What do Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and Alex Kerfoot have in common? All three, and a few others, have made unforgivable blunders in the playoffs for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The difference is two of those players left town. Still, the most recent poor playoff performer, Kerfoot, should be shipped out soon, not just because of his playoff mistakes.
The seven-game series with the Tampa Bay Lightning could’ve gone either way. The teams were so evenly matched that the most minor error was enough to tip the scale. Kerfoot provided that in Game 6 when he was tasked with killing a penalty in the third period. Instead, he put his stick in Victor Hedman’s throat 200 feet away from his own net. Tampa Bay used the five-on-three powerplay to tie the game and would win in overtime. That was the big one, but Kerfoot also gave the puck away several times during the series, two of which resulted in goals.
Sure, Kerfoot’s blunders were not equal to Kadri’s cross-checking opponents in the head and getting suspended for the playoffs for two straight years. Moreover, his errors were not as bad as Gardiner’s horrific Game 7 performances (-10 in Game 7s).
The disasters that earned him the nickname Jake “the mistake” Gardiner included the Boston Bruins comeback in 2013 and the giveaway in 2019 that led to a game-winning goal by those same Bruins. But this edition of the Maple Leafs was a different team, a nearly perfect team that needed everyone to be their best. Unfortunately, Kerfoot was nowhere near what was expected during the 2022 playoffs.
Kerfoot’s Contract Must Go
However, his departure will have much more to do with his contract than with his recent performance. He was a valuable piece of the team’s franchise-best regular season. But, he is the fifth-highest paid forward behind the core four, and his $3.5 million will be needed to fill several holes in the Leafs’ lineup. In addition, his contract could pay four players on league minimum deals. Given Toronto’s circumstances, they will need a few more value contracts to check some boxes in the bottom six and on the blue line.
It won’t be easy to find a trade for Kerfoot. He has a modified no-movement clause that allows him to submit a list of ten teams to which he would be willing to be traded. That alone puts the handcuffs on Kyle Dubas, who only has one-third of the league to find a possible trade partner. It also gives more power to the ten teams that Kerfoot puts on his list, as they will know how desperate the situation is to free up some money. For the last two seasons, Kerfoot has been considered trade bait by many analysts. There were plenty of times his contract, skill and youth could’ve made an excellent addition to a team.
Kerfoot Had a Career Year
Nevertheless, the 27-year-old is coming off the best season of his career. He notched 51 points in 82 games, including 13 goals. Kerfoot bought into the new penalty kill strategy and became one of the most reliable players for Sheldon Keefe to put on the ice when the team was a man down. The Vancouver, B.C. native and graduate of Harvard University is well worth the $3.5 million deal Toronto signed him to three years ago.
Dubas will have to find a friendly buyer who can take his contract and perhaps give him something Keefe can work with to fill the bottom six. Kerfoot will become the latest casualty of players who had to leave town so Dubas could pay the core-four and find value in the bottom of the bargain bin.
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