This edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll report on newcomer defenseman David Warsofsky’s arrival to the Maple Leafs organization and what he hopes to bring to the organization. I’ll also consider Alex Kerrfoot’s potential place on the roster and suggest why I believe he might have a breakout season in 2020-21.
Finally, I’ll report on the need for a possible contract extension for Zach Hyman and what such an extension might mean for the team.
Item One: “Old Guy” David Warsofsky Wants to Be a Leader By Example
There’s no question that defenseman David Warsofsky hopes to make the Maple Leafs roster and lineup for 2020-21. That said, he hasn’t skated in an NHL since the 2017-18 season when he played 16 games with the Colorado Avalanche. So the chances aren’t good.
The 5-foot-9 defenseman, Warsofsky came to the Maple Leafs from the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of the Kasperi Kapanen trade. He’s on a $700,000 NHL league minimum salary but, according to Cap Friendly, if he plays in the minors with the Toronto Marlies he still makes $400,000 USD (about $526 CAD). (To put that salary into perspective, a Canadian worker has to make about $300,000 CAD to be in the top 1% of all wage earners in the country.)
Warsofsky notes his goal for the season, even if he plays with the Marlies. He suggested:
“I hate to say I’m that old guy now, but I am 30. I do kind of look at it as a new role. I can be more of a leader (in the AHL), a leader by example. It’s a different role, but it’s still an important role. When you have a young defenseman you might have played with, or were in a group with, and … they’re getting called up and help the NHL club, that can also be rewarding, just in a different way.”
Related: Who Invented Hockey?
As I noted in previous posts, the Maple Leafs organization seems to place a value on what I’m starting to call “secondary leadership.” By that, I mean finding experienced players who can provide on-ice teaching and mentorship to younger players. The big club has a number of such players (Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Zach Bogosian, and Wayne Simmonds) and I’m guessing that’s what Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas likes in Warsofsky.
As an aside, Warsofsky’s a former NCAA player at Boston University, so he’s university-educated as well. That fact also seems to matter to Dubas and to an organization that likes to find and sign intelligent players.
Warsofsky is probably the 10th or 11th defenseman on the Maple Leafs depth chart; and, the fact is that he’s unlikely to ever play on the Maple Leafs roster. Unless there’s a spate of injuries or COVID-19 cases, he’ll probably play the entire season with the Marlies. Still, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a valuable role to – as he suggests himself – provide mentorship to younger players. (from Marshfield’s David Warsofsky prepared for a new opportunity with Maple Leafs, Mike Loftus, The Patriot Ledger, 01/11/20).
Item Two: Alex Kerfoot Provides Value on the 2020-21 Maple Leafs Roster
Alex Kerfoot is now 26 years old, and has played one season with the Maple Leafs. Statistics wise, his 2019-20 season wasn’t up to his regular standards. It was his third NHL season, and he had scored over 40 points in his first two. He only scored nine goals and 19 assists (28 points) last season with the Maple Leafs.
Given his $3.5 million contract that extends through the 2022-23 season, fans often mention Kerfoot as a Maple Leafs trade possibility; and, I suppose that’s true enough. He’s young with potential and there are likely NHL teams who’d take him if the Maple Leafs wanted to dump salary. However, I also think there’s a possibility Kerfoot could have a breakout season with the team or, if the NHL schedules a shorter season, return to the scoring pace he displayed with the Avalanche before he moved to Toronto.
Kerfoot’s a skilled defensive player, and he was a bit of a revelation as a penalty killer during the 2020 postseason play. He’s also versatile and can move up and down the lineup covering for injuries and fitting into slots from the top line to the fourth line. Personally, I’m interested in seeing what he can do on a line with one of the more experienced Maple Leafs.
I know many fans believe Joe Thornton should play with either Wayne Simmonds or Jason Spezza on a fourth line, but as I wrote two days ago I picture Thornton playing with Nick Robertson and someone like Kerfoot. To me, Thornton might be the best passing forward currently playing in the NHL and Robertson is a goal-scoring phenom. Thornton isn’t as speedy as he was, but he’d see and can hit Robertson streaking up ice.
On such a line, Kerfoot could cover his line-mates because he’s a speedy defensive presence. I noted that Robertson at times got into trouble during the Columbus series because he tried to be a physical presence and checked too deeply in his own offensive end. That resulted in his sometimes getting caught on breakouts.
If Kerfoot could avoid the injuries that kept him out of games (he also was suspended), he could post 40 points again in a full season of work. If he could do that and continue to play excellent defense, he’d be a valuable piece of the Maple Leafs roster.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I’m both pleased and intrigued by the thought that Joey Anderson is a clone of Zach Hyman, and that’s because I really like Hyman as a player. That’s one assessment I share with former Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. Hyman’s a smart young man from Toronto. He believes the Maple Leafs have a good chance to make a run for the Stanley Cup, and he’s playing at home.
Earlier this spring, Hyman told the media that he’s been thinking about his future with the team. He said, “First and foremost, I would love to stay in Toronto. It’s where I grew up. I want to be a Leaf for a long time. In a way, with everything that’s happening now, I’m lucky that I have another year on my contract because everything will probably be sorted out by then with regards to the cap and whatnot and all those questions that nobody really has answers for right now. I would love to be a long-term Leaf and re-sign here. I want to be here and ultimately win a Stanley Cup.”
Given the attitude he expressed here, he’ll likely take a home-team discount to stay with the Maple Leafs when it’s time to sign a new contract. As he noted, that new contract will come after the 2020-21 season. This is another time when team management must creatively move money to create salary-cap space to offer Hyman the raise he deserves.
Right now, Hyman makes $2.25 million and he should be paid every bit as much as Kerfoot’s $3.5 million contract. I’m wondering if we might hear that Hyman has signed a contract extension sometime soon.