Maple Leafs Have Chance to Act on Rakell Rumours

For some time, going back to the 2021 trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs have always been rumoured in the market to add a top-six forward to push them over the top. One name that they have been linked to is former Anaheim Ducks forward Rickard Rakell.

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Before the 2021 deadline, The Athletic and TSN Insider Pierre LeBrun suggested that they might be looking at a two-way player that can keep up with the second line. Lebrun brought up Rakell’s name and that he was an “ideal fit” for the team. 

Rickard Rakell Pittsburgh Penguins
Rickard Rakell, Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

About a month before, I mentioned Rakell as a possible match and fit for the Maple Leafs. He would bring everything that they could look for in a winger that could provide a significant impact in their top-six. While they didn’t make a move then and Rakell was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins this past deadline, they probably could’ve made it work. 

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After the previous rumours and now that Rakell is a pending unrestricted free agent, the Maple Leafs should be doing everything they can to sign and bring him in.

Kerfoot Hasn’t Worked Out

Alexander Kerfoot has looked great at times on the second line this season with John Tavares and William Nylander. Other times they weren’t, as Kerfoot himself wasn’t able to be that much of a difference maker and take charge. 

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While Kerfoot had a career year with 51 points and has been a versatile player for the Maple Leafs throughout the season, it didn’t work out down the stretch and even into the playoffs where he only had two points in seven games. Not exactly great secondary scoring for a player that you would expect more out of in that role. 

As a line, Kerfoot-Tavares-Nylander had a shot attempts percentage of 52.1, 53rd overall among forward lines to play at least 150 minutes, according to MoneyPuck. While it’s above average, both Tavares and Nylander seemed to be better off without him as they had a higher Corsi For percentage at five-on-five without Kerfoot than when they were with him. 

 CF% With KerfootCF% Without Kerfoot
John Tavares51.1854.24
Wiliam Nylander51.3355.68

While Kerfoot was the playmaker on that line, that kind of sub-par production isn’t what you would want from the second line where two players are generating and one player either does something great and then seems to be a non-factor later on. Rakell was either above or below average in terms of his underlying numbers with the Ducks, especially the last two to three seasons. With the Ducks, Rakell saw most of his minutes with Sonny Milano and Trevor Zegras and had a 58.3 goals percentage. 

With the Penguins, Rakell showed to have great numbers as he had great success down the stretch of the regular season with 13 points in 19 games (41 total all season). When playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, in just over 91 minutes (12 games), they had a Goals % of 90. When Rakell was on the ice, the Penguins had a goals for percentage of 61.29 and a high danger goals for percentage of 68.75. 

Rickard Rakell Pittsburgh Penguins
Rickard Rakell, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even though it’s a small sample, that’s still impressive results. Even if you’re playing with the one the top players in the world.

Maple Leafs Add Size and Skill with Rakell

If the Maple Leafs were to go out and sign Rakell, it would be a big boost to a second line that needed to find some steady production if either Tavares or Nylander went cold. He’s a player that has shown to be consistent when playing with quality talent. While he may not be playing with Crosby, Tavares and Nylander are still high-end offensive producers. With the Penguins needing to re-sign Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, they’re more of priority than Rakell.

Rakell plays with the same amount of pace and speed as Kerfoot but can be a lot more impactful as he would be more noticeable on the ice. The Maple Leafs have plenty of names to utilize on the penalty kill and while Rakell may not be in that role, he’s still strong defensively in his own end. The Maple Leafs could look to have a power forward-like player who can score and make nifty setups. 

With the quick pace that Nylander plays with and the smarts and puck possession game that both he and Tavares have, Rakell would provide a boost to a line that’s looking for a third player with a little more offensive production in terms of chances and generation. He plays with great intensity and work ethic that the team is looking for. It would be the perfect balance of size, skill, speed and smarts.

The Maple Leafs have been looking for players with a killer instinct mentality and Rakell has shown to be a big-time performer when he needs to. To add that kind of presence to the top-six would be beneficial as he also has playoff experience. 

What Could a Contract Look Like?

Coming off a six-year, $22.8 million contract that he signed with the Ducks and the fact that he’s 29, there needs to be a cautious approach if you’re the Maple Leafs.

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Rakell is looking for a pay raise from what he already made ($3.789M). While he hasn’t hit the 60-point mark since 2017-18, he may or may not hit that mark again. He’ll be a steady secondary scorer that is at least capable of hitting 50 points. Playing with Tavares and Nylander, that might happen as it may be the best-case scenario.

As a starting point, you could look to a contract that Brandon Saad signed with the St. Louis Blues. After some less than stellar productive seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche, Saad signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract and finished with 49 points in his first season with the Blues.

Brandon Saad St. Louis Blues
Brandon Saad, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Both Saad and Rakell are very similar in their play style as they like to engage on the forecheck and can be steady scorers. While you may not want to invest in that extra year of term, if you can get Rakell for four seasons with Saad’s salary of $4.5 million, that might be worth considering.  

It makes perfect sense for the Maple Leafs to target Rakell as a potential free agent signing. Of course, there needs to be some contracts moved to gain more cap, but if that happens, it would be a great acquisition.

The Maple Leafs have been previously linked to Rakell as a trade target in the past, now that he’s on the open market, they can sign him to a contract. If the price is right and both sides agree, it’ll be a perfect match with his resume as a solid top-six winger.

Statistics from Money Puck, Natural Stat Trick, Cap Friendly and Hockey Reference.