Maple Leafs Face a Dilemma with Alex Kerfoot

Fellow The Hockey Writers writer Shane Seney recently wrote an article titled “Maple Leafs: 3 Trade Destinations for Alexander Kerfoot” We found that curious and wondered if the Toronto Maple Leafs were or even should be considering trading Kerfoot at all?  

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In the comments section, regular contributor BleedBlue agreed, stating “We have to dangle Kerf for a big stay at home D (with one more year of term!!). 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot Is More Than Worth His Salary

In response, Herb Trollop – who’s been one the longest, if not the longest follower to the Maple Leafs’ section of THW – replied “Just hope we do not lose someone 5 mins into a playoff game. Do remember Kerfoot and Nylander had an excellent playoff that was short-lived.”

Who’s Right: Should the Maple Leafs Consider Trading Kerfoot?

So who’s right? Or is there a right or wrong answer to the question of whether Kerfoot should be dangled in the hopes of acquiring a top-four defenseman with term – even if it were possible? 

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Here’s what we know. Kerfoot’s an exceedingly versatile player who’s having a career year this season. Spending much of his time skating alongside John Tavares and William Nylander, Kerfoot has scored nine goals and added 30 assists (for 39 points) in 57 games. Extended to an 82-game season that equates to 13 goals and 56 points. 

In other seasons, Kerfoot’s scored more goals. He came one goal shy of 20 in his rookie season with the Colorado Avalanche, scoring 19 goals in the 2017-18 season. But his best point total to date (42 points) was also accomplished that same year. Kerfoot is only three points shy of that mark with 25 games still to go. The point is that he’s playing well and contributing.

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Recently, the John Tavares line had been struggling and Tavares went the whole month of February without scoring a goal. That stretch lasted 14 games until he potted one against the Vancouver Canucks this week. Second-line partner William Nylander has only managed six goals in his past 23 games.

In an effort to shake things up on that line, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe replaced Kerfoot with Ondrej Kase. When Kase went down with an upper-body injury, Keefe inserted the recently called up Nick Robertson into the left-winger’s position.  

Sheldon Keefe’s Move Begs Two Questions

That moved Kerfoot into a bottom-six role and at times onto the fourth line. The move begs two questions: First, “Can the Maple Leafs afford to have a fourth-line center chew up $3.5 million in salary-cap space?” And, second, “Could the Maple Leafs utilize that cap space better to do something that solidifies their defense?” as BleedBlue suggested.  

The answers to those two questions must be weighed against the value Kerfoot has to the team. As reader Herb Trollop stated, Kerfoot stepped in when Tavares went down in last year’s playoffs and was one of the three best forwards for the Maple Leafs in that series. 

Alexander Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alexander Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s a good point. What happens when someone gets hurt; and, we say “when” because, with the intensity of the playoffs, someone is going to get hurt. That’s what makes Kerfoot so valuable to the team. He has the ability to contribute on any line. He can be a complementary winger on either the top two lines and he’s quite capable of driving a line as a center in the bottom six.  

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot: What Should Fans Know?

Obviously, Keefe knows what he has in Kerfoot. He has the second-most ice time of any Maple Leafs forward and he’s a key piece on what is one of the best penalty-killing teams in the entire NHL. Kerfoot can also be a valuable member of the second power-play unit. He plays a solid 200-foot game. With Kase, he’s one of Keefe’s Swiss army knives. 

Kerfoot’s Value to the Maple Leafs also Make Him a Valuable Trade Piece

There are two sides to every coin. The very same attributes that make Kerfoot a valuable member of the Maple Leafs’ roster would also make him an extremely attractive target for another team. In addition, Kerfoot is signed for a reasonable salary-cap hit for one more season.

The Maple Leafs could use Kerfoot’s salary-cap hit to shore up their defense for the remainder of this season; and, that money could also be used to help next season. 

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

According to Capfriendly, the Maple Leafs only have a little over $7 million in salary-cap space with 15 players signed. They have a number of players on the roster who are likely to pull substantial raises. Because it will be almost impossible to re-sign them all, adding $3.5 million to that space could certainly help. 

What’s the Answer?

We know where we stand. We are not in favor of trading Kerfoot this season.

We know the Maple Leafs are in “Win-Now” mode. Playoff success is good in its own right, but it would also help keep Auston Matthews around after current his contract runs out. And, keeping Matthews in Toronto might be the tipping point for continued Maple Leafs’ franchise success. He’s that good.

Because we believe the team is building for this season’s playoff success, we believe the team would be hard-pressed to find a player who can do all of the things Kerfoot can do or fill all of the roles he can fill.  

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Unless Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas is offered a deal he can’t refuse for Kerfoot –  a deal that would go a long way to put the Maple Leafs over the top – we believe the best choice would be to hold onto Kerfoot for the playoffs. 

Because Kerfoot only has one more season on his contract, if he continues to perform at the level he has this season, the money on his next contract could be higher than his current one. He’d be an attractive trade option for a team looking for a top-six player who can bring the variety of skills he has and could be used in all the roles Kerfoot is so adept at filling. 

He’s also only 27 years old. He’s smart and skilled. For us, however, keeping him around for this season’s playoff run is the wisest choice. From our perspective, he’s too valuable to lose for a rental.

For now, we’ll be more than happy if Dubas chooses to keep Kerfoot on the Maple Leafs’ roster at the trade deadline.

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