The Toronto Maple Leafs face two huge offseason needs. First, the team needs to dump salary so it can sign its own and, potentially, other free agents. Second, the team needs to trade for or sign a top-notch, right-shot defenseman. Perhaps those two things go hand-in-hand, perhaps not.
Key Recent Events that Impact the Maple Leafs Plans
Three things have happened during the past few weeks that impact these two needs.
#1: Kasperi Kapanen Was Traded in a Salary Dump
First, the Maple Leafs traded Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a six-player deal that saw Kapanen, forward Pontus Aberg, and defenseman Jesper Lindgren move to the Penguins. In return, the Maple Leafs received a prized first-round draft pick (No. 15) in the 2020 NHL Draft, forwards Evan Rodrigues and Filip Hallander, and defenseman David Warsofsky.
There’s no way to disguise this trade. It was a salary dump for the Maple Leafs. Really, this might become a regular occurrence: how could it be otherwise? Given how close the organization lives to the upper limit of the salary cap, every once in a while – perhaps every offseason – someone has to go. This time it was Kapanen.
That the team got back both a first-round draft pick and Hallander is a good return. Dubas did well. But, a good player in Kapanen now plays for another team. Still, there’s now over $3 million off the books for the next few seasons.
#2: Frederik Andersen Trade Rumors Abound
Second, rumors have been hot and heavy that Frederik Andersen might be traded. To be accurate, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas didn’t say he was shopping Andersen; he just said that the phone was ringing about Andersen’s availability and he was answering it. Semantics, perhaps; however, we know there’s a chance the team’s starting goalie could be on the move.
Andersen’s availability has little to do with him not being a good goalie or a valuable team member. However, from a business point of view, it’s wise for the team to move him – if possible – for two reasons. First, in another year, his contract expires and he’ll become a UFA. If he can avoid it, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has an aversion to letting key pieces of the team walk when their contract expires.
Again, under the category of “it’s only business,” it’s better to move a player a season earlier for something than to lose them a season later for nothing. For example, Dubas became the Maple Leafs general manager in June 2018. Not weeks later, in July 2018, a key Maple Leaf for six seasons, James van Riemsdyk, signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. The club lost quality and got nothing in return. That wasn’t on Dubas, because he was between a rock and a hard place at the time.
#3: Alex Pietrangelo Contract Talks Break Off with the St. Louis Blues
Two days ago, Darren Dreger reported that talks had broken down between the St. Louis Blues and Alex Pietrangelo as the two were engaged in contract negotiations. As reported, the Blues advised Pietrangelo to talk with other teams. He is.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun updated the situation with Pietrangelo, specifically about interest coming from the Maple Leafs. There’s no surprise that the team is interested. LeBrun suggested that interest is mutual.
Specifically, LeBrun reported that when he had spoken with teams, he had been informed the Maple Leafs were actively trying to make salary cap-related moves that would result in creating the cap space necessary to sign Pietrangelo. Obviously, the usual suspects keep popping up – names like Andreas Johnsson and Alex Kerfoot. However, if the Maple Leafs are serious about signing Pietrangelo, further moves must be made.
Some Solutions to the Maple Leafs’ Problems
Circling back on the two problems I listed at the beginning of this post – the need to shed contracts to create salary-cap space and the need to pick up a right-shot defenseman, what might be possible solutions? There are a number of things the Maple Leafs might explore, but allow me to share two.
Solution #1: Trade Andreas Johnsson for Goalie Marcus Hogberg
The goalie position is unique. It’s difficult to predict who might become a star and who might not. For example, Dallas Stars backup goalie Anton Khudobin is having a tremendous postseason and is leading his team on an extended Stanley Cup playoff run. He could become this season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Two months ago, it would have been fair to ask – where did he come from?
After minor-league stops from Northern Ontario (Owen Sound) to South Texas (San Antonio) and from Eastern United States (Providence) to the American Midwest (Chicago) last season, 27-year-old Jordan Binnington replaced Jake Allen in goal for the St. Louis Blues and led his team to the Stanley Cup. Again, he wasn’t anywhere on the radar at the start of the 2018-19 season.
In a similar manner, in 2016 Frederik Andersen came to the Maple Leafs from the Anaheim Ducks as a backup goalie. The Ducks had decided to go with a younger John Gibson. Andersen landed well in Toronto. Even as I write this, nothing in his on-ice play makes the Maple Leafs want to dump Andersen – but his $5 million contract could become an anchor.
The question is: is there a cheaper goalie out there who could help handle Andersen’s load with the Maple Leafs? I think there might be.
One young goalie I’ve been watching all season that seems to have flown under everyone’s radar is the Ottawa Senators Marcus Hogberg. For those who watch the Senators outside of Ottawa, Hogberg has been a revelation. Although his numbers might not look good on paper (24 games played, a 5-8-8 record, a goals-against-average of 3.12, and a save percentage of 0.904), last season the 6-foot-5, 25-year-old Swede did a really solid job of keeping the puck out of the net playing behind a consistently over-matched group of skaters.
Hogberg’s on a $700,000 contract for another year before he becomes an RFA. Although it’s a risky move, could a duo of Jack Campbell and Hogberg split the goalie duties for the team? Look what happened with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. Neither Elvis Merzlikins nor Joonas Korpisalo made more than $900,000.
Solution #2: Trade Frederik Andersen to the Arizona Coyotes
If Hogberg (or an alternative) comes, what happens to Andersen?
This past week, it was reported that the Arizona Coyotes were trying to ease about $10 million of the team’s salary structure because the organization is financially hurting as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of how financially difficult making payroll is, the Coyotes are legally bound to at least reach the salary-cap lower limit of $60.2 million.
Here’s where Andersen makes sense. If the Coyotes could dump Darcy Kuemper’s contract somewhere – and he’s a good goalie signed at a pretty reasonable $4.5 million through the 2021-22 season – and then trade for Andersen, that would give the Coyotes both a good goalie and the salary dump the team needs. The Maple Leafs have structured Andersen’s contract to make that do-able.
Andersen’s salary-cap hit is $5 million, and that number helps put the Coyotes closer to the salary-cap floor. But the organization doesn’t actually need to spend $5 million for that to happen. That’s because the Maple Leafs paid Andersen a $4 million signing bonus already, which means the Coyotes would only be on the hook for $1 million. That might seem attractive for the franchise.
Radical Ideas Are Needed If the Maple Leafs Are to Sign Pietrangelo
Although this post was premised on the goal of allowing the Maple Leafs to clear salary-cap space to sign Pietrangelo, whether the Blues’ defenseman comes to Toronto or not really doesn’t erase the two offseason issues the Maple Leafs must address.
How the team will address these issues remains up in the air; but, as Dubas promised, he’s not finished making offseason moves.