The Maple Leafs get: Defenseman Erik Gustafsson, first-round pick in 2023 (from BIM)
Capitals get: Defender Rasmus Sandin
Sean Gentille: So we get one big Leafs trade per day, until the deadline? Is this how this is going to work? Okay-dokey. There was a lot to like about Monday’s move: Jake McCabe, as a defensive lineman who’s actually good, is that rarest of birds, and he’s locked in at $2 million for three more postseasons. He is a second couple earning third couple money. Forget the return cost. Forget the rest of the deal, actually. That’s good enough.
What made it a bit of a head scratcher, however, was how crowded it left Toronto’s blue line. They didn’t add McCabe to sit him. So, with the exception of moves, someone would have been stuck in the press box, and it might have been Rasmus Sandin.
What they did instead was send a suddenly redundant player to Washington for a very, very solid return. Now they’ve added a first pick and $600,000 in cap space for the next few days. If you were part of the “Toronto should have added a third line offense instead of McCabe and Sam Lafferty” chorus, this should make you happy. They’ve just added a premium asset that, if sent out on a reasonable contract, could give them a win-now piece in an otherwise relatively thin spot. If nothing else, it will be easier for them, from a cap perspective, to activate Matt Murray and add Matthew Knies on an entry-level contract. Gustaffson, meanwhile, is a textbook seventh defenseman for a playoff team. He has offensive ability but needs to have his usage carefully monitored, and he certainly makes more sense as a healthy scratch than Sandin would have. Cheap, half-decent guys on expiring deals have a place in the NHL.
On a more conceptual level, it’s a smart, interesting move – and a savvy response to a market that has changed in front of us all in recent days. Sandin ($1.4M AAV through 2023-23, RFA after that) has been outstanding in a relatively sheltered role. If he has more to give, the Caps will benefit; the only defenseman they have under contract for next season is John Carlson, so the opportunity will certainly be available.
And if this is who Sandin is long-term — an elite depth defenseman, rather than a true top-par guy — the price will have been worth it. Washington flipped the first-round pick they got from Boston for a player who can contribute immediately and perhaps become a legitimate cornerstone on the line. It’s a rebuild-on-the-fly done right, and a special move that couldn’t have been much of a consideration for Brian MacLellan yesterday morning. He acted quickly. Solid marks all around.
Maple Leafs class: A-
Character for capital letters: A-
Mirtle: Why the Maple Leafs won the Jake McCabe trade. And what must come next
Corey Pronman: Rasmus Sandin has been a solid NHL player. He is a highly intelligent puck mover who has NHL power play skills and vision. He also doesn’t mind playing physical like you like to see from a small defender. His skating has and continues to be an issue, limiting his defensive value in the NHL. He’s a good player, but probably won’t be more than a 4-5 NHL D during his career due to his physical limitations.
Toronto, after acquiring Jake McCabe, had a history of defensive and cap issues, and someone had to go. Sandin is a young, controllable player who has shown promise, which is why it took a first-round pick to land him. However, he hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed after lighting up the AHL as a teenager, and staying healthy consistently has been a problem for him as a pro. For a Washington team trying to rebuild quickly, this is the right kind of asset to target.
Erik Gustafsson is a very skilled defender having a strong season who has never been known for his defensive play so much. His cheap, expiring contract is as appealing to Toronto as his play on the ice. Getting a late first rounder for Sandin is equal value in my eyes.
Maple Leafs class: B
Character for capital letters: B
(Photo: Mark Blinch / NHLI via Getty Images)