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Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs have made the most of a limited number of injuries

When it was reported Saturday that Marner, Rielly, Kase, and Woll were all questionable for that night’s game a healthy, errr… rather unhealthy dose of reality set in for the Leafs. Injuries will play a factor in this season. Up until now the Leafs have been very fortunate. Starting the year without Auston Matthews and having him miss training camp was certainly less than ideal, but beyond that injuries have largely been limited to Petr Mrazek and Ilya Mikheyev, two important, but not exactly core pieces for the Leafs. There have been the occasional other absence for a day or two, but generally speaking even having Kase as much as they have has been a surprise and it’s hard to complain.

via nhlinjuryviz.blogspot.com (up to game 22)

Sandin’s injury on Sunday night will certainly change some of the perceptions around the injury situation.

With Sandin having to helped off the ice and assisted to the dressing room there is a high probability that we might not see Rasmus for a while. And if missing a steady bottom pairing defender that might have soon been ready to move up in the lineup isn’t enough of a blow, the fact that his contract is ($894k) doesn’t lend itself to much relief on the LTIR front, we’re best lighting a candle and hoping for it being a quick healing knee injury (basically I’m going the Christmas miracle route here.)

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Also with Marner’s absence this weekend we’ve certainly learned that even with a core four player departing there are players that can step up. Jason Spezza certainly stepped up and that’s a reason for optimism. The acquisition of Kyle Clifford certainly gives the Leafs some capable depth that can come in for the injured players as well, and of course as someone new is injured, there is someone returning, and with Woll potentially sidelined, and Marner questionable at this point, Petr Mrazek and Ilya Mikheyev being close to ready softens the blow, though it obviously goes without saying that a prolonged Marner absence would be quite noticeable.

A big part of the success the Leafs have been enjoying this year comes from the fact they’ve been healthy. It’s probably not a coincidence that Minnesota, Calgary, the Rangers, and Leafs are all excelling, though you can certainly point to the relatively healthy Islanders and Bruins and see that health isn’t the complete answer to success either.

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When it comes to looking at xG% vs. the minutes lost per player, the Leafs are still very much showing the Leafs making the most of their health. Which is good. I’m not sure you can look at a team like the Lightning and say “it’s good we’re missing our star player” but they are probably feeling pretty darn good about being able to truck along at that level even with someone like Kucherov on the shelf.

The Leafs haven’t had to face a prolonged absence like what Tampa is dealing with yet, and how they’ll respond to it could be interesting.

Obviously no one on the Marlies comes in and makes you feel better about having someone like Tavares, Matthews, Marner, or Nylander absent, but it did hurt having the depth shaken by the departures of Amadio, Brooks, and Semyonov, all of who could step in on the fourth line and allow Jason Spezza to be used as a top six offensive catalyst like he was Saturday against the Wild.

It’s less than ideal that Nick Robertson is a critical injury on the Marlies right now, as is one of the few non-Leafs in the organization that could act as a wildcard catalyst within a top six forward role.

That really leaves Alex Steeves and Josh Ho-Sang as the interesting options that could be tapped into. Steeves as an older AHL rookie, having played in the NCAA last season, could be more ready that we think to step into the Leafs lineup based on his performance to date. And Josh Ho-Sang might be better served by having the full year with the Marlies and given the chance to take a prominent role on the Leafs next season rather than put him in a position where he is rushed, then would have to clear waivers if things don’t go perfectly.

On the blueline, the Leafs are equally challenged for depth, assuming the plan is still to move on from one of Holl or Dermott before Mikheyev is able to return from the LTIR. That puts someone like Kristians Rubins in the position of being the likely 7D, another low on experience option for Toronto, but one that is largely necessary based off Dahlstrom not being particularly good, but of course Alex Biega could be an option as well.

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Crying over depth before depth is needed certainly makes me feel like chicken little here. Especially when the Leafs have five contract spaces open. They can certainly address the problem similar to the decision they made to bring in Kyle Clifford, and when it comes to the regular season it seems like no matter what happens we can feel comfortable that the Leafs at the very least will be able to get by thanks to the cushion the team built in November.

Decisions like keeping Marner out, giving Kase a game off here and there, and making sure that Mrazek and Mikheyev come back at full health are signs the organization is making the right calls when it comes to injuries, and while it seems like hockey isn’t particularly interested in anything that can be clearly identified as load management, the Leafs don’t seem to be risking making injuries worse and there will be an opportunity to “balance” Campbell’s workload a little more with Mrazek when he returns. If the Leafs went with a 50/50 split of the starts once Mrazek returns, Campbell is still probably getting 50 games starts for the year, so he isn’t getting short changed at all. He’s being gently managed, and in reality we’ll see him still get more starts than that.

The final thing to consider is a bit of what we’ve seen from the Lightning and well, kinda the Leafs last year. If there is a chance that the Leafs have an injury that they can stretch until a playoff return later in the year, do they consider doing that in order to maximize cap spending at the trade deadline. The NHL seems to be monitoring teams exploiting this loophole, but I still wouldn’t rule out a team like the Leafs that has the dollar resources, but not the cap resources to make a splash at the trade deadline exploring what can be done if they are in that situation. I’ll assume that Kyle Dubas isn’t planning injuries out ahead of time.

The Leafs have been fortunate on the injury front so far this season, but unsurprisingly as season wears on and the game takes its toll on the players the injuries will come. It’s for that reason we should appreciate that they’ve made the most of a fairly healthy roster so far.