 14 fewer games.
Can the Organization Keep Both Young Players?
We think it’s safe to say that Dubas looks at both of these players as future top-four defenders with the Maple Leafs. The consensus among media prognosticators is that the most likely scenario for each player’s next contracts is a bridge deal that would see each of them make in the $1.5 to $2 million range.
But, there’s one little thing in the present CBA that could throw a big monkey wrench into those plans. That little thing is called an offer sheet.
Both Sandin and Liljegren put up excellent analytics. Of the six defensemen who played 600 or more minutes at five-on-five for the Maple Leafs this past regular season, Liljegren and Sandin were the top two players in Corsi-For percentage, Goals-For percentage, Expected-Goals For percentage, Scoring Chances-For percentage, and High-Danger Scoring-Chances percentage. Because teams are putting more and more emphasis on advanced statistics, we could see other general managers having an eye on both Sandin and Liljegren as possible targets.
The Offer Sheet Has Become a More Accepted “Tool”
It used to be that the offer sheet as a team-building strategy was frowned upon and seldom used, but that’s changing over the past few seasons. If the Carolina Hurricanes were willing to offer sheet Jesperi Kotkaniemi, a forward who scored five goals and 20 points during the last year of his ECL for the Montreal Canadiens to the tune of $6 million, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a team, or teams, could potentially offer sheet either one of Sandin or Liljegren, or even both.
We are not just dreaming this up. Stephan Roget, writing for the Canucksarmy website, recently mentioned Sandin as a possible offer-sheet target for the Vancouver Canucks.
In his post, he wrote the following about Sandin.
“We’re getting a little tired of saying a defender has superior skating and puck-moving abilities to go along with a strong two-way game, but that’s exactly what the Canucks are looking for this summer, and it’s exactly what Sandin brings to the table. Though he’s a tad undersized, Sandin can both drive offence from the blue-line and keep things tight in his own end. Aside from a need for more muscle, there are few holes to be found in his game.”
Roget added, “Cap space is always an issue in Toronto, and this offseason will be no different. Plus, wouldn’t it be fun if the Canucks stole a Sandin from the Maple Leafs a decade after they stole a Sundin?” To sign Sandin, Roget proposes an offer of about $3.25 million over four years. [Interesting comment about Sandin so many seasons later.]
According to the offer-sheet compensation list on Capfriendly, a team could offer either of these young players between $2.1 and $4.2 million a season and only has to give up a second-round pick in doing so. That would force the Maple Leafs to either match the offer or lose the player.
It’s Possible We Could Lose One or Both of Sandin and Liljegren
It’s not a foregone conclusion that these two youngsters will remain with the organization. That might especially be true for Liljegren. Although he played well, the team made him a healthy scratch for the last games of round one. He might be in the mood to find a new home.
In regard to Sandin and Liljegren, we could easily see them accepting an offer sheet. It would be a win-win situation for a team submitting the offer sheet. You sign a player who might step into a lot of team’s top four, and you force the Maple Leafs to match the offer and put further strain on their already tenuous cap situation.
[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.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf