When the Toronto Maple Leafs recalled Rasmus Sandin from the minor leagues today, fans were excited about him potentially replacing the injured Jake Muzzin. It’s not Muzzin he’s replacing however as instead Toronto has announced that Morgan Rielly suffered a broken foot during last night’s game and will be out at least eight weeks.
The loss of Rielly is a tremendous blow to the Maple Leafs’ season, especially as they try to navigate a recent rough patch. The team now sits just a single point ahead of the Florida Panthers after being embarrassed last night and have lost three in a row to fall four points behind the second place Tampa Bay Lightning. Without Muzzin and Rielly for the next several weeks, the team suddenly looks thinner than ever on defense, a position that was already not their strength.
In Rielly’s absence, Travis Dermott will likely see an increased role but it’s not clear how the other two left defense spots will shake out. Martin Marincin was recently extended by the team but has struggled when asked to log heavy minutes in the NHL, while Sandin is still just 19 and has only six games of NHL experience under his belt.
It’s the unknown of Sandin that makes things interesting, given how much success he has had under Sheldon Keefe when they were together in the minor leagues. The 29th overall pick from 2018 recorded 28 points in 44 games last season as one of the youngest players in the AHL, and was even better in the Calder Cup playoffs. This season he was once again excellent before leaving for the World Juniors, where he was arguably the best defenseman in the tournament logging huge minutes for Sweden.
Still, the AHL and World Juniors are not the same as the NHL. With Toronto in a battle for every point just to qualify for the playoffs, the team may have to go out and get some more experienced hands to help out. How exactly they can afford it will be a creative task for the front office, given how complicated their cap structure has been this season moving players on and off long-term injured reserve. They also don’t have their first-round pick, thanks to an offseason trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.