When the Toronto Maple Leafs went through line rushes at practice on Friday, there was some initial confusion as to Rasmus Sandin's status. Ben Hutton, who had played just one game with the Leafs this season, skated alongside Travis Dermott, while Sandin skated with Timothy Liljegren.
It soon became evident that it was Sandin's pair that was out of the lineup when the defenseman didn't take part in power play drills. Sandin had occupied the point spot on the top power-play unit for the last couple of games.
Sandin did have a bit of a rough game in the team's 5-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. He was stripped of the puck in his own zone by Corey Perry. The ensuing play led to Montreal's first goal. He was also on the ice for the Canadiens' second goal.
But Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said there was more at play to making the change.
"Rasmus played very well for us and we liked things about his game and what he brings to our team," Keefe said. "His situation is more related to the salary cap than it is anything else."
The indication by the Leafs that the cap is once again at play suggests another move may be coming and the team needs to create space to accommodate the possibility.
As of Friday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs have just over $1.9 million in salary cap space, according to PuckPedia.com.
The Leafs currently have forwards Riley Nash ($2.75 million), Scott Sabourin ($700,000), defenseman Zach Bogosian ($1 million) and goaltender Frederik Andersen ($5 million) on long-term injured reserve.
Forward Zach Hyman remains out with a sprained knee and can be placed on LTIR retroactive to Apr. 18, if the Leafs choose to go that route. That would increase Toronto's pool to just over $4.15 million.
The Leafs are limited by who they can remove from their roster. Their best option is players who weren't on the active roster by the trade deadline (Apr. 12) and not subject to waivers. Rasmus Sandin, Adam Brooks and Stefan Noesen initially fit the billing. Brooks last cleared waivers on Jan. 12 but is one game away from being required to go on waivers again (he's played nine). This might also explain why Noesen got into the lineup in place of Brooks on Thursday as the team figured out its options.
On Friday, Keefe indicated that Brooks would come back into the lineup on Saturday, so he'll no longer be exempt from waivers.
Noesen last cleared waivers on Feb. 26 when he was with the San Jose Sharks. He stayed off the active roster until his promotion for the game on May 6.
If the Leafs were simply going to activate someone like Nash, they would probably be alright with just removing Noesen and taking no other action. But removing Sandin and his $894,167 salary suggests the Leafs are preparing to make a bigger move.
'It's more preemptive than anything," Keefe said about Sandin status for games next week. "Just giving ourselves some flexibility as we head into next week."
Frederik Andersen remains the wild card in all of this. Out since Mar. 19 with a knee injury, Andersen played in half a game with the Toronto Marlies on Thursday. The goaltender is on a conditioning loan and the plan is for him to play in a full game with the farm club on Saturday. The team will then reassess their options.
After this weekend, the Leafs have just two regular season games remaining before the playoffs begin.
If Andersen is to be viable option for the Leafs in the playoffs, the belief is he needs to get some reps at the NHL level. The speed of the game and the quality of shots he's facing in the AHL can't be a great indicator of where the goaltender is at.
With Noesen and Sandin removed from the lineup, if Hyman is retroactively placed on LTI, the Leafs approximate cap space would increase to over $5.96 million. The Leafs would then be able to activate Andersen and his $5 million salary to the active roster before the regular season ends.
Unofficially, it looks like the Leafs would have had the space to do this with Sandin still in the lineup, but remember these numbers are a best approximation and the NHL's official tabulation may slightly differ. This allows them to be sure that Andersen could be activated without issues.
If Andersen is activated. Nash and Hyman could still be options for a conditioning loan, similar to that of Andersen. Both took part in the second practice with the club on Friday.
"They continue to make good strides," Keefe said of the injured pair of forwards.
Both were wearing non-contact red practice jerseys for the session. The Leafs had not used red non-contact jerseys for any players returning to practice this season.
Once the regular season is over, the calculators can be thrown away.
Nick Foligno skated on his own on Friday and that's a good sign since the player is not scheduled to return this weekend and missed the last game with an upper-body injury.
Foligno left in the second period of the team's 3-2 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on May 3. He has four assists in five games since being acquired by the Leafs on Apr. 11.