Maple Leafs Must Have Other Options Than Trading Kapanen

It seems like everyone’s favorite Toronto Maple Leafs trade chip is Kasperi Kapanen. If hockey commentators speculations are correct, the Maple Leafs won’t be able to get under the salary cap without trading one of the team’s mid-level forwards. It just seems to be a matter of who and for whom.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Backup Goalie, Spezza & More

Today, for example, The Score’s Sean O’Leary noted, “One simple trade – moving one of Alexander Kerfoot ($3.5 million), Andreas Johnsson ($3.4 million), or Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2 million) – would likely give the Leafs enough breathing room to ice a competitive roster next season. However, the flat cap will truly start to complicate things for Toronto in 2021-22.”

Kasperi Kapanen Toronto Maple Leafs
Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Last week, Hockey Buzz’s Mike Augello also wrote, “The flat cap will likely force (general manager) Kyle Dubas to make some difficult decisions, whether it be exposing a salaried player in the expansion draft or moving out someone like William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson to make room in other areas.”

I Can See Why Other Teams Want Kapanen

These are not the only two hockey commentators who include Kapanen as a trade chip, and I have no argument. It seems as if he makes every list of trade possibilities. In fact, it seems that any conversation about Kapanen these days includes talk of him being traded.

Related: NHL Elite: Consistent Point-Per-Game Players

But will he really be traded? In this post, I will talk more about Kapanen as a player, review reasons why he is a good player, and speculate about the possibility of his going or staying with the Maple Leafs.

Kapanen’s Family Background Has Prepared Him for Success

Kasperi’s father Sami Kapanen played 831 NHL games, scoring 189 goals and 458 points. His reputation was that he’s both a good player and a good guy. In fact, one of the great stories about father and son is that Sami came out of retirement to play with son Kasperi on the same line during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons with KalPa Kuopio of the SM-liiga.

YouTube player

Then 41-year-old father Sami noted, “It was the reason I kept pushing myself to give it one more year to have a chance to play with him. It’s special and it’s hard to put into exact words. You feel so proud that your son is on the ice at the age of 16, 17 and that he’s capable of playing with men on a professional level of hockey.”

As a result of this strong family relationship, Kapanen spent lots of time hanging around professional hockey teams and has firsthand knowledge about how to survive and prosper in the NHL. He’s been getting ready for being an NHL player his entire life.

In 2015, just after Kapanen was traded to the team, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan noted: “He’s a talented guy; a top-six forward, we are hoping. I think he adds to another group of players that we have in our stable, that with a lot of work and a lot of patience and some development, we hope he can become a very productive Leaf at some point.”

Now, five seasons later, Shanahan’s hopes have been fulfilled. Kapanen became all that was expected. And, as a result, he’s valued both on his own team and by many other teams as well.

Kapanen’s History with the Maple Leafs

The Finnish-born Kapanen was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft (22nd overall). He came to the Maple Leafs in the Phil Kessel trade prior to the 2015-16 season. At first Kapanen’s playing time with the Maple Leafs was limited because of his youth and the team’s depth on the wing. He played three seasons with the Toronto Marlies, and was a point-per-game player in 2016-17. During the 2017-18 season, he moved up to the Maple Leafs’ roster for good.

Related: The 10 Greatest American Hockey Players Ever

During the 2018-19 season, because William Nylander signed late after his salary negotiations, Maple Leaf fans had a chance to see what Kapanen could accomplish playing as a top-six forward. He showed he could deliver on offense, played solid defense, and logged ice time on the penalty kill. As well, he played with an edge.

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares Kasperi Kapanen
Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares celebrates a goal with right wing Kasperi Kapanen (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Kapanen had a great season in 2018-19 scoring 20 goals and 44 points. Although not as strong as his first full season, 2019-20 also showed his value to the team. He scored 13 goals and 36 points. He proved he belonged during his first NHL seasons and, before this past season, he signed for three years at $3.2 million.

Will Kapanen Be Traded?

It’s obvious why other NHL teams might want Kapanen. He’s fast, can score, and has great skills. He has also shown that he’s ultimately flexible and more than just a one-way player. As a result, the 23-year-old is just what hockey commentators suggest — a valuable trade chip that would be desired by other NHL teams. But, is he on his way out of Toronto?

First, prevailing wisdom suggests that the Maple Leafs have great forwards but need help on defense. Second, Kapanen is a valuable trade chip because other teams believe he’s skilled and has a great contract (cap hit of $3.2 million per season that extends for two more seasons).

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Robertson & Hoefenmayer

That said, questions remain. First, might the Maple Leafs be interested in trading Kapanen in the first place? The answer to that question might have to do with whether Dubas or head coach Sheldon Keefe believes they can replace the young forward with players inside their own organization.

Second, what are the organization’s plans for building their defense? For example, although hockey commentators assess the Maple Leafs defense as wanting and only fixable by importing an outside player, the organization might not agree.

Even assuming that Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci leave as free agents after the season has been completed, as Dubas noted when he signed former KHL defenseman Mikko Lehtonen in early April:

Mikko Lehtonen
New Maple Leafs Defenseman Mikko Lehtonen
(Oleg Bkhambri (Voltmetro) / CC BY-SA –

“As we go ahead, we know we’re going to have Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl. We’re going to be able to bring back [restricted free agent] Travis Dermott. And then we’ve got our younger guys in Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Teemu Kivihalme and Calle Rosen.” 

In other words, there are options.

I Hope Kapanen Stays

Obviously, the Maple Leafs will do what they feel is best to strengthen the team. That said, Kapanen is young and has huge potential. He’s explosive on offense and plays defense. And, he’s shown himself to be a good playoff performer, which is something the team should need moving forward.

Kapanen’s confident, and with good reason. He can contribute on offense by putting the puck in the net and add value as a defensive forward. I’d like to see the Maple Leafs keep him on the team.

As I say, there have to be other options.