Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Sandin, Lyubushkin, Dzingel & Matthews

Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs meet the new-look Montreal Canadiens for the first time since new head coach Martin St. Louis has taken over. The word on St. Louis from his players is positive. Since their new coach began on February 9, the Canadiens are 2-3-0. They’ve beaten the St. Louis Blues and the New York Islanders over their last two games by scores of 3-2.

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Specifically, the often-considered trade candidate defenseman Ben Chiarot noted, “He’s got everyone motivated and excited to play. Guys are seeing success, we are getting more touches, more offensive chances, and less breakdowns. He’s got us playing good hockey.”

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For the Maple Leafs, Petr Mrazek starts in goal and Auston Matthews looks to restart a points-scoring streak after his nine-game streak (where he scored eight goals and 10 assists) was ended against the Blues. In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share and comment upon news that’s emerging from the team. 

Item One: Rasmus Sandin Should Be Back for Tonight’s Game

Although Rasmus Sandin was assigned to the Toronto Marlies, it was only a move on paper. Maple Leafs’ fans should look for him to be in the lineup tonight.

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

Sandin was demoted due to the salary-cap constraints created when the Maple Leafs traded for both Ryan Dzingel and Ilya Lyubushkin on Saturday. The 21-year-old Sandin also had to miss practice because of the ruling. However, he worked with the team’s development staff yesterday morning. 

As I was just posting, the news came in that Dzingel had been picked off waivers by the San Jose Sharks. Now that Dzingel has been claimed, the team can simply recall Sandin. On the season, Sandin has scored two goals and added 10 assists (for 12 points) in 42 games this season. 

Item Two: Ilya Lyubushkin Expected to Join Maple Leafs in Columbus

Ilya Lyubushkin won’t be in the lineup tonight, but he’s expected to join the Maple Leafs for Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jackets in Columbus. It will be interesting to see what kind of a player he is, but one thing we do know is that he’s been nicknamed the “Russian Bear” because of his size, his strength, and the physical style he plays. That can’t be bad.

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Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe reported yesterday that the team had to settle some immigration paperwork before Lyubushkin can play. That paperwork might be in relationship to COVID-19. At present, it’s reported that Lyubushkin will be ready in time for the game against the Blue Jackets. So, it’s a wait-and-see scenario.

One thing we do know is that his former teammate and current Maple Leafs’ forward Michael Bunting, who played with Lyubushkin in Arizona last year, is happy with the trade. Yesterday, Bunting shared that “Boosh is a great guy off the ice, and on the ice, he works hard every single night, he’s willing to block shots, put his body on the line, he plays hard out there, and he’s a great addition for us.” 

Ilya Lyubushkin Arizona Coyotes
Ilya Lyubushkin, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bunting added two insights about the team’s new defenseman. First, his “The Russian Bear” nickname stems from Lyubushkin’s size and strength. “He’s quiet, but he has a great heart, he’s really funny, a great guy to have around the room.”

Second, as Bunting notes, Lyubushkin is “just a big boy and he plays rough out there, not afraid to be physical at all. I’m looking forward to seeing him out there. I was able to play with him last year, and I think he’s going to be a great addition here.”

Item Three: Don’t Ask Auston Matthews Stupid Questions

When Auston Matthews spoke to the media for the first time since colliding with the crossbar near the end of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he seemed a bit surly. Who can blame him? It’s good to remember that NHL players are always playing a little bit hurt because it’s a rough game. However, this time Matthews lost the battle with the crossbar in his collision and needed some painful repairs. 

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The 24-year-old dislodged one of his teeth and admits that it had been a bit of a battle’ during the recovery process and hopes to continue feeling better with each passing day. Matthews spent several hours in a dentist’s office on Friday. He lost one tooth and required stitches to repair the damage. 

Matthews noted that “I’ve had better days. It’s been a battle trying to eat and all that stuff. I mean, it is what it is. Just try and push through it and hopefully continue to feel better and better every day.” 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When he was asked to talk about the play, he was a bit cheeky (no pun intended). Matthews answered: “I saw the crossbar and decided it would be a great idea if I just put my face right through it and see what happened.” 

Honestly, it reminded me that sometimes fans – and here I’m talking about myself – sometimes take for granted the conditions hockey players face in their work.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

I’m excited about the trade. I would have hated to see Dubas try another rental like he did last season with Nick Foligno. It wasn’t Foligno’s fault, but it was a disaster of complexity in my opinion. First, it was costly; second, there were too many moving pieces. It was costly in a myriad of ways.

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This trade seems more straightforward. If Lyubushkin turns out well, he won’t be that costly to re-sign next season. If he doesn’t, it was an inexpensive rental. Either way, I’m eager to see. Bring on the bear.