Maple Leafs Better Served by Protecting Holl and Losing Kerfoot

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has some work to do over the next few weeks to ensure his ideal protected list is submitted to the NHL for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. The list is due by July 17, and at this time, it’s not known which of the two routes the Maple Leafs will go. Regardless of if it’s protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or protecting eight skaters (forwards and defenseman) and a goalie, Dubas needs to ensure the team is protecting Justin Holl and setting themselves up to lose Alexander Kerfoot.

There are several different reasons why this set up makes all the sense in the world for the Maple Leafs. Holl has burst onto the scene the past year and a half, and 2020-21 was certainly his best season. The 29-year-old finished with 20 points in the 55 games he appeared in, which was a career-high for the late-bloomer. He became one of the team’s more consistent defenders and, with two seasons left at $2 million, is developing into a nice value contract on the back-end for Toronto.

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Holl has quite the story from being a reasonably touted second-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and never being given a shot with the big club to making the Maple Leafs and being scratched 71 times by then-coach Mike Babcock in 2018-19. The adversity the ECHL graduate has gone through has certainly helped shape his character and if you’re going to tell Holl he’s doesn’t have the ability to do something, he’s going to laugh in your face and say, “watch me.”

Multiple Reasons to Ensure Holl Is Protected

Dubas and company have built up some decent depth on their back-end, but it is a touch left-side heavy. The likes of Jake Muzzin, T.J Brodie (who can play both sides), Morgan Rielly, and Rasmus Sandin give the Maple Leafs one of the deepest groups in the league, but the team is potentially becoming paper-thin on the right-side. At this time, it’s not known if Zach Bogosian is going to re-sign with the club after an impressive first campaign in Toronto. If management is dead serious about ensuring there’s a killer instinct within the group next season, then there’s a good chance Bogosian returns. Losing Holl to the expansion draft and having Bogosian walk would be a big blow to the d-core of the team. Right-handed defensemen are basically like unicorns in the NHL, everyone talks about seeing them, but they’re rare to get your hands on.

Holl has been paired with Muzzin on a nightly basis to form the Maple Leafs’ own version of the “twin towers” on the team’s second-pair, and last season the two of them came into their own together. Holl provides more mobility while Muzzin provides more physicality, and the pair have formed some wonderful chemistry and complement each other a tremendous amount.

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Muzzin and Holl have become one of the best second-pair tandems in the league (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With the 32-year-old Muzzin signed for three more seasons and Holl being under contract for at least two more, why mess with the mojo? Head coaches around the league struggle to find the perfect second-pair on defense and right now, the Maple Leafs have one of the best in the league. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, or if it ain’t broke, don’t let the Seattle Kraken try and fix it.

Another element to ensuring Holl is protected comes down to the future of Rielly with the Maple Leafs. Management has some big decisions to make regarding their top two left-wing positions and could see Rielly as trade bait to make an upgrade. While a lot can happen between now and opening night, keeping Holl around is like keeping around a security blanket. Losing Rielly presents a big hole to the Leafs’ defensive core, so if there’s a chance to guarantee some familiarity within the group, Dubas needs to make that happen. Starting the offseason knowing you have Brodie, Muzzin, Holl and Sandin to work with should be considered decent shape for an ambitious general manager.

Losing Kerfoot to Seattle Is Ideal for the Maple Leafs

Not often do you say losing a 26-year-old versatile forward with speed who has the potential to score 20 goals is ideal, but when your team is cash strapped and looking for more financial flexibility, it’s a dream scenario. Kerfoot is signed for $3.5 million for the next two seasons and his total cash value is only $2.7 million per season, so Seattle should be licking their chops. Not only does the annual average value of his salary help get the Kraken closer to the salary cap floor of $60.2 million, but they also don’t have to fork over as much cash. Let’s also not forget Kerfoot’s a proven NHL talent who can make an immediate impact on opening night, which should be music to the ears of Kraken general manager Ron Francis.

Alexander Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alexander Kerfoot provides the Seattle Kraken with ideal versatility for an expansion team (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kerfoot also happens to be from British Columbia, so playing closer to home in Seattle is not the worst set up. It allows the Kraken to market some reasonably close “home-grown” talent, and it gives the extended Kerfoot family a better chance to attend some games.

Something else to consider for the Maple Leafs and next season’s lineup is having a third-line center who is right-handed. The team relies heavily on Jason Spezza for strong side faceoffs, and if the Leafs want to improve next season, adding another right-handed pivot who plays more of a shut-down role should be considered by management. The Leafs would be a stronger team with Auston Matthews and John Tavares down the middle, followed by someone more defensive-minded than Kerfoot.

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Also, the biggest reason losing Kerfoot benefits the Maple Leafs is the money. It allows the team to sign unrestricted free agent Zach Hyman and keep their first-line together for the foreseeable future. Hyman, alongside Mitch Marner and Matthews, has the ability to be the best line in hockey, and if the team can keep them together, it will go a long way for the success of the hockey club. If Kerfoot stays, it makes signing Hyman that much more difficult to fit in and presents management a gaping hole to fill this summer.

Dubas and company have some big decisions to make before the Maple Leafs protected list needs to be submitted to the NHL. Over the course of the next few weeks, many scenarios are going to be contemplated and management will try to ensure the roster is set up in an ideal fashion for success. Leafs Nation should cross their fingers the outcome of the expansion draft includes seeing Holl getting set for another season of being paired with Muzzin while wishing Kerfoot all the best in Seattle.

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