The Leafs’ three-day break is nearing its end and their tilt against the Canadiens is nearly 24 hours away at the time of writing. Tuesday’s practice saw a few interesting tidbits of information become available regarding how the team’s lineups could look heading down the stretch.
First, one of the acquisitions from the deadline is nearly ready to begin practicing with his new teammates.
While he doesn't have specifics, Sheldon Keefe said he expects Riley Nash to begin skating with the Leafs this week.
— Joshua Kloke (@joshuakloke) April 27, 2021
Riley Nash is currently on the sidelines due to a knee sprain he suffered back on April 4th. That proved to be his final game as a Blue Jacket since he was traded to the Leafs for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2022 draft, which would become a sixth if he plays in 25% of Toronto’s playoff games.
Speaking of playoffs, that is likely when Nash makes his Leafs debut due to it being three weeks into his projected six-week recovery period his clearance would likely be around the time the postseason begins. It’s also because his $2.75 million salaries would not fit onto the Leafs currently as they would be well over the cap ceiling.
The Canucks delaying the start of the playoffs for the teams in the North Division could be a blessing for Toronto and Nash as it would provide him with more time to practice with the team and get better accustomed to the system before he can play a game. Once he does get into the lineup, Nash will likely slot onto the fourth line and provide his team with some solid defensive play both at even strength and the penalty kill.
Sandin is getting an extended look
Keefe says he expects Sandin will "play most, if not all" of the #Leafs' remaining eight games.
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) April 27, 2021
It isn’t too shocking that Sheldon Keefe told the press that they will be playing Rasmus Sandin in the majority of the final eight games. He was their best defenceman available with Zach Bogosian out indefinitely after suffering an upper-body injury in Vancouver last week and Keefe said that he wanted to give Sandin as many chances as possible to succeed.
He has only played a combined five games thus far split between the NHL and AHL due to injuries and a lack of playing time available. With Sandin likely making the team out of training camp for the 2021-22 season, it is imperative that he ends the season with a lot of confidence and has something to build off of throughout the offseason. Since getting inserted into the lineup, Sandin has seen the ice a lot more than earlier and he got an assist during Saturday’s win.
I imagine the reason why Keefe will want to play Sandin in most of the games is that he would also want to see what he has in Timothy Liljegren and Ben Hutton, who was acquired on trade deadline day. Don’t be surprised if one of the two players mentioned rotates with either Sandin or Travis Dermott in the final few weeks.
Andersen nearing his return
Frederik Andersen was a full participant in practice for the second straight day and even took over the starter crease at points judging by the line rushes.
Leafs lines at practice
— David Alter (@dalter) April 27, 2021
Andersen spoke to TSN’s Kristen Shilton about the injury that has sidelined him since March 19th and how his recovery has gone up to this point. Most significantly was that the pending free agent hoped to appear in some games before the playoffs begin but wanted to focus on getting up to 100% before exploring that idea.
To put it mildly, it won’t be easy to insert Andersen back into the lineup prior to the playoffs unless they engage in some cap shenanigans. David Alter of The Hockey News did a good breakdown into how they could make it work, and he mentioned that the most likely scenario is the Leafs can place Bogosian and Zach Hyman on LTIR to open up enough room for Andersen to return. It is entirely possible things could get more complicated, but they have Brandon Pridham to help them figure it out should it come to that.
Prior to his injury, Andersen had appeared in 23 games and posted a 13-8-2 record along with a .897 save percentage and a 2.91 GAA.
All salary information is from PuckPedia.com.