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Maple Leafs Pregame #7: 5 Things to watch as the Kevin Gravel era starts

What could possibly be more exciting than the Leafs debut of Kevin Gravel? I dunno, how about the Minnesota freakin’ Wild. I guess this is one of those boring matchups that always seem to mysteriously get scheduled for Tuesday nights. No one will blame you if you don’t watch, but if you do watch there’s a good chance the Leafs win because the Wild are really bad. Also, Kevin Gravel is probably in the press box tonight. Sorry for misleading you.

Fun fact from our friends at OddsShark.com – The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Minnesota’s last 5 games against an opponent in the Atlantic division.

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LW C RW Forwards
Andreas Johnsson
Andreas Johnsson

Rating: 73.7#47 LW

Auston Matthews
Auston Matthews

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Rating: 81.9#5 C

William Nylander
William Nylander

Rating: 74.7#28 RW

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FL1 Rating
Rating: 76.78#13 FL1
Kasperi Kapanen
Kasperi Kapanen

Rating: 72.2#82 LW

John Tavares
John Tavares

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Rating: 78.8#15 C

Mitch Marner
Mitch Marner

Rating: 78.5#16 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 76.47#4 FL2
Ilya Mikheyev
Ilya Mikheyev

Rating: 74.2#41 LW

Alexander Kerfoot
Alexander Kerfoot

Rating: 72.5#93 C

Trevor Moore
TREVOR MOORE

Rating: 72.7#61 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 73.16#4 FL3
Dmytro Timashov
DMYTRO TIMASHOV

Rating: 73.6#50 LW

Nick Shore
NICK SHORE

Rating: 70.9#142 C

Frederik Gauthier
FREDERIK GAUTHIER

Rating: 69.9#104 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 71.45#14 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly

Rating: 77.0#7 LD

Cody Ceci
CODY CECI

Rating: 72.1#72 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 74.53#17 DL1
Jake Muzzin
Jake Muzzin

Rating: 74.6#30 LD

Tyson Barrie
Tyson Barrie

Rating: 77.5#9 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 76.06#2 DL2
Martin Marincin
MARTIN MARINCIN

Rating: 72.3#85 LD

Justin Holl
Justin Holl

Rating: 74.5#27 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 73.41#10 DL3
LW C RW Forwards
Zach Parise
ZACH PARISE

Rating: 75.5#28 LW

Mikko Koivu
MIKKO KOIVU

Rating: 72.9#84 C

Jason Zucker
JASON ZUCKER

Rating: 74.9#35 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 74.44#29 FL1
Kevin Fiala
KEVIN FIALA

Rating: 72.1#84 LW

Eric Staal
ERIC STAAL

Rating: 74.3#54 C

Ryan Hartman
RYAN HARTMAN

Rating: 70.8#91 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 72.38#29 FL2
Marcus Foligno
MARCUS FOLIGNO

Rating: 70.8#112 LW

Joel Eriksson Ek
JOEL ERIKSSON EK

Rating: 71.1#132 C

Luke Kunin
LUKE KUNIN

Rating: 71.1#88 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 71.01#25 FL3
Ryan Donato
RYAN DONATO

Rating: 72.3#77 LW

Victor Rask
VICTOR RASK

Rating: 71.0#138 C

Jordan Greenway
JORDAN GREENWAY

Rating: 69.6#133 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 71.00#20 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Ryan Suter
RYAN SUTER

Rating: 75.6#15 LD

Jared Spurgeon
JARED SPURGEON

Rating: 75.8#20 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 75.68#11 DL1
Jonas Brodin
JONAS BRODIN

Rating: 72.6#77 LD

Mathew Dumba
MATHEW DUMBA

Rating: 76.5#16 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 74.55#10 DL2
Carson Soucy
CARSON SOUCY

Rating: 72.6#79 LD

Brad Hunt
BRAD HUNT

Rating: 74.0#33 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 73.28#12 DL3

And now some thoughts…

1. No Sandin makes me sad

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the potential asset management angle of getting an extra year of Sandin’s entry level contract (though he’ll likely be back and this benefit will be nullified), and it’s not that I can’t appreciate that Sandin needs to turn into a 20 minute a night all situation defenseman, and right now it’s hard to create opportunities for him to play over 13 minutes. That’s fair too, and if the Leafs don’t see those opportunities, he’s better off on the Marlies.

My argument is that there has been nothing overly spectacular about any Leafs defenseman not named Tyson Barrie this year. And while I will always have an appreciation for the steady presence of Jake Muzzin, the Rielly-Ceci experiment needs to come to an end in the future, and Sandin playing with either Rielly on the top pairing, or Ceci on the third pairing would have been a great way of doing that. I don’t think that there is much that can be learned from penalty killing against bad AHL forwards that can’t be learned from defending 5v5 against NHL forwards. And with most teams moving towards 4 forwards on the power play, is there any point in kidding ourselves into believing that Sandin playing on the power play will ever be a thing?

Sandin has the ability to play in the NHL now, and I’d argue that 13 minutes a night against NHL players will develop him a lot more than 20 minutes a night against AHL players. While this move isn’t the worst thing to ever happen, I’d prefer he stayed.

2. Marincin-Holl ft. Gravel

So it looks like Gravel will be the odd man out for now, but we’ll probably see a similar rotation of defenders on the bottom pairing and this is quite the bottom pairing. The nice thing is they couldn’t be any cheaper if they tried. The less nice thing is they couldn’t be any more bottom pairing if they tried, and none of the players are guys you’d want to push beyond the confines of their current role.

This could lead to the long awaited good look at Justin Holl, and perhaps we’ll find out that we were right to be excited about him a couple of years ago. Much more likely is that we’ll all become heavily invested in the last couple weeks of Travis Dermott’s recovery.

3. For the love of God, fix the Tavares line

Nothing about this line brings me joy anymore. Was it all Hyman? Was Hyman the straw that stirs the drink? That seems unlikely. What does seem likely is that Marner has a new contract and that’s weighing on him. Tavares has a new C and that’s weighing on him. Kapanen is trying to justify that he belongs in the top six and that’s weighing on him.

This has been a good exercise in proving that you can’t just slot three talented players together and expect it to work every time. There needs to be a change and of course that change is coming with Hyman. The problem is that there seems to be a reluctance to mess with the success of the third line as means of fixing what we can much more comfortably refer to as the second line. That logic seems flawed especially when we know change is coming with Hyman soon enough. The unwillingness to be adaptive has been the deathknell for the Leafs the past couple of years, and while it seems crazy to be pining for the days of the line blender, I sure could go for a modest appreciation of what they’ve been doing isn’t working.

4. Are we close to having a winner in the 4th line wing competition?

Dmytro Timashov seems to be the front runner it comes to landing the permanent gig once Hyman returns, and in all likelihood it will be Petan returning to the Marlies as he has already cleared waivers. That’s going to leave Shore and Spezza in press box limbo, and while I thought I’d be making a case for either or both of them of Freddie Gauthier, I have to admit that I’ve become comfortable with Gauthier as the fourth line center for the Leafs and appear to have been wrong on him.

I mention Timashov because tonight would be a good night to breakaway from the winger rotation and allow him to stay in after a strong performance last game. It’s also getting mentioned because maybe it will spark Petan and Spezza to push harder for staying in the lineup.

I didn’t think that six games into the year we’d be looking at the 4th line as a bright spot, but Timashov and Gauthier have been solid and when Moore is added to line when Hyman returns, I admit I’m going to enjoy their shifts. I’ll take a young energy line over the old dog veteran line any day.

5. At some point the real Freddie Andersen will show up, right?

Six games in to the Leafs year and the best Frederik has been Gauthier. That’s not good. The last game against Detroit was better, but it was also against Detroit. Not that Minnesota is a challenge either, but hopefully some confidence will build against these bad teams and Andersen will get back in form.

The fact that both goaltenders have been bad makes me want to put this back on the defence a little and I will. The Leafs defence isn’t without criticism, but that doesn’t change the fact that Andersen usually bails them out. Instead, we’re seeing some bad goals that are purely on him in addition to the hellscape his blueline creates for him. Things need to get better and they probably will. Right now he’s dealing with defensemen who have never played in front of him being coached by a new defensive coach and he’s dealing with his own off-season rust. Hopefully, things turnaround quickly, because Hutchinson doesn’t leave the Leafs with a solid Plan B.

Start time for tonight’s game is 7:00 PM ET, and can be seen on TSN 4 in Ontario.