Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kerfoot, Aston-Reese, Matthews & Marner

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at what will happen to Alex Kerfoot and where he might land this season. I hope he’ll move and land with the Seattle Kraken. I’ll note why.

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Second, I’ll bounce off one THW insightful commenter to take a look at one of the team’s deficiencies in its play. Then, I’ll follow the lead of that commenter to look at the value a player like Zach Aston-Reese might bring to the team.

Related: Maple Leafs Must Consider a William Nylander Trade This Summer

Finally, I’ll comment on the Maple Leafs’ style of play and some of the positive things that seem to be occurring with key players.

Item One: Hoping Alex Kerfoot Lands with the Seattle Kraken

Every once in a while, I hope a player moves on from the Maple Leafs to a new team. I’m not sure how Alex Kerfoot thinks about his fate with the Maple Leafs; and, I’m sure that after three seasons with the team he’s made some really strong friends and built solid relationships. 

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I can only imagine that having your name come up in consistent trade rumors must be disconcerting to the point that one feels not on solid ground. Obviously, the NHL is a professional league and being moved is part of what players sign up for – unless you’re elite, and even then a Jonathan Huberdeau gets moved. Wayne Gretzky got moved for heaven’s sake.

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I hope Kerfoot gets moved. And I hope it’s to the Seattle Kraken. First, the Pacific Northwest is home to him. He grew up in Vancouver. Second, the Kraken wanted him and was looking at him prior to the expansion draft. Third, he can have a positive impact on the team. 

Related: NHL Expansion After Seattle

Kraken coach Dave Hakstol knows Kerfoot from his time as an assistant coach with the Maple Leafs. If anything, the Kraken might want him more after his career season with the Maple Leafs. I can see Kerfoot working well with young players like Shane Wright (the Kraken’s 2022 fourth-overall, first-round draft pick) and Matty Beniers (the Kraken’s 2021 second-overall, first-round draft pick).

Shane Wright Seattle Kraken
Shane Wright, Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Kraken will be a better team this season after their solid drafts and the addition of Oliver Bjorkstrand (at last season’s trade deadline) and Andre Burakowsky (signed after he helped the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup).  Kerfoot could become part of a growing forward unit that isn’t yet elite but could grow to be. He doesn’t seem to engage in much drama, which has to be helpful for a maturing team.

Item Two: There’s Hitting, Then There’s Hitting

In our post yesterday, Stan Smith and I wrote about the Maple Leafs ditching the softness narrative. It generated a lot of pushback in the conversation section. While there seem to be a growing number of trolls this offseason who are more than willing to say hurtful things about others, there are many regular readers who thoughtfully add value to the posts I write. I appreciate these additions.

Related: Hitting in Women’s Hockey: Why Not?

One thoughtful commenter is waterbuffalo49. In response to yesterday’s post, waterbuffalo49 noted that “I am not a big believer in the narrative that Leafs are so much softer than other teams. You don’t make it to the NHL and stay there if you are too soft. That said, there are hits, and then there HITS!” 

waterbuffalo49 then added that he didn’t believe the Maple Leafs “do enough of the less obvious hitting such as getting into the way/path of the opposition, cutting them off to force them to pass the puck or a slight rub against the boards to slow the play down. Too often the opposition seems to break out of their own zone with ease due to a weak forecheck.”

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin is one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ few punishing hitters.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

waterbuffalo49 added “It is not necessary to drive a player through the boards to change the course of the play. The opposition often seems to have a lot of open ice to move the puck up the ice towards the Maple Leafs goal.”

Finally, he noted that he “would like to see the Leafs sign or at least offer a PTO to Zack Aston Reese who is a terrific forechecker.” 

Item Three: Zach Aston-Reese Is Still on the Market

As I have noted, I appreciate and take most conversations after the posts seriously. waterbuffalo49’s note about offering a PTO to Aston-Reese sent me to late-night research. I only know Aston-Reese a bit, being surprised that he was on the open market for the first time in his career. Last season the Pittsburgh Penguins traded Aston-Reese at the NHL trade deadline as part of a package to bring in Rickard Rakell.

Related: Old Prof’s Maple Leafs Trivia: How Well Do You Know Team History?

I had read that Ashton-Reese had been seen hanging around the New Jersey Devils. And it might be that, because he is an American, he’d like to stay in the US. However, if he were willing to play in Toronto, he might be a good pickup for the Maple Leafs. 

Specifically, he could be a middle-six addition to the team and might even be the kind of puck-digging winger that could add value to the second line of John Tavares and William Nylander – a sort of Zach Hyman lite. 

Ashton-Reese isn’t much for scoring, but as waterbuffalo49 notes, he’s a great defensive player. He forechecks hard and simply digs pucks out of corners and disrupts play. Plus, similar to most defensive players without much offensive upside, he’s cheap. His last contract was for one-year at $1.75 million. Given the fact that he’s still on the market, he could come in around $1. 

Zach Aston-Reese Anaheim Ducks
Zach Aston-Reese formerly of the Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 27-year-old Ashton-Reese could add tons of defense and is a strong penalty killer. That’s something the Maple Leafs might need with Ilya Mikheyev gone and Kerfoot perhaps on the way out. While he might slot into the bottom six with the team, he could also rise as high as the second line in the right mix.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The conversation section of yesterday’s “soft narrative” post kept me thinking about the team. I don’t think the Maple Leafs are soft, but I wouldn’t want them to play like bruisers.

I like how the team plays. Sure they could be better defensively from top to bottom, but this is an offensive team. I don’t want Nylander to change his stripes. I want him to grow better at what he does. Last season, Mitch Marner did just that. He seemed to become more of a shooter than simply a one-dimensional passer. 

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: Bower, Matthews, Tavares, Spezza & Marner

But I am pleased that Auston Mathews, who won the NHL’s MVP and scored 60 goals, will no longer be considered for the Lady Byng. It seems he’s decided not to be pushed around anymore. That can’t hurt his game