Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Carbery, Why Expose McCann & Kerfoot?

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I talk about why the organization chose to protect eight skaters and a goalie rather than seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie. I’ll also speculate what this might mean to Justin Holl’s value to the team and as interestingly what it might mean for Zach Hyman’s possible re-signing.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Signing Andersen & Replacing Hyman?

Finally, I’ll report the news that the Maple Leafs have hired a new assistant coach in Spencer Carbery who won the AHL’s coach of the year award with the Hershey Bears at the end of the 2020-21 AHL season.

Item One: Is It Losing Kerfoot or Keeping Holl that Mattered?

When the Maple Leafs joined the Nashville Predators and the Tampa Bay Lightning as one of only three NHL teams to choose the option of protecting eight skaters and a goalie instead of the more usual seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie, fans must wonder why the organization made that choice. Given the general positive vibes that came with the Jared McCann trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, on the face of it, why wouldn’t the Maple Leafs choose to protect 10 players rather than only eight?

Jared McCann Pittsburgh Penguins
Jared McCann, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

From my perspective, and readers can tell me if I’ve missed something, the choice comes down to two options and an insight. The first option is that Justin Holl is more important to the team than many fans believe. During the discussions prior to the release of the protection list, Holl seemed to be on everyone’s probably-exposed list. I suspect almost everyone thought the team would go the seven forward, three defensemen, one goalie route. That would have left Holl outside the circle of protection. That they protected him likely says much about Holl’s internal value.

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However, there might be a second option with a Choice A and a Choice B. It might be that the organization hopes Alex Kerfoot and his $3.5 million salary-cap hit is the Kraken’s choice. However, if the Kraken choose McCann – who’s a younger, just as versatile, and slightly cheaper salary-cap option for the Kraken – then Kerfoot stays with the team and the Maple Leafs won’t lose anyone from last year’s regular-season roster. And, that isn’t bad.

Here’s what I believe an insight might be. The choice not to protect both Kerfoot and McCann probably also hints that Zach Hyman remains in play for re-signing by the team. Given that the McCann signing brought the team a solid forward and that the Kraken will likely choose one of those two options, rather than defenseman Travis Dermott for example, the team could have kept both players by going the seven-three-one route. I might have been inclined to do so if I thought I would be losing Hyman. But general manager Kyle Dubas and team didn’t do that.

Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev Alexander Kerfoot Morgan Rielly Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Ilya Mikheyev, centre Alexander Kerfoot, defenceman Morgan Rielly and defenceman Rasmus Sandin celebrate a goal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Looking into the reasons for the protection list, it seems that one of Holl’s importance to the organization or dumping Kerfoot’s salary cap weighs the most. Either way, the Maple Leafs’ choice to protect eight skaters instead of seven forwards and three defensemen makes Holl was the decision’s tipping point and speaks to his perceived internal value to the team. That seems good to know.

The Maple Leafs could have protected seven forwards – listing Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, both Kerfoot and McCann, and one other forward. I’m thinking the Maple Leafs have a better chance to re-sign Hyman than most hockey pundits currently suggest. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on my part, but could be – right?

Item Two: The Maple Leafs Add New Assistant Coach Spencer Carbery

Sort of flying under the radar with the expansion draft was the fact that head coach Sheldon Keefe has a new assistant coach. Once again, the organization seems to have prized player development over NHL experience with the choice. That new assistant is former AHL rival coach Spencer Carbery, who was added on Saturday to become part of Keefe’s bench staff.

Seems as if that permanently leaves Bruce Boudreau on the outside looking in. However, it suggests that the Maple Leafs’ plan of building a coaching staff that focuses on working with younger players remains on course as I noted in an earlier post last week. I’m speculating that means more prospects will be given a chance to make the 2021-22 roster.

Carbery is a year younger than Keefe at 39-years-old and has worked in the AHL as assistant with the Providence Bruins and in the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit. Dean Chynoweth, who also has tons of player-development experience and was an assistant with the Carolina Hurricanes, was hired just a week ago on last Monday.

Related: NWHL 2021 Draft Recap

It seems as if Keefe isn’t shy about surrounding himself with possible successors should things go awry. Carbery seems like a keeper as a coach. Since he was hired as the head coach of the Bears in June, 2018, he led the team to a stellar three-year record of 104-50-9-8, including a very strong 53-18-3-2 mark during the team’s last 76 regular-season games. As noted, Carbery won the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach in 2020-21 after leading Hershey to the best record in the league.

Keefe noted, “Spencer possesses a great mind for the game along with the necessary work ethic, energy and communication skills we were looking for. I’m thrilled to have him join Manny (Malhotra), Dean (Chynoweth) and myself on the bench”.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

How much better a team are the Maple Leafs this expansion draft than they were last expansion draft? Fans just must look at the difference between the Vegas Golden Knights 2017 protection list and the 2021 protection list.

In the 2017 Expansion Draft Protection List the following players were protected.

  • Forwards: Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, James van Riemsdyk
  • Defencemen: Connor Carrick, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly
  • Goaltender: Frederik Andersen

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs: Revisiting the Nazem Kadri Trade

The 2021 Expansion Draft Protection List included:

  • Forwards: Auston Matthews. John Tavares. Mitch Marner. William Nylander
  • Defense: Morgan Rielly, Justin Holl, Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie
  • Goaltender: Jack Campbell

My oh my, that’s quite a difference. I know this team can be frustrating and disappointing, but it’s also just a darn good hockey team. I know it’s been a fun team to cover as a writer.