Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Sandin, Nylander, Kerfoot & Spezza

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll remind fans that the Maple Leafs are not the only team who has unsigned RFAs. Second, in that same line, I’ll take a look at the Rasmus Sandin situation and try to imagine how I might approach it if I were general manager Kyle Dubas.

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Third, I’ll take a look at Alex Kerfoot and suggest why, if I were in the Maple Leafs’ organization, I wouldn’t be quick to let him go. Finally, I share the good news that – although Jason Spezza will not be on the ice as a player any longer – it will be good to retain him in the organization.  

Item One: Sandin Isn’t the Only RFA Left Unsigned

The Maple Leafs are not the only team who has yet to re-sign its RFAs. Imagine what the Dallas Stars are thinking right now. They have two key RFA’s to re-sign (Nick’s brother Jason Robertson and lights-out goalie Jake Oettinger). 

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The way Jason plays gives me hope that Nick will be able to follow suit and have a solid NHL career. Oettinger’s exploits in last season’s playoffs were the stuff of legend. If he isn’t one of the best young goalies around, I don’t know who is.

Item Two: Sandin’s Negotiations: The Backstory

The news remains very quiet between the Maple Leafs and Rasmus Sandin’s negotiating team. I’m actually not that surprised. Remember that William Nylander’s agent Lewis Gross and Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas have been through this same song and dance back in 2018. At the time, the Nylander holdout set the record for the longest time an RFA had gone not signing a new contract in the salary-cap era.

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I can’t know, but I would imagine that Dubas is highly competitive. He hates to lose and he also hates to look bad. Although, in the end, the William Nylander contract situation has worked out quite well for the Maple Leafs and has become almost a team-friendly contract. Still, if I were Dubas I would have been waiting for this moment – a chance to go toe-to-toe with Gross one more time. 

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I would have “studied game film” and considered other strategies I might have used differently. I would be ready for the same old ploys like using the media to try to create pressure and squeeze the negotiations. I’d be ready with a logical plan that would best benefit the organization; and, I would be prepared to stick to it.

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

The logic seems to be that it would be one thing to sign Nylander for an extra few hundred thousand dollars, but it would not be logical to be held hostage by a talented but as yet unproven young defenseman like Sandin. In addition, it isn’t clear where Sandin fits on the roster. The Maple Leafs have enough NHL calibre defensemen signed and the could let Sandin sit. 

I admit up front that I would not be a good general manager because I might hold grudges. If the rumors are correct, during the Nylander negotiations it was Nylander who called Dubas to restart the talks at the last minute. If that’s correct, it would mean that – at the last minute – both Gross and Dubas might have let the Swedish forward sit.  

Why would anything be different now? Considering these perspectives, unless I’m missing something, it would seem that Maple Leafs’ fans might expect Sandin to suit up for another team this season. If Sandin were to return, he’d have to sign below his asking price. In addition, the Maple Leafs would probably have to trade someone to create salary-cap space.

Item Two: Kerfoot vs. Sandin? I’d Take Kerfoot

Furthering the discussion about trading someone to make room for Sandin, it would seem the one player everyone points to as a trade chip is Alex Kerfoot. I can see why the Maple Leafs do not want to let him go. He’s a versatile player who’s also strong defensively. 

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During his last with the Colorado Avalanche, according to Evolvinghockey.com, he was statistically the NHL’s best defensive forward. He’s great on the penalty kill, good at face-offs, and he can fill in for injuries throughout the lineup. While he’s not a mega-star, he can play all over the place. 

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On top of that, he simply does his job game in and game out. He makes mistakes like every other player, but he also shows up in the postseason. There’s little drama with Kerfoot and he’s as sharp a knife as there is in the organization’s drawer. Generally being intelligent and a good guy on top of that count for a lot in my book.

If I were looking at keeping Sandin or Kerfoot – one or the other, I know where I’d land. And I wouldn’t have to think very hard.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Jason Spezza was a great hockey player, and he also – like Kerfoot – is one of the positive values on the team. He coached and spent time with the youngsters, was a great spokesman for the team with the media, and is well-liked in the locker room. His intangibles around the organization might be tougher to replace than his contributions. 

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Fortunately, the team won’t have to. I’m happy to see him remain with the organization. Everything Spezza brings would be hard to replace; and, it’s great the team doesn’t have to. I look forward to seeing what roles and responsibilities he’s given this season.