The truth is that Alex Kerfoot is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ most invisible player. He always seems to float under the radar of Maple Leafs’ fans. On one hand, that makes a lot of sense. Given the Maple Leafs’ roster, Kerfoot plays in some pretty big shadows.
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and even T.J. Brodie or Jake Muzzin all get much more media coverage. Perhaps, deservedly so. However, some players below him on the depth chart, such as Ilya Mikheyev, Ondrej Kase, David Kampf, Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, Pierre Engvall, and even the recently waived Nick Ritchie, all seem to get more press than Kerfoot, be it positive or negative.
Kerfoot Is More Valuable than His Salary-Cap Hit
Really, the only time Kerfoot seems to get mentioned is in relation to his $3.5 million salary-cap hit. It seems a foregone conclusion that the Maple Leafs will use Kerfoot to gain salary-cap space to sign other “more important” players by alleviating themselves of him and, by proxy, that salary-cap hit.
One thing fans seem to notice about Kerfoot is that they just don’t seem to notice him at all. If he happens to have a good game where he gets multiple points, he still seems to be mentioned as a footnote, something along the lines of “and Kerfoot picked up three points tonight.”
In fact, that’s what happened during last night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. Kerfoot was put in a position that was new to him. He was covering for Mitch Marner, who was out under the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. Kerfoot proceeded to score a goal and add two assists.
Kerfoot, Sheldon Keefe’s Swiss Army Knife
Recently. Kerfoot has received some notice from the media for being Kyle Dubas’ and Sheldon Keefe’s Swiss Army Knife. He’s a player who, as per his example last night, can be plugged into many roles. He’s been used as a third-line center and a second-line winger. He can kill penalties and he’s played on the second power-play unit.
During the playoffs last season, he stepped into the role of second-line center to fill the hole left when Tavares was injured. And, he did that job rather well, finishing the playoffs with six points in seven games, which put him second in scoring on the entire Maple Leafs’ team.
Kerfoot Is Having His Best Season Ever
Flash forward to this year, and Kerfoot is quietly having the best season of his career. Following the Maple Leafs 5 – 4 overtime loss to Colorado, where he scored a goal and added two assists, he’s fifth in scoring for the Maple Leafs with 24 points in 33 games played (he’s scored six goals and added 18 assists). Extended to an 82-game season, that works out to 15 goals and 45 assists (for 60 points), which is 17 points more than his previous best season.
Even more impressive is the fact that Kerfoot leads the team and is tied at sixth overall in the NHL in plus/minus at plus-19. To put that into an analytical perspective, at five-on-five, Kerfoot is tied for sixth at 66.67 percent in Goals For percentage among players who’ve been on the ice for a total of 40 or more goals. Over the season in five-on-five play, Kerfoot has been on the ice for 32 goals and only for 16 goals against.
So, Who’s to “Blame” for the Great Seasons: Kerfoot or the Other Stars?
Of course, any fan reading this post could come back by noting that Kerfoot has played the majority of the season with Tavares and Nylander. Of course, his production would be better this season. Fans could add that Nylander is having a career season with 15 goals and 35 points in 33 games, which would extend to 37 goals and 50 assists (for an 87-point season). They could add that Tavares is a point-a-game player with 14 goals and 20 assists (for 34 points) in 32 games, which would extend to 36 goals and 51 assists (for 87 points) as well.
It would make sense that just playing with these players would help improve Kerfoot’s scoring numbers. Obviously, those fans would be correct. However, any NHL line is a partnership. As a result, it could also be said that having Kerfoot on a line with Tavares and Nylander is playing an important role in them having the seasons they’re having.
Another Way to Look at Kerfoot’s Value to the Team
There’s another way to look at Kerfoot’s value to the team. Maybe it’s time we all saw Alex Kerfoot as being more than the player who takes up $3.5 million of usable salary-cap space and credit him for being a player who’s worth the $3.5 million he’s being paid.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]