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Door swings open for Maple Leafs’ Sandin after Rielly, Muzzin injuries – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — This is an unvarnished opportunity for Rasmus Sandin.

In fact, if you’re a 19-year-old prospect aching for a NHL breakthrough, you can’t really hope for better.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, down their top two defencemen, suddenly need Sandin to munch minutes. And if he’s good enough, there’ll be a chance to play a lot of them in the absence of Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly.

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His second NHL call-up comes with no artificial cap on playing time or concerns over contract control — although the Maple Leafs were never overly worried about him hitting the 10-game threshold this season and starting the clock on his entry-level deal.

That’s certain to happen now with Sandin about to dress for his seventh game against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, while Muzzin continues to wear a walking boot and Rielly faces at least an eight-week recovery from a fractured foot.

“I feel prepared and I’m looking forward to tonight,” Sandin said after an optional morning skate.

He will start on the third pairing alongside Cody Ceci, but that’s hardly set in stone. Until recently, Travis Dermott occupied that spot on the bottom pair and he’s one of the left-handed shots now ahead of Sandin in the rotation. The other is Martin Marincin, who has more healthy scratches (24) than games played (14) with the Leafs this season.

It’s not hard to envision Sandin moving up in the lineup if he plays well.

“We’ve got some question marks there, right?” said head coach Sheldon Keefe, who oversaw the first season of Sandin’s development in the American Hockey League. “How is Sandin going to adjust back in? And then how is he going to pair with Ceci, who he’s never played with? And how are the other pairs going to work out?

“I think when you’ve got two important pieces like this out, like we do, you’re going to have some new things that you’re trying and new opportunities that you’re giving guys. We’ll have to monitor it.”

Keep in mind that Sandin arrives brimming with confidence after a dominant performance for Sweden that earned him top defenceman honours at the world junior tournament. He’s also logged more than 25 minutes per night across all situations for the Marlies and has 15 points to show for 21 games.

A key tenet to his game is a poise that belies his age and relative inexperience.

Teammates raved about how calm and confident he was after breaking camp with the Leafs in the fall. Sandin doesn’t possess one obvious elite tool — he’s not the fastest, or most physically imposing, or known for having the hardest shot — but he displays an overall situational awareness that will probably have us one day wondering how 12 other defencemen were called to the stage before the Leafs drafted him 29th overall in 2018.

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What remains to be seen is how impactful he’s prepared to be in the here and now.

Only a small handful of his peers have done it. The last five NHL seasons have only seen 10 defencemen play at least 40 games as teenagers — and Sandin won’t be the 11th, with his 20th birthday coming March 7.

But he has had a developmental edge on many of the 2000-born North Americans in the form of 78 games of AHL experience. He even noticed a difference after getting sent back to the Marlies in mid-October.

“I think just gaining confidence, I feel like. That’s the biggest thing,” he said of where he’s grown. “I just feel more comfortable out there and I’m just playing my game.”

Sandin’s first stint with the Leafs was basically ended by a shoulder to the face from Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader. That left him bloodied and set off some soul-searching inside the organization, where they started to weigh the merits of only playing their top prospect 12 minutes per game while subjecting him to those situations.

The bet here is that he’s leaned on much more heavily now. There’s even a chance he’ll kill penalties and see a little time on the power play given that Rielly and Muzzin both log key specialty teams minutes.

“I mean he’s gonna be great here,” said Rielly. “I think it’s important that he has confidence and he goes out there and just plays true to his style of play. I think he’s an outstanding player with a great career on the horizon.

“I think that if that starts tonight that’s very exciting.”

The door has swung wide open for Sandin, and there’ll be nothing holding him back if he’s ready to stride on through.

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Maple Leafs move forward with Treliving as Dubas lands with Penguins – NHL.com

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs had a plan in place. With their fan base in panic mode after Kyle Dubas was not brought back as GM last month, the Maple Leafs introduced Brad Treliving on Thursday as the GM who would lead the franchise forward. 

This press conference was going to be about the future, about what the experienced Treliving, 53, could do for Toronto, not about Dubas, who 13 days earlier had been told his services would no longer be required after a five-year stint as a Maple Leafs GM.

And for an hour or so on Thursday, it was. Until it wasn’t.

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At 11:31 ET, some 29 minutes before Treliving and team president Brendan Shanahan were scheduled to address the media at Scotiabank Arena, the Pittsburgh Penguins issued a release announcing Dubas as president of hockey operations. Yep. That same Dubas. The release noted that Dubas and members of the Fenway Sports Group would hold their own press conference in Pittsburgh at 1 p.m., one hour after Treliving’s meeting with the media.

Was it just a coincidence that all this took place on the same day? Was this a chance for Dubas and the Penguins to upstage his former team?

Shanahan quickly rejected that notion, trying to calm the conspiracy theorists who thought something fishy was going on regarding the scheduling.

“I don’t think it was intentional timing,” he said. “They need to get to work as well.

“I fully endorse Kyle.”

Maybe Shanahan doesn’t believe the timing was intentional. But it certainly was intriguing. And it was almost as if the day progressed as dictated from the pages of a movie script.

Indeed, the Maple Leafs and Penguins will be connected by the common thread that is Dubas.

It certainly makes for a fascinating tale of two franchises.

Dubas, 37, is one of the sharpest young hockey minds in the game. The Maple Leafs, under his watch, went 221-109-42 in the regular season but won one Stanley Cup Playoff series in that span despite featuring uber-talented players like forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares, and defenseman Morgan Rielly. 

Video: Penguins name Dubas president of hockey operations

Dubas was in the final season of his contract in 2022-23. It was the Maple Leafs’ decision not to give him a new contract last offseason. 

According to Shanahan, the decision had been made to bring back Dubas, even after the Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Second Round on May 12. A contract offer had been presented to Dubas prior to the Maple Leafs locker cleanout day three days later, he said. But when Dubas addressed the media that day, he lamented how difficult the season had been on his family and how he had to discuss with his loved ones whether he needed time to recalibrate.

Dubas said that regardless of what decision he’d make regarding a return to the Maple Leafs, “You won’t see me next week pop up elsewhere. I can’t put [my family] through that after this year.” 

He was right. He didn’t pop up the next week; it was actually closer to two weeks that he surfaced in Pittsburgh.

To be fair, he said it was his wife, Shannon, who prodded him to explore the Penguins situation. It was, in the end, a partial family decision.

At the same time, in his new role he gets the power he coveted in Toronto. With Shanahan in place, that was never going to happen with the Maple Leafs. And when Shanahan received a counteroffer from Dubas’ agent with a revised financial package, which is a synonym for “more money,” Shanahan cut the cord.

You can’t make this up. It truly is the stuff of soap operas.

And where it goes from here is can’t-miss TV.

Both teams are star-studded. That’s where the similarities end.

Treliving didn’t come out and say it, but he seemed to hint that the so-called “Core Four” of Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares could stay intact. Though skill has a lot to do with that, so does age. Matthews is 25, Marner 26, Nylander 27. You could say their best years could be ahead of them.

The same can’t be said for the core Dubas inherits. Forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and defenseman Kris Letang will each be at least 36 when next season starts. At the same time, the championship pedigree of the three future Hall of Famers who have helped the Penguins win three Stanley Cup championships can’t be questioned.

Treliving is somewhat shackled under the NHL salary cap because the Core Four gobble up more than $40 million of the space under it. Dubas has far more flexibility; indeed, he mentioned the Penguins will have around $20 million of cap space to play with.

Then there are the coaching situations. Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan was the coach of the Penguins’ 2016 and 2017 Cup title teams and can coach “forever,” according to Dubas. There is more uncertainty for Treliving, who said he’ll meet with Maple Leafs incumbent Sheldon Keefe and try to learn more about him before determining his future. Keefe, by the way, also coached under Dubas in two other leagues: the Ontario Hockey League with Sault St. Marie and the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies.

So many plots. So many storylines.

All that remains to set the stage for this juicy narrative is for the 2023-24 schedule to be released in the next couple of months. Because any games between Treliving’s Maple Leafs and Dubas’ Penguins need to be circled on the calendar for obvious reasons, no matter how both men might try to downplay them.

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