Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas wasted no time in getting back to work after another disappointing end to the season. A little more than two weeks after the Maple Leafs’ Game 5 qualifying-round loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team announced a six-piece blockbuster trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday afternoon.
With so many moving parts, there’s a lot to unpack here. What exactly did the Maple Leafs get in Evan Rodrigues and Filip Hallander? And is it too early to call this deal a huge win for Toronto?
15th Overall Pick Highlights a Huge Haul for Toronto
Consider this: when the Maple Leafs kick-started their rebuild back in 2015 by trading Phil Kessel to the Penguins, they received a package centred around Kapanen and the 30th overall pick (which was later used to acquire goaltender Frederik Andersen from the Anaheim Ducks).
Things have now come full circle with Kapanen headed back to Pittsburgh in exchange for this year’s 15th overall pick, a decent prospect in Hallander, and an intriguing depth forward in Rodrigues. In fact, you could make the argument that the Maple Leafs got more value for Kapanen than they did for Kessel.
Obviously the 15th overall pick is the centrepiece of Tuesday’s trade for Toronto, and it provides them with several intriguing options (and questions). Should they keep the pick and draft a solid prospect in the middle of the first round, or should they re-package it in a larger deal for some much-needed help on the blue line?
My first instinct tells me that Dubas will be shopping the pick to anyone that will listen. It’s clear as day that the Maple Leafs are a minute-munching defenceman short of becoming true Cup contenders, and a package of the 15th overall pick plus Andreas Johnsson or Travis Dermott, for example, could probably net you a sizable upgrade on the back-end. The question, then, is who could realistically be targeted.
The predominant name that comes to mind is Ryan Ellis. The Nashville Predators just suffered an upset defeat in the qualifying round to the Arizona Coyotes, putting an end to a rather unremarkable season. Since their appearance in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Predators have won just a single playoff round, and with Roman Josi (29) and Pekka Rinne (36) not getting any younger, they may be looking to add some youth and shake things up.
With an overabundance of defensive talent in Josi, Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and the up-and-coming Dante Fabbro, the Predators may look to trade a defenceman in exchange for some offensive firepower and/or some futures. With a first-round pick plus Johnsson, the Maple Leafs could satisfy both of Nashville’s needs, while Ellis would instantly solidify Toronto’s blue line, finally giving Morgan Rielly a worthy defensive partner.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
The other option, of course, would be for the Maple Leafs to simply hold onto the pick. This year’s NHL Entry Draft is particularly deep, and there will be plenty of talent available at No. 15.
Whether Toronto is in search of a young forward, defenceman, or even goaltender to succeed Andersen, they’re spoiled for choice and can’t really make a bad selection at No. 15. Regardless of which route they decide to take, the value of the draft pick plus freeing up Kapanen’s $3.2 million cap hit is already a win for the Maple Leafs.
Rodrigues to Replace Kapanen?
While it may fly under the radar for some, the Maple Leafs picked up an intriguing asset in Evan Rodrigues. The 27-year-old Toronto native is a versatile and capable bottom-six player, who scored more than half a point per game for the Buffalo Sabres just three seasons ago. His career production rate of 30 points per 82 games is only just shy of Kapanen’s mark of 37, suggesting that Rodrigues may actually be a one-for-one replacement.
Digging into the underlying numbers, the two players are actually more comparable in terms of on-ice impact than you might think based on reputation alone. Kapanen certainly provides a bit more offensive threat, though Rodrigues’ defensive responsibility makes up the difference.
Add in the fact that Rodrigues plays both centre and wing and you’ve got a useful depth piece. He is a restricted free agent, though, and coming off a one-year, $2 million dollar deal, the price tag may be a bit steeper than one would hope. Instead of qualifying Rodrigues, which would guarantee him a cap hit of at least $2 million, Dubas may try to negotiate a hometown discount on a short-term deal. After all, in a flat cap world every dollar matters for the Maple Leafs.
If the two parties can reach a deal, look for Rodrigues to plug right into the team’s bottom-six next season. He may not have the same electrifying speed as Kapanen, but for a fraction of the price, he may just provide better value.
Hallander Keeps the Prospect Pool Stocked for Toronto
The third piece of real value in this trade for the Maple Leafs came in the form of forward prospect Filip Hallander. The 6-foot centre fractured his leg early on in the season but bounced back to put up 14 points in 27 games for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League. Having just celebrated his 20th birthday, Hallander is obviously very young with lots of room for growth, but there’s already talk of his maturity and readiness for the NHL.
Scott Wheeler of The Athletic is a big fan of Hallander’s game, ranking him as high as No. 2 on Pittsburgh’s prospect charts before the trade.
“Hallander’s one of those rare players who can play up and down a lineup and adjust his role to his linemates. Need him to drive a third line as its best player and have the puck a lot? He can do that. Need him to play off the puck on a second line where he’s not the most talented player? He can do that. Need an energy guy who can play fast and get in on the forecheck on your fourth line? He’s well-suited for that.”from: “Wheeler’s 2020 NHL prospect pool rankings: No. 28 Pittsburgh Penguins” – The Athletic – Jan. 16, 2020
If Hallander can continue his development and make the jump to the NHL within a couple of years, the Maple Leafs will have yet another skilled young player on an entry-level contract. Along with 18-year-old sniper Nick Robertson, a consistent influx of young talent like Hallander will be crucial in keeping the Maple Leafs core intact. A flat cap for the foreseeable future makes these prospects even more valuable, and Hallander gives Dubas another cheap option down the road.
Related: Worst Toronto Maple Leafs Trades
Following the Maple Leafs’ disheartening defeat to the Blue Jackets, it was clear that some big changes had to be made. It certainly appears that Toronto won this trade, but Kapanen was just the first domino to fall in what could be a very busy offseason for Dubas and company.
Player stats from https://www.hockeydb.com/
Chris Faria is a contributor for The Hockey Writers with a focus on the Toronto Maple Leafs. A hockey player and self-proclaimed analytics nerd, his work aims to combine both stats and a deep knowledge of the game. He is currently pursuing a graduate diploma in sports journalism at Centennial College in Toronto.