There are a lot of people out there talking about trading Morgan Rielly in order to give Rasmus Sandin his minutes, essentially freeing up cap space and avoiding giving Rielly a raise at the same time. I hate the idea. I know what Rielly is and I understand the frustration from fans when they see him out of position or losing his defensive assignment. However, in today’s NHL good teams tend to have players on the blueline that can move the puck quickly and efficiently and Rielly does that with that best.
The signing of T.J. Brodie has made the pairing a legitimate one, so, while your defender that plays the most minutes shouldn’t have to have somebody with him that can cover up his mistakes, you also need to consider that things can’t always be ideal. This team needs to work with what they have and what they have is a player that is one of the top 10 scoring defenders in the NHL over the past 4 seasons and he makes up one half of an effective pairing. Also, he’s 27 years old and, as often happens, even offensive defenders pick up their defensive games from their late twenties to early/mid-thirties. His most effective years are possibly ahead of him, not behind him (I hope).
Another reason why I wouldn’t jump to move Rielly is that Sandin simply isn’t ready. One game where he played over 21 minutes simply isn’t enough to appoint him as a top pairing defender. Never mind a guy that can play on the top pair for a franchise that is expected to win now.
Which brings me to my final point on this. The only thing better than having one of these players on the team is having both. I’d be shocked if Sandin wasn’t a full time NHLer to start next season. He’s outgrown the AHL and, as it should be, he can be eased into the NHL through bottom pair minutes, 2nd powerplay usage and, if the team can bring back Zach Bogosian or somebody like him, he can be sheltered, protected and guided through the early stages of his career properly. If Sandin does eventually take Rielly’s minutes, it will be 2-3 seasons from now. In the meantime I’ll be cheering on both of these players, because both are terrific at what they do.
I was asked about Frederik Andersen’s future with the team a lot over the past calendar year. I answered the same way each time. I saw Andersen returning to the team, if for no other reason than a lack of better options. While there are some players that are still unsigned, such as Philipp Grubauer, Linus Ullmark and Petr Mrazek (not to mention some trade options), I wouldn’t go as far as to say that any are absolutely better than Andersen, while none should be much cheaper than him either. I always maintained that if you were going to let him go you should have somebody lined up that is as good or better than he is, but can save you money on the cap. Enter Jack Campbell.
While the sample size is still too small in my opinion (18GP this year, T-49th in the NHL), Campbell certainly gives you confidence that the team has a chance to win each time he plays. For the first time since Andersen has arrived in Toronto, he has somebody pushing him for starts and, unfortunately for him, it’s at a pivotal time. Andersen has been injured for half the season and is a pending UFA. In short, I think he’ll get a shot at the starters crease when he returns, but his leash will be short and his future here isn’t a given, unless he backstops the team to a very deep playoff run.
I also have one big concern about Campbell:
In a market like this you absolutely need to let bad games go. I know that the fans get frustrated with that sometimes, because it appears that the players don’t care, but if your goalie is hard on himself in this market the fans are only going to pile on and make it worse. That could send the player into a downward spiral that ruins his career. Nice guy or not, Leafs Nation is ruthless, so Campbell needs to forgive himself quickly and be confident in his ability to bounce back.
And bounce back he has. He has allowed more than 1 goal in three games and has posted a SV% of 0.962, 0.970 and 0.963 in those games, respectively.
Again, unless Andersen takes this team on a very deep run (which means the Finals), I think I’d start looking at 1B options to go with Jack “Soup” Campbell next season.