Photo: Pension Plan Puppets
With pending unrestricted free agent Justin Schultz not expected to re-sign with the Washington Capitals, the team has an opening on their third defensive pairing. Since no prospects appear ready to take on that role, they will have to look for one outside of the organization. The best option appears to be Toronto Maple Leafs pending restricted free agent Rasmus Sandin.
Addition Will Help Capitals Get Younger
The Capitals were tied for the oldest team in the NHL for the second season in a row (29.8) with the Dallas Stars.
Sandin just turned 22-years-old in March and is NHL ready as he has played 88 games over his first three seasons, including a career-high 51 last.
The team will likely have defenseman Martin Fehervary (22), center Connor McMichael (21), and center Aliaksei Protas (21) on the NHL roster next season but their core of captain Alex Ovechkin (will turn 37 in September), center Evgeny Kuznetsov (30), right-wing T.J. Oshie (35), and defenseman John Carlson (32) are all getting up there in age. The more youth that the Capitals have to complement their core, the better and the more the veterans will be rejuvenated.
Would Bring In A Possible Top-Four Blueliner
Sandin has upside as a first-round pick (30th overall) in 2018 and averaged 16:58 per game last season (sixth among Toronto defensemen). While he did not have as heavy a workload, Sandin was playing behind Morgan Reilly, T.J. Brodie, Jake Muzzin, and eventually Mark Giordano after the Maple Leafs acquired him from the Seattle Kraken at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.
Sandin got a heavy workload, including a 23-minute outing, and made strides in his development prior to the NHL All-Star Break, according to The Athletic.
While he may not start next season in the Capitals’ top four, he ultimately could someday.
Last season, Sandin posted five goals, 16 points, a +9 rating, a 54.69% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 58.28% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 58.17% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage. The 1:21 per game that he averaged on the power play ranked third among Maple Leafs defensemen.
Sandin has not posted a five-on-five Corsi-for percentage lower than 52.41% or a scoring chances-for percentage lower than 52.66% in each of his three NHL seasons in addition to a five-on-five expected goals-for percentage of least 55.05% in each of his first two full ones.
After re-signining Giordano, the Maple Leafs do not have room for Sandin to play on a nightly basis so it is possible that they may have to move him.
Following Sandin’s strong season and his reputation as a late first-round pick, the cost to acquire him via trade could be around a second and a lower pick.
The Capitals could also tender an offersheet to Sandin, who is worth around $2.75 million on his next deal. However, the Carolina Hurricanes’ offersheet for Montreal Canadiens restricted free agent Jesperi Kotkaniemi was for one year at $6.1 million, an overpayment to get the Canadiens not to match. Since the contract was just for one year, the Hurricanes were able to sign Kotkaniemi to a much more reasonable $4.82 million cap hit for the next seven years when he became eligible to re-sign.
The Capitals would likely have to overpay Sandin to the extent that matching is not worth it for the Maple Leafs for one year before giving him what he is worth. Supposing center Nicklas Backstrom, who underwent a surgery to resurface his left hip earlier this month, misses the entire season, the Capitals could have $18,178,334 in cap space with right-wing Tom Wilson (torn ACL) set to return sometime between Thanksgiving and the NHL All-Star Break.
That would leave the team around a $5.2 million margin to sign Sandin. However, any offer that carries a cap hit over $4.0215 million would cost the Capitals at least a first-round pick so if they could get Sandin for around $4 million on the dot, that would be ideal. In fact, it would cost the Capitals just a second-round pick in compensation, lower than what the cost would be to acquire Sandin via trade.
Good Chance Of Successful Offersheet
The Maple Leafs have $6,444,384 remaining in cap space with center Pierre Engvall and right-wing Ondrej Kase also eligible to become restricted free agents. However, they will have arbitration rights, unlike Sandin.
Kase earned 14 goals and 27 points in 50 games this past regular season while Engvall finished with 15 goals and 35 points in 78 outings. After both turned in productive seasons, Toronto will be under a cap crunch to re-sign Sandin and most likely will not be able to afford him.
By Harrison Brown