Maple Leafs Commentary: The Need To Avoid Age-Old Mistakes

The Old Prof and I have been collaborating on Toronto Maple Leafs’ articles for over a year now and I can’t adequately express how much fun it has been. We both share a lot of the same views about the game and the Maple Leafs but we look at things differently. We seem to enhance each other’s ideas and also seem to have an easy time putting them into words.

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We don’t always agree on everything, but when we don’t agree we understand the other’s point of view and respect it.

Related: Maple Leafs Need to Change Their Pattern and It Starts With Sandin   

In the case of the recent post, the Old Prof wrote regarding Rasmus Sandin, I completely agree with his title. I wholeheartedly agree that the Maple Leafs need to change an age-old pattern and that the change should start with Sandin. But, I disagree as to which pattern they need to change and with the Old Prof’s conclusion as to which is the best direction to go in regard to Sandin. 

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

The pattern the Old Prof said needed to be changed was the pattern of over-valuating the Maple Leafs’ own prospects and younger players on the team to the point where these players are signed for more than their market value. He then believes that the organization, because it wants to keep the players they’ve developed, often capitulate to agent’s demands for over-market value. 

A Key Point in This Conversation Is Sandin’s Value

Untouched in the Old Prof’s post is a key question regarding Sandin’s skill level and his importance to the future of the team. 

Since Sandin and Timothy Liljegren were both drafted I have closely monitored the progress of each of them. They are both very talented in their own unique ways. I personally project that the two of them are destined to be solid top-four defensemen. 

Related: The Best NHL Defensemen Ever

I do not think that Sandin’s value is being overestimated.

A Bigger Problem Has Plagued the Maple Leafs

There is, however, a much bigger age-old problem that has plagued the Maple Leafs for over half a century, and it appears they might make the same error again. The mistake they keep repeating is to deal away young fresh talent in return for older experienced players. They have been doing that for as long as I can remember. 

The 1967 Stanley Cup Champion Maple Leafs were one of the oldest teams to ever win the cup. They had ten players 30 years or older, six of them 35 or older, and two of them in their 40s. 

Maple Leafs celebrate the 1964 Cup win.

The 1993 team that came oh so close to making the cup final had eight players in their 30s, along with 29-year-old Doug Gilmour and 29-year-old Dave Anderychuk.  

The last Maple Leafs’ team to make it to the Conference Finals was the 2002 team.  They had 15 players aged 30 or older, five of them 35 or older. 

Sandin Is Not a Player the Maple Leafs Can Afford to Lose

Flash forward to the present and once again we have the threat of losing a fresh young 22-year-old talent loaded with potential, in Sandin, because the team signed a 38-year-old defenseman in Mark Giordano.

Related: Maple Leafs Should Make Giordano More Than a Playoff Rental

I’m not saying that signing Giordano was a mistake. Even at the age of 38, he’s still an extremely gifted defenseman, and the contract couldn’t be better for a cap-strapped team like the Maple Leafs. But, if the team lets Sandin walk as a result it would be a colossal error. 

Mark Giordano Toronto Maple Leafs
Mark Giordano, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

This isn’t a case of a player being greedy either. This is not about money. Sandin simply wants to play, and he needs to play. With Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Mark Giordano ahead of him on the left side of the defense there does not appear to be a place for him in the lineup.

Muzzin Needs to Make Way For Sandin

How can the Maple Leafs find a way to give Sandin the ice time he needs? Rielly and Giordano, with their new contracts in hand, are not going anywhere. That means the situation comes down to a choice of maybe getting another year or two out of 33-year-old Jake Muzzin, or staying invested in the development of a player that projects to be a top-four defenseman. 

I agree that if Muzzin stays healthy, and that is a big “if,” at this point in his career he’s a better player than Sandin. However, his skills are deteriorating and the style of game he needs to play has taken its toll on his body.  

Related: The WHA – A Look Back at the Upstart Hockey League

On top of that, the Maple Leafs have shown they can win in the regular season without Muzzin. They went 24-11 with him out of the lineup in 2021-22. They also haven’t made it past the first round of the playoffs in four seasons with Muzzin on the team.

We concede that Muzzin is the better player, but if Sandin is given his spot in the lineup this team is still going to win a lot more than it loses. Sandin then has the full season to help him make that next step in his game. If the team feels they need to bolster their defense for the playoffs that can be done at the trade deadline.

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Meanwhile, the $5.6 million cap hit that Muzzin now takes up can be used to bolster the rest of the lineup, be it in goal, or to acquire a much-needed right-side top-four defenseman. 

Much has been made of Muzzin’s No-Trade Clause, but as the Tampa Bay Lightning showed with Ryan McDonagh it does not mean a player can’t be traded. 

Related: 7 Cool Things About Carey Price

Rasmus Sandin is going to be a solid top-four defenseman in this league. I just hope it is for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

[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.]