Hockey rumors should be right some of the time and yesterday they were. On Tuesday, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas traded forward Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a multiple-player and draft-pick deal.
Related: Revisiting the Nazem Kadri Trade
As part of the trade, the Maple Leafs picked up Filip Hallander, Evan Rodrigues, David Warsofsky, and the 15th-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for Kapanen, Pontus Aberg, and Jesper Lindgren.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll outline four things the team got from the Kapanen trade. In addition, I’ll speculate about whether this trade might bring Alex Pietrangelo back into the Maple Leafs conversation.
Item One: Four Maple Leafs “Gets” from the Kapanen Trade
Maple Leafs “Get” Number One: A First-Round Draft Choice
The trade brings in the 15th-overall pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. The Maple Leafs had to dump their previous first-round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Patrick Marleau contract exorcism last offseason.
Maple Leafs “Get” Number Two: Salary-Cap Space and Flexibility
Second, the trade frees up cap space. Toronto was in a cap crunch, to say the least, and clearing Kapanen’s $3.2 million loosens the chains a bit for Dubas to either improve the team’s defense or use the first-round pick and another player – say Andreas Johnsson – to trade for a high-end defenseman.
Maple Leafs “Get” Number Three: Filip Hallander
Third, the Maple Leafs picked up the 20-year-old Hallander, who is considered a young forward with potential. He was the 58th-overall pick in the 2018 Draft.
In 2018, the Penguins’ director of amateur scouting Patrik Allvin called Hallander a “solid, two-way player. He has those character traits like Patric Hornqvist. He goes to the hard areas and produces.”
Elite Prospects noted that Hallander was a “Two-way forward and a capable skater. Works hard and forechecks and backchecks impressively. Shoots and passes the puck equally well. Smart in all three zones and a good team player. (EP 2018)”
Filip’s father, Patrik Hallander, was a defenseman who played professionally in Sweden in the 1980s and 1990s. He was teammates with NHL player Fredrik Modin and coached Timrå’s U16 team.
In Hallander, the Maple Leafs have another young skilled player on an entry-level contract who will help the team mediate the reality of the flat salary cap. There’s little chance with the emergence of Nick Robertson that Hallander will play for the Maple Leafs in 2020-21, but he should become part of the team’s long-term future.
Maple Leafs “Get” Number Four: Evan Rodrigues
Although little has been written about Evan Rodrigues, he has value as a depth player in this deal. The 27-year-old multi-position forward is a Toronto native and a capable bottom-six player. In 2018-19 with the Buffalo Sabres, he set career-highs playing 74 games and scoring nine goals and 20 assists (29 points), (from ‘Penguins A to Z: Evan Rodrigues found what he wanted in Pittsburgh,’ Trib Live, 06/03/2020); he also played 11 of 12 forward positions.
However, he failed to impress new Sabres coach Ralph Krueger who stuck Rodrigues in the press box for 17 games. Finally, in frustration, Rodrigues asked to be traded and landed with the Penguins, where he played seven games before the 2019-20 season was suspended. Given that Kapanen was playing on the third line, Rodrigues could replace some of Kapanen’s minutes.
The Penguins must believe Kapanen is an offensive upgrade, but Rodrigues could be a defensive upgrade for the Maple Leafs. He is a restricted free agent; however, if the Maple Leafs don’t qualify him, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent, which might allow Dubas to sign him for less than his $2 million cap hit.
Item Two: Has Alex Pietrangelo Returned to the Maple Leafs Picture?
Now that the St. Louis Blues have been eliminated from the playoffs and the Kapanen trade is done, what will happen to the Blues’ star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo?
Pietrangelo is on an expiring contract and could become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Yesterday, it was reported that the Blues captain would like to stay in St. Louis. However, the Blues may not have enough cap space to re-sign him.
From an outside perspective, the emergence of goalie Jordan Binnington over the past two seasons helps. That Binnington led his team to a Stanley Cup championship last season and followed it up with a strong 2019-20 regular season suggests that Jake Allen and his $4.35 million cap hit might be trade bait. Allen played well against the Vancouver Canucks during the 2020 postseason, which doesn’t hurt his value.
Related: Worst Toronto Maple Leafs Trades
However, Binnington had a horrible postseason. He never looked solid in net and got shelled. That leaves the Blues with a dilemma. Can they trust Binnington as their future goalie?
Similar to the Maple Leafs, the Blues could make trades to free up cap space. But if they don’t, they’ll be saying good-bye to their star defenseman. The Blues drafted Pietrangelo fourth overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and they are the only team he’s ever played for.
Yesterday, the Toronto Sun’s Michael Traikos asked if the Kapanen trade means the 30-year-old Pietrangelo might be destined for the Maple Leafs. Traikos noted that by relieving the team of Kapaenen’s $3.2-million cap hit, Dubas could get defensemen Torey Krug, T.J. Brodie, Chris Tanev, or Travis Hamonic in free agency.
Furthermore, Traikos suggested that, if Dubas moved another “piece” out — like Johnsson, Alex Kerfoot, or William Nylander – the Maple Leafs might be able to sign Pietrangelo (from “Could Kapanen trade give Leafs a chance at signing Pietrangelo?, Toronto Sun, 25/08/20).
Pietrangelo, who’s from the Toronto area (King City, Ontario), would be a wonderful addition to any club. He’s scored 109 goals and 450 points in 758 career games. He’s not only good on defense but is a great offensive defenseman. Even within the shadow of COVID-19 and with many teams tight against the salary cap, he’ll be paid handsomely.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
What’s next for the Maple Leafs is interesting. As I have regularly noted, I’m a fan of Dubas and his ability to build a team, which didn’t take a hit after yesterday’s trade. What now?
I have to believe Dubas has three choices. First, he could let things sit and use the salary-cap relief to sign players on the team’s roster – Ilya Mikheyev or Travis Dermott. Both need to be re-upped. Second, he could trade the team’s new first-round draft pick and perhaps someone else for a high-quality defenseman. Third, he could dump more salary and try to persuade Pietrangelo to join the Maple Leafs.
All that said, knowing Dubas, he’s likely got another surprise up his sleeve.