The Toronto Maple Leafs would be wise to trade Ilya Mikheyev as soon as possible. Toronto is overflowing with forwards, the team has no shortage of speedy wingers, and they need help in other areas. Also, he was not very good very last season. The money saved on his contract would go along with offering PTOs.
On Thursday, Elliotte Friedman tweeted a quickie notes blog. He reported that multiple sources confirmed Mikheyev asked to be traded after the 2020-21 season. This news could not have come at a better time. General managers and coaches are reconvening and looking over the roster makeup with training camp right around the corner. Now that Mikheyev’s request is public, perhaps a general manager short of speedy forwards will give Kyle Dubas a call.
Toronto’s general manager should take the call as he has some glaring weaknesses on the roster. Getting Mikheyev’s $1.65 million off the books would at least be a starting point to address some trouble spots and bring in some players on professional try-out contracts. I’ll get to options for PTOs later.
Maple Leafs Deny Request from Mikheyev
Friedman’s sources revealed the Maple Leafs denied Mikheyev’s request flat out. So instead, Toronto is counting on Mikheyev to play a more significant role with the departure of Zach Hyman and Joe Thornton. That has a level of cringe-worthiness to it. Sure, Mikheyev could not beat out Hyman for more ice time, but the fact he couldn’t outshine Thornton last season is troublesome. With all due respect to Jumbo Joe and his Hall of Fame career, he offered very little to the team by the end of the season. In 44 games, he had just five goals and 15 helpers. Plus, he was injured several times, leaving more than enough opportunities for Mikheyev to earn more ice, but he didn’t.
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Thornton wasn’t the only winger injured last season. Wayne Simmonds was out for six weeks, Hyman missed more than two weeks, William Nylander missed time due to covid protocols. Yet, with all these chances to get more playing time, Mikheyev averaged just over 14 minutes, ranking eighth among the Leafs’ forwards. There were flashes of his brilliant speed, but it rarely produced anything on the scoreboard. In 54 games, he recorded 17 points.
Everyone is quick to point out, Friedman included, that Mikheyev had a great rookie season. He had 23 points in 39 games before a gruesome wrist injury ended his season. That was two years ago. Most recently, Mikheyev was invisible in the playoffs and did not record a single point.
Maple Leafs Have Options in Free Agent Market
The Maple Leafs’ roster has too many wingers and is lean on the blue line, plus there is still a lack of depth at the centre spot. However, even with training camp weeks away, there are options in the free-agent market that could bolster the lineup. At the very least, Toronto could offer PTOs.
During last season’s playoffs, Toronto’s depth up the middle was front and centre. John Tavares went down, and Nick Foligno was subbed in for a period or two before he was injured as well. Yes, Toronto has added David Kampf, who looks to be a solid defensive centreman. But Tyler Bozak is still available. His hard work made him a reliable player who fans adored. Since leaving the team, he won a Stanley Cup.
When you consider the premium paid for defencemen over the past few months, it is surprising there are any left. Jason Demers is still available and could right a wrong Toronto made during the off-season. The Leafs’ defence is poised to take a step backwards by failing to replace Zach Bogosian with an equally challenging, gritty guy. Demers had four points last year, but that is not his game, as he had 69 hits in 41 games.
Friedman did the Maple Leafs and Mikheyev a favour. Maybe that was the point. Toronto will start fielding calls, and they can try to get something for him. Clearing his contract from the books would be a win. Mikheyev has failed with the Maple Leafs. Perhaps a new team will bring back his rookie form.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.