As you probably saw yesterday, Timothy Liljegren, Toronto’s first-round pick in the 2017 Draft, signed his entry-level contract with the team. It’s a pretty standard deal; the maximum $925,000 in base salary, the maximum $92,500 in signing bonuses, and $400,000 in Schedule A bonuses. That’s a little more than what Lou Lamoriello is used to giving his top picks (he once got away with giving Adam Larsson no bonuses after drafting him 4th), but it’s a deal that works out well for both sides. Once Liljegren makes it to the Leafs, he has some incentive to try his hardest, and with a maximum cap hit of $1.325 million, Toronto projects to have yet another under market value player added to their roster just as the first wave of youngers starts to get their raises.
Fantastic scenario for both sides, and done a week faster than when Auston Matthews’ deal had everybody (myself included) needlessly woke and concerned last year. But now that it’s signed, and now that Liljegren has had a showing that we’ve deemed good and noteworthy at development camp, many are wondering where exactly he’s going to play. He’s got four options, but which makes the most sense for him?
Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
PRO: Moving to the weakest available competition would give him a chance to really experiment with his game. After a year of struggles, maybe being able to dial it back and dominate would do him some favours?
CON: At the same time, confidence will get boring quickly. For Tim to grow, he needs to play against players better than him, so he can leapfrog them in due time. Plus, I don’t think the front office would be looking forward to the debate about whether he would’ve been better as a Knight or a Greyhound.
Likeliness: Zero. Liljegren hasn’t really acknowledged it as an option. Lamoriello has ruled it out.
Toronto Marlies (AHL)
PRO: You get him as close to the staff as possible. Can still be around every coach you have at your disposal, can get to know his future NHL teammates, and you can track his diet and his medical vitals. The most hands on way to shape his future, and because he’s a pick out of Europe, it won’t impact his ELC for two years.
CON: The Marlies have a logjam of defencemen. While writing this post this morning, they signed Michael Paliotta to an AHL deal, giving them their third legitimate AHL right-handed defenceman. That’s without Alexey Marchenko getting sent down (a strong possibility), and that’s without taking into account the left side, which will include one or both of Travis Dermott and Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Andrew Neilsen, and Rinat Valiev. It’s a crush load. Bringing Liljegren in will mean lessened ice time for him and another legitimate NHL prospect.
Likeliness: It’s a fun sounding option, but it’s very unlikely to happen to start the year. Ice time matters for these kids and there’s very little of it available right now.
Rogle BK (SHL)
PRO: He’s familiar with the league, and it’s probably the third best in the world. His competition stays high, he stays close to home in a familiar spot, and he gets to have a vengeance year after all his struggles last season.
CON: Rogle were bad last year. Like, barely staved off relegation to the Allsvenskan levels of bad. Not that the Allsvenskan would’ve been a terrible place for Liljegren to play, but I get the idea of wanting to keep Liljegren out of a struggling front-to back culture. Plus, their logo is basically an Oilers logo with a chicken on it. Nobody wants that.
Likeliness: The most likely scenario. The team has room for him, there’s not really much elsewhere for them to go but up, and they can always switch things up later if it becomes a bad fit.
Straight to the NHL
PRO: It’d be pretty sweet to see the Leafs have a Calder Trophy winner in back to back seasons, and for him to be there for the first ring. Hey, one can dream, right?
CON: Plenty of issues here. He won’t get the minutes he’d get elsewhere, it would be a severe spike in competition for a player that has to get used to his own body again, let alone the best players in the world, and it negates the concept of getting contract help if you’re going to just start using his deal now in a lineup spot that normally costs about what he makes.
Likeliness: He’d have to be absolutely, undeniably lights out in camp for this to make any sense. Like, best defenceman on the team good. I think the world of him, but I wouldn’t yet bet on it.
I know a lot of people have brought up the Marlies as an option because the player hasn’t ruled it out yet, and neither has the team. The ELC definitely adds some reason to believe it’s possible as well.
At the same time, remember that William Nylander also signed his entry-level in the first summer and was sent back to MODO at the conclusion of camp. Now, he did find his way to the Marlies by the winter, but that was in large part because his team was an on and off the ice disaster.
With that in mind, I’m still putting my chips heavily into the SHL. It’s still a bit better of a league than the AHL, and it’s the one he knows. He won’t be further complicating the Marlies roster, and if they do eventually decide that he’s worth having play for them, they can always have him head back.
Ideally, he plays this year with Rogle, gets his groove back, dominates for the Marlies in 18/19, and becomes a full-time Leaf the year after. Having a top defenceman at 3x$1.325 is a dream scenario for a contender if they can properly develop him to that level in the next 26-27 months.
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