The Toronto Maple Leafs preseason was more interesting this year than it has been in a long time. Not so much for what’s happened on the ice, although there are a couple of surprises there, but more for what’s happened off the ice. That’s usually not a good thing and it isn’t for the Maple Leafs now either.
Toronto Maple Leafs Preseason Stories
Auston Matthews Charged With Disorderly Conduct
Sportstalk radio in Toronto has been dominated by the story of Auston Matthews being charged with disorderly conduct. Matthews and his friends allegedly harassed a security guard in the middle of the night. The details in full can be found here. If it’s all true, it’s an embarrassing situation for Matthews, the Maple Leafs, and fans of the team. It doesn’t seem like Matthews did anything unforgivable, but it’s a black mark. It’s also a disappointment to everyone involved.
Further compounding the issue, which adds to the disappointment of the Maple Leafs and their fans, is the fact that Matthews reportedly didn’t tell anyone in the organization about the situation. Apparently Matthews and Kyle Dubas have straightened things out between them, but the lack of maturity, both in what Matthews is accused of doing and that he hid it from the team is concerning. It’s a chance for a young man and a young team to learn and grow, but it’s a terrible way to start a season. Especially one that looks as promising as this one does for Toronto.
Perhaps even worse than Matthews not informing the team of the charges, is the timing of it going public. The Maple Leafs were close to announcing a captain, and maybe they still are, but if it was Matthews they were going to name, what do they do now? They can’t name Matthews captain at this point. It would make an already bad situation even worse. They can’t avoid naming a captain either, at least it’s not a good look. It would tell the world that Matthews was going to be captain, but then he blew it.
The best-case scenario is they were already intending on naming John Tavares or Morgan Rielly captain. Although even if that’s true and they name one of those players captain there will always be a question lingering. Many will wonder if they changed their minds in light of the incident with Matthews. The more one thinks about the situation, the worse it appears to be.
Ideally, by December or January, the Maple Leafs and Matthews have done all the right things to make amends, the Maple Leafs have a captain, they’re playing well and this is just a speed bump on the road to a successful season.
What should be the biggest story of the preseason so far is the emergence of Rasmus Sandin. He’s 19 years old, but you would never guess it.
Sandin isn’t a big defender at 6’0″ and 184 pounds, but he’ll make a check. Not so much to level the opposing player, but to separate him from the puck. What checking an opponent is supposed to be used for. He’s been smart with the puck, able to move it out of his own zone and cause turnovers. Perhaps the biggest thing in his favour is his confidence. He’s a smart enough player to know the right thing to do, but it’s the confidence to do it that has really made him shine in a handful of preseason games this year.
“All you’ve got to do is watch him,” said Babcock according to Sportsnet. “He’s smart, he knows how to play, he’s got a feel. He’s one of these guys it doesn’t seem to matter how old he is because his hockey sense is so good.”
If Sandin can be a regular contributor to the Maple Leafs defence. One that improves this team, he’ll be a key player for them in more ways than one. Sandin is set to make just under $900k this season and for the two seasons after. If he can work his way into the top four at that salary, he’ll be one of the most valuable players on the Maple Leafs. With three players making north of $11 million a year, players like Sandin are necessary for the Maple Leafs to have the depth required to contend for a Stanley Cup.
That Sandin may bump Cody Ceci down the line up is another potential bonus, although it’s still likely Ceci is given a long regular season look before a decision is made on him. For Sandin to usurp Ceci, he would either have to play the right side, which is his off-side, or Babcock would need to move Rielly or Jake Muzzin to their off-side. That’s not something Babcock has historically been comfortable doing. Expect Ceci to play in the top four until Travis Dermott returns, unless Sandin, or Ceci with poor play, forces Mike Babcock‘s hand.
The Fourth Line
Babcock and Dubas have a couple of decisions ahead of them. There are a few players that could claim to have earned a spot in Toronto’s lineup, but there isn’t enough space for them all. Ilya Mikheyev and Trevor Moore very likely have spots in the bottom six. Jason Spezza as well, despite some early preseason doubt.
Many thought Frederik Gauthier would have to find a new home, but there may be a case to have both him and Spezza on the fourth line. Each could take draws on their strong side and then the other would always be there in case the other gets thrown out of the faceoff circle.
That doesn’t leave as many spots open for the rest of the group which includes Nic Petan, Kenny Agostino, Nick Shore, Matt Read, Dmytro Timashov, and Egor Korshkov. Whom of this group sticks with the team is anyone’s guess at this point. Even Babcock is likely considering a dartboard at this point. That’s good news for an NHL team. There are always injuries.
Some of these players may find themselves claimed on waivers. Although there will be enough left playing for the Toronto Marlies that Dubas won’t have to worry about needing depth.
Toronto Maple Leafs Preseason Closer
The Maple Leafs have one more preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings before opening the season on Wednesday at home to the Ottawa Senators. The goaltending is decided. The defence is very likely decided. There aren’t many decisions left for the offence. Once the final roster is announced, the only thing left to do is count the hours till opening night.
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