Already the Toronto Maple Leafs have pulled off the trade of the postseason, and that’s without waiting until the actual postseason to do it. General manager Kyle Dubas found the trade he wanted so he pulled the trigger. It also didn’t hurt to pacify the Maple Leafs faithful who were clamouring for some action to better a moribund team – and the trade did that job well.
Already the jury has reacted positively to the Kasperi Kapanen trade. The Maple Leafs traded forward Kapanen, defenseman Jesper Lindgren, and forward Pontus Aberg to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 2020 1st-round pick (15th overall), forward Filip Hallander, forward Evan Rodrigues, and defenseman David Warsofsky.
Most hockey pundits call it a clear win for the Maple Leafs. The Penguins got the best player in Kapanen, but he’s redundant on the Maple Leafs roster and more valuable to the Penguins. However, Toronto was able to clear salary-cap space for Dubas to make more moves.
More moves are coming. In an interview three days ago, Dubas noted that the Maple Leafs now have more salary-cap “wiggle room.” He also admitted he doesn’t think his team is finished making trades.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll explore several trades rumored to be in the works. The Athletic’s James Mirtle has been one of the primary sources of speculation, and he believes the team isn’t nearly done making moves yet. Specifically, Mirtle believes, “The Leafs earned a nice win in trading Kasperi Kapanen. But they’re not done. Not even close,” (from “Kyle Dubas begins Leafs offseason with clean win. And he’s not done yet, The Athletic, 25/08/20).
Other than itemizing why the trade was so positive, Mirtle added that Maple Leafs fans should expect Dubas to stay busy: “According to multiple NHL teams, no fewer than four intriguing Leafs are being dangled to varying degrees.”
The question is, who are those players? Mirtle answered that by naming five possible trade scenarios: (1) moving the first-round pick they got from the Penguins, (2) goalie Frederik Andersen, (3) forward Alexander Kerfoot, (4) forward Pierre Engvall, and (5) forward Andreas Johnsson.
Trade Possibility One: Moving the First-Round Draft Pick
Almost everyone believes this NHL Entry Draft is deep well into the first round, or even later. That’s why the first-round pick Dubas got from the Penguins is so valuable. According to Mirtle, no other NHL team was willing to trade its first-round pick.
There’s a chance Dubas will package that 15th-overall selection, which holds great value on the open market, with another player to improve the team’s defense. In fact, when Dubas was asked if he would continue to improve that area of the team, he said, “Certainly, I don’t think this is going to be it for us as we go along.”
Dubas then spoke about the players on his roster that he wants to re-sign. He suggested that the team needed “greater flexibility” than they have. Specifically: “We have got our own business to take care of with Dermott and Mikheyev as restricted free agents. This will give us some space beyond them to sort of address all of the other needs that we feel that we have.”
In a video released by the Maple Leafs, Dubas noted, “We are open to keeping the pick, but in the spot that we are in with our team right now, we are also open to moving it if the right deal came along for someone that could help us now.”
For those who believed Dubas’ sole task was to find a top-pairing defenseman, the Kapanen trade might seem like a failure. However, Kapanen alone would not have brought back the calibre of player the team needs. and Dubas might already have his gambit planned with a number of moves to checkmate which could include that first-round pick.
Trade Possibility Two: Moving Frederik Andersen
The first question here is why move Frederik Andersen? Part of the reason is that the Maple Leafs are a wealthy team and are not struggling to meet their bills. So, they often offer unique contracts.
For example, a player’s contract could be front-loaded, which means he’d bring home more money in year one of that contract than in year four of that same contract. The Maple Leafs also often pay a large portion of a player’s contract in bonuses that are paid at the start date of the contract.
Andersen’s-cap hit is $5 million per season, and his contract runs through the 2020-21 season. However, the Maple Leafs will pay $4 million of that in a “signing bonus.” That means, if Andersen is traded, the team who gets him has their starting goalie for a “real salary” of only $1 million.
However, if Dubas makes that trade, he must believe either backup goalie Jack Campbell is good enough to be the team’s starter or there are other inexpensive goalie options on the market this offseasaon. Mirtle speculated that the team could move Andersen to clear cap space.
Trade Possibility Three: Moving Alex Kerfoot
Although Mirtle named Kerfoot as possible trade bait. I’m not buying it. I believe that, although Kerfoot might not be the most skilled player on the team, he has the most hockey smarts. He was strong on the penalty kill during the postseason and showed he could read the ice and the passing lanes well.
Mirtle noted that trading Kerfoot isn’t a given. Although he’s flexible and could be moved to the wing, the Maple Leafs want him to be their third-line center. But, there there’s doubt that he could do the job successfully. At a $3.5 million cap hit, others might fill that role for less.
Other teams might also find him attractive. Kerfoot’s contract is structured so that, over the next three seasons, after his signing bonus is paid, his total salary will be $8 million. In other words, he too might be an attractive option for a team looking to save money.
Trade Possibility Four: Moving Pierre Engvall
Although I know that head coach Sheldon Keefe is a Pierre Engvall fan, Mirtle believes Engvall’s $1.25 million cap hit might be too expensive for the Maple Leafs’ fourth line. Dubas might want to build a league-minimum fourth line with players only making $700,000 each (Jason Spezza?) or $2.1 million in total.
Engvall skates like the wind and has penalty-killing skills, so I believe his cap hit is palatable for most NHL teams, but not the Maple Leafs.
Trade Possibility Five: Moving Andreas Johnsson
Andreas Johnsson is a player-of-interest should another team see – as the Penguins saw in Kapanen – someone who might become a regular in their top-six and be willing to trade for that potential. Although he might be on the hope-to-trade-list, the Maple Leafs will likely be unable to trade him for what they believe he’s worth.
Johnsson’s trade value has diminished because of his injury history and because he has a higher cap hit than Kapanen. The Maple Leafs will lose any trade that includes Johnsson this offseason; and, unless the team is absolutely stuck and must dump salary, Johnsson will likely stay in Toronto.
During the 2018-19 season, he showed potential. As a result, it might be wise to keep him, hope he stays healthy and rebounds in 2020-21. It was curious that Keefe played Johnsson in the team’s final game; I have to believe Keefe considers him valuable.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Having studied Dubas during the two seasons I’ve covered the Maple Leafs, I have to believe he has a plan in mind for where he wants the team to go. One thing seems certain after his recent moves added to the rumors we’re hearing. He’s not likely to trade William Nylander, and Nylander will remain part of the team’s core.
That said, it’s unlikely the Maple Leafs makeover is complete. It will be interesting to see who else will join the team’s roster before the 2020-21 season begins.