Outdoor rinks opened in Toronto this weekend and I couldn’t be happier. As soon as the sun rose, I forced myself out of bed, walked to a semi-nearby park, laced up a pair of skates and got a few hours in. It was like hockey meditation and it greatly improved how I felt about pretty much everything for the rest of the day that followed.

So much so that I enjoyed life and put the mailbag aside until a subway trip back home from evening errands. For those of you who waited it out, though, let’s chat!

I genuinely, honestly believe we’re talking about a number-one or two defenceman in Timothy Liljegren. He’s already fit in fantastically with the Marlies, he has a history of success if you consider last year’s illness-laden season a ‘blip’, and his skill set fits with a more modern, evolving game. His offensive tools are through the roof and as he acclimates, I believe he’ll develop a game without the puck that will be sufficient for the role.

This question is so difficult to answer, given that there is such a bottleneck in the present depth chart. In previous years, it would be along the lines of “who can play in the NHL?”, but there are suddenly a lot of careers at stake if players don’t eventually depart.

I think the team has some clear candidates on the back end; Travis Dermott and Timothy Liljegren are going to be extremely legitimate NHL players, and one of Garret Sparks or Calvin Pickard is eventually going to be given the Leafs’ backup spot. With the forwards, its more of a tossup; players like Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, for example, are high-end talents, but who knows if the room will be there for them? On the other hand, does someone like Frederik Gauthier get a 4C spot down the line just because it’s the safe choice? It’s so hard to say.

He’s Andrew Nielsen. What I mean by this is that he’s a bit more of a work in progress than his AHL rookie point totals would lead you to believe; while he put up strong powerplay numbers, the youngster still isn’t near as lights out at even strength, and his mobility is still a massive question.

The good news is that he’s under extremely minimal pressure to succeed, with players ahead of him and expectations that were originally pretty low to begin with. I think he could be an NHL player at some point, but perhaps its a good thing that we’re starting to push the timeline at least a little bit backward.

I don’t think it’s so much an “overlook” scenario as it is an awareness that it isn’t optimal. Bridge deals rarely work out for the team when they want to keep the player in question; they’re often used for players that are likely to be harnessed as an asset at the end of their deal, so a rival can pay their big raise.

There are some exceptions to this, but they’re starting to become rarer and rarer at the star level. Getting those top guys locked in for 6-8 years and buying their UFA years while you can project their upside with strong accuracy, but before they can amass a body of work to get “safe” big money is key. The goal should ultimately be to get those guys locked in as soon as they can.

Rock bottom for both sides would be an insistence to try to swim their problems out. There is nothing to be gained from being slightly below mediocre; if you’re not making a playoff run or getting a high-odds draft pick, then you aren’t really building towards anything, just extending the stretch of hopelessness.

Both teams seem kind of poised to head in that direction, especially given the long-term sacrifices they’ve made with their more recent large deals. Ottawa’s prospect pool isn’t exactly deep, and Montreal has a lot of term and money committed to players who might be decent but won’t likely drag a team to the promised land in the twilight of their careers.

It’s a rough spot to be in. I’ve watched teams I’ve cared about land in that spot. It’s absolutely unenviable.

I have a feeling that Keefe’s fate will get somewhat of a test this year, based on how the Leafs’ management decisions go in the summer. I think that he’ll be reasonably loyal to Kyle Dubas for as long as he can, so if a decision is made that makes him want to leave, that might be an issue that pulls them both away. If Dubas takes over the GM ropes, you probably secure a few more years of loyalty before a fork in the road comes in (say, attempting to wait out Babcock, or taking an AGM role to increase his involvement, or maybe going elsewhere).

Eakins, on the other hand, is harder to vouch for right now. San Diego looks pretty awful at even strength this year and has one of the worst records in the AHL. While injuries surely haven’t helped them, I don’t think this is the season for Dallas to audition himself.

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