For many NHL teams, having an ample amount of depth is a great thing. The Toronto Maple Leafs have made some difficult decisions to finalize their roster as they filled out their bottom six in the offseason.
In regards to Alexander Kerfoot, he’s in a situation that many wouldn’t expect him to be in. An everyday third line player who can move up into the top-six in the event of an injury, it looks like he may have a different role for the 2021-22 season. Kerfoot was seen on the fourth line during practice a day before the team’s final preseason game against the Ottawa Senators.
Given the team’s cap situation and how a player making close to $4 million will be on the fourth line, it’s something the team didn’t expect. The Star’s Kevin McGran in his blog post mentions the possibility of shedding Kerfoot’s contract. Moving on from him might be something to really consider. (from ‘The Leafs’ latest penalty killer is … William Nylander?’, The Star– 10/06/21)
Contract Doesn’t Reflect Where He Should Be
Kerfoot’s contract is one that many teams would love to have as it’s good value for a third line centre/ winger who can play on the penalty kill. However, things are now starting to get a little hazy about his position in the lineup.
Kerfoot is in the third year of a four-year, $14 million contract and a cap hit of $3.5 million. There’s also a modified no-movement clause that kicks in next season, which is definitely not ideal for a player like that to be used in a fourth line role. After back-to-back 40-point seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, his production has declined posting consecutive 20-point seasons with the Maple Leafs.
Kerfoot’s play during the preseason hasn’t been anywhere near as we’ve seen in the past, as his underlying numbers don’t jump off the page. At five-on-five, he has an expected goals for percentage of 40.26 and a high danger chances for percentage of 31.25. I know we shouldn’t read too much into preseason numbers and statistics, but as a veteran and a player who stepped up in a big way in the playoffs, he has been far from that energy-type player.
Kerfoot’s contract overall would serve good value if he maintained his spot on the third line and found some sort of consistency production wise. Even though he can still be used in a fourth centre role, as he is smart defensively, the contract doesn’t match where he will potentially end up. If the Maple Leafs are able to move him before that modified no-movement clause kicks in, they would be able to free up some cap space as they have other players who can step in and replace him and at a cheaper price.
Others Players Challenged Kerfoot
Overall, if Kerfoot wants to be a mainstay in the team’s top-nine, he has to do a lot to either keep a spot at centre or even battle it out on the wing to remain a third line player. He has a lot of players that are aiming for his spot and bump him down the depth chart, making it a difficult decision for the coaching staff to finalize the roster.
After some of the recent cuts made, players such as Josh Ho-Sang, Brett Seney and Semyon der-Arguchintsev looked more noticeable than Kerfoot. Kirill Semyonov made things interesting as he looked to be a potential option as a fourth line centre.
Ilya Mikheyev looked to have some jump into his game, providing more of an offensive impact after struggling last season with 6.5 shooting percentage. Unfortunately, he suffered a hand injury in the final preseason game against the Senators.
Pierre Engvall, who was dealing with a hip injury, is one player that was fighting to keep his roster spot on the wing. He looked impressive in every game he’s played since his return, scoring three goals in two games.
The biggest name that has put a damper on Kerfoot’s ability to hold down a spot at centre is David Kampf. Based on his performance in preseason, he has ultimately dethroned Kerfoot to be the third centre on this team.
Kampf played very well and comes at a cheaper price at $1.5 million per season. Kampf has the smarts and defensive awareness and decision making to be a very effective shut down centreman. During the preseason, head coach Sheldon Keefe lauded his skill set and the ability to be used in a situation where he can play against anybody. He’s done a great job at breaking up plays and providing a very steady presence in his own end.
With Mikheyev heading to the injured reserve and Auston Matthews to miss the first three games of the season, Kerfoot looks to temporarily be the second centre. This would give him more time to prove that he’s worth staying up as a top-nine player on the team. When they return, he could get pushed down the lineup again, being back at square one in a fourth line role.
Should Maple Leafs Have Kept McCann?
When the Maple Leafs traded for Jared McCann before the expansion draft, many thought that this would be the end of the Kerfoot-era in Toronto. However, the Maple Leafs would end up protecting Justin Holl and exposing both players, with the Seattle Kraken eventually selecting McCann.
Even though they didn’t give up much to acquire McCann, was it a mistake to lose a middle centre/ wing and keep a third line centre, possibly fourth? McCann would’ve provided more value in terms of offensive production and at a cheaper cap hit of $2.94 million and will be a restricted free agent. He had back-to-back 30- point seasons, surpassing Kerfoot’s point totals for the last two seasons and would be just as reliable on the penalty kill.
There’s early uncertainty with Kerfoot’s placement in the lineup at the start of the season. With McCann, you would have a general idea as to where he would fit in. Maple Leafs fans are left to wonder if the Maple Leafs would’ve been better off with McCann than Kerfoot, on the ice and financially.
With the recent lineup projections, seeing Kerfoot and his contract on the fourth line isn’t what many had expected to see. With the recent offseason signings showing their worth and strong play from players on the bubble, he’s moved down the depth chart. He may still provide an impact, but with other players doing what he can do at a cheaper price, he could possibly be on his way out.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.