A couple of days ago, Sportsnet columnist Elliotte Friedman appeared on Tim and Sid and said he believed there was a specific winger the Toronto Maple Leafs were targeting as we move deeper into the season, and he wrote the winger’s name down on a piece of paper. Naturally, fans on Twitter have been scrambling to figure out who that player is.
If you told me before the season that the Maple Leafs would be in the market for a top-six winger, I would have laughed. All the offensive depth in the world and they need a winger? Come on.
However, the Maple Leafs aren’t getting what they hoped for from Jimmy Vesey, who started the season on the second line alongside John Tavares and William Nylander, and he has only three points in 15 games. They tried Ilya Mikheyev in that role to no avail. He has had his own struggles and was horribly snakebitten up until Wednesday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.
After the injury to Wayne Simmonds and the limited sample size from Nick Robertson, it makes sense that the organization is looking for somebody to fill that second-line left-wing role.
Who Could It Be?
Who is this myster winger? Managment could be interested in a proven goal-scorer like Rickard Rakell (Anaheim Ducks) or Kyle Palmieri (New Jersey Devils) but the price tag and salary cap might make them too difficult to add. They could go for an option in the North Division like Jake Virtanen (Vancouver Canucks) to avoid the mandatory quarantine, but I imagine the Maple Leafs are looking for a safer option than a reclamation project.
With this in mind, there’s only one player who fits the bill perfectly: the Los Angeles Kings’ Alex Iafallo.
Iafallo is a 27-year-old left-winger in his fourth NHL season. The 6-foot, New York-native spent four years with the University of Minnesota-Duluth before signing a two-year entry-level contract with the Kings following the 2016-17 season. Last season, he had a career year with 17 goals and 43 points in 71 games.
Iafallo is a relatively cheap option. Salary-wise, anyways. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the season and only carries a cap hit of $2.4 million. This should be the first sign for the Maple Leafs’ brass. We all know that the team doesn’t have an abundance of cap space, but they have the means to move some money around and make room for a contract worth just over $2 million.
Plus, the fact that he’s a UFA should make life a bit easier for GM Kyle Dubas. Not only would this likely make the price tag on Iafallo more affordable, but with left-wingers like Nick Robertson looking to step into a bigger role next season, there likely wouldn’t be too much pressure to re-sign him.
Iafallo off to a Career-Best Start
Iafallo is also off to a great start this season. He has nine points in 13 games so far, tied for fourth on the team, and he’s been a mainstay on the top line alongside captain Anze Kopitar. The beauty of a player like Iafallo is that he can be used anywhere in the lineup. If the Maple Leafs acquire him, he would likely start off on Tavares and Nylander’s left side.
And, looking further ahead, if the Maple Leafs get to a point where, say, Robertson emerges and becomes that top-six option for them, you could get away with using Iafallo on the third line.
The advanced stats support his game too. It’s no secret the Kings have had their woes this season, now in last place in the West Division. So, most of their players have below-average possession numbers. Iafallo, however, has the second-highest Corsi-for percentage (CF%) on the team with 50.5%, second to Dustin Brown at 50.7%, that isn’t easy to do on a bottom-feeding team. His zone starts are also split dead in half, with 50% in each zone, an indication that the Kings have equal trust in him offensively and defensively.
Dubas & the Los Angeles Kings
Keeping all of this in mind, I believe Iafallo is the player Freidman is referring to because Dubas loves trading with the Kings at or near the trade deadline. Two years ago, he acquired Jake Muzzin for Carl Grundstrom and a first-round pick. Last season, he acquired Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford for Trevor Moore and two draft picks. It’s almost like clockwork that the Maple Leafs and Kings make a deal around this time of year.
Truth be told, this trade seems like it would make perfect sense for both teams. The Kings aren’t going to make the playoffs this season, so keeping a pending UFA like Iafallo seems pointless when they could dangle him and get assets in return. Unless, of course, Iafallo loves L.A. and wants to stay. But even then, the Kings could just as easily maximize his value, get a prospect or a pick for him, and bring him back in the offseason.
What’s the Price Tag?
Which brings me to my next point. What would Iafallo cost to bring him to Toronto?
The deal would start with one of Vesey or Alex Kerfoot. I’m sure the Maple Leafs would rather deal Vesey, but he only makes $900,000, so that might not be enough outgoing salary to make it work.
Kerfoot, meanwhile, makes $3.5 million through next season. The Kings have roughly $9 million in cap space to work with and no big-name free agents to re-sign until after next season. Knowing this, LA can afford to take on Kerfoot’s contract, and the Maple Leafs have internal options to fill that 3C role if they decide to move him.
The deal wouldn’t end at one of those two, but I’d have to imagine the addition of a second-round pick or a B-level prospect could make the deal work. Considering Iafallo is a UFA, I don’t believe the price for him would be sky-high.
The Leafs and the Kings have made some trades recently that have worked out well for both teams. I believe this could be another. It makes sense for both teams, and the Maple Leafs have the means to make it happen.
With Simmonds out for roughly six weeks and the question mark in their top-six, I have to believe Iafallo would instantly give Toronto’s second line a boost and would add depth heading down the stretch and into the playoffs of this COVID-shortened season.