In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at a right-shot defenseman Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas missed signing, but who is helping to lead his Tampa Bay Lightning team to a Stanley Cup victory. I’ll ask a “what if” question, wondering what might have happened to prospect Nick Robertson if he would have been born five days later than he was.
Finally, I’ll review what new Maple Leafs prospect Filip Hallander brought with him in skill from the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of the end-of-August trade.
Item One: If the Tampa Bay Lightning Can Get Good Quality from Kevin Shattenkirk, Then …
Last year – 13 months ago – Kevin Shattenkirk was bought out by his hometown New York Rangers, a team he had signed a four-year contract with rather than taking a much longer contract with another team. As he noted, he was less than happy.
Last night, in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, Shattenkirk ended the overtime period when he threw a screened shot from the right side past Dallas Stars goalie Anton Khudobin for a 5-4 Tampa Bay Lightning victory.
My point in bringing up Shattenkirk’s heroics is not to celebrate his move from the Rangers’ scrapheap to scoring the winning goal with another team now ahead three games to one and likely to win the Stanley Cup. Instead, my point is that he was that valuable, right-shot defenseman the Maple Leafs needed so badly. And, there he was on the open market a year ago, but signed a “modest” $1.75 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
I don’t know that Dubas didn’t try hard to sign Shattenkirk; however, I find it a bit ironic to consider there might be less expensive options to help address the team’s defensive woes when the rumors coming out of Toronto are so fixated on signing mega-star Alex Pietrangelo to a contract expected to be in the neighborhood of $9 million. Pietrangelo’s good, but he isn’t helping his team win a Stanley Cup as I write this.
Item Two: What if Nick Robertson Were Eligible for this Year’s NHL Entry Draft?
Over a month ago now, Alex Vanderlaan of Fansided wrote an interesting post making the point that Nick Robertson was the youngest player eligible to be drafted during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Robertson was born on Sept. 11; however, if he were born after Sept. 15, the Maple Leafs could not have chosen him with their second-round pick (53rd overall). Instead, he would have been still on the board waiting to be chosen as part of this year’s draft.
Interesting thought, isn’t it? Consider Robertson’s season with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Peterborough Petes where he scored 86 points playing in only 46 games during the 2019-20 season. Of those 86 points, 55 were goals. That means that he averaged well over a goal each game he played. That’s pretty amazing, actually. No other OHL player even came close to that average.
Robertson’s talent earned him an invitation to the Maple Leafs’ return-to-play roster, and he even scored a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during that series. There’s also every reason to believe he’s not headed back to junior next season but will be a member of the Maple Leafs’ starting lineup. By the way, I forgot to mention that Robertson’s also a class act and was named the Canadian Hockey League’s Sportsman of the Year.
So, there sits Vanderlaan’s hypothetical question: What if Robertson were five days younger? The answer is that he wouldn’t be part of the Maple Leafs organization. Similar to other players in the 2019 Draft who had an additional season of development when he was drafted – and given that the season was his remarkable 2019-20 season, where would he be picked?
I’m not arguing that Alexis Lafreniere shouldn’t remain the consensus first choice of this 2020 Draft, but I do think Dubas was wise to choose Robertson when he did.
Item Three: A Look at the Maple Leafs New Center Prospect Filip Hallander
As Maple Leafs fans know, on Aug. 25, the team traded Kasperi Kapanen, Pontus Aberg, and Jesper Lindgren to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Filip Hallander, Evan Rodrigues, David Warsofsky, and the 15th-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. I want to look more closely at Hallander.
Hallander’s a young center with plenty of potential. The 20-year-old Swede was chosen in the second round (58th overall) in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Although there’s not much of a chance he’ll play for the Maple Leafs during the 2020-21 season, there’s a good chance he’ll become part of the team’s long-term plans.
Hallander might have flown under the radar because the 6-foot center broke his leg early in the 2019-20 season; however, he bounced back with 14 points in 27 games playing for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League. Because he just turned 20 this summer, there’s lots of space for development. About a month before he was traded to the Maple Leafs, he inked a three-year, entry-level contract for $764,167 (odd number, isn’t it?) and he’s under contract through the 2022-23 season.
Hallander’s reputation is that he’s a good skater with great defensive instincts for his age. As he says himself, although he grew up watching Peter Forsberg – similar to every other Swedish youngster – he models his game after another Swede, Patric Hornqvist. He’s fearless and isn’t afraid to play rough. Similar to Hornqvist, he thrives in difficult places in the offensive zone where only hard work creates scoring chances. It’s projected that Hallander will likely become a regular 20-goal, 40-point, middle-six forward.
If he continues his development and can jump to the NHL in two years, the Maple Leafs will have yet another skilled young player on an entry-level contract. With now 19-year-old, goal-scorer Robertson, an influx of cheaper young talent like Hallander is critical in building the Maple Leafs core. Given the flat salary cap of the foreseeable future, prospects like Hallander offer Maple Leafs general manager Dubas inexpensive options.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Although trying to figure out what Dubas is thinking at any one time can be tough, I’m certain he’s exploring a number of other options for his defense than Pietrangelo. I’m personally interested in seeing who might be available other than another $9 million man.
Although there’s a logic that suggests that the team who gets the best player in a trade always wins that trade, given the NHL’s salary cap limits, a team can only have so many hugely expensive contracts.