It appears that the Leafs are once again up against the 81.5M salary cap after signing long time teammates Nick Ritchie (2 years @ 2.5M) and Ondrej Kase (1 year @ 1.25M).
This gives the team more depth down the wings, adds elements of size, grit (Ritchie), skill and scoring (Kase), but also opens up a lot of questions about roster configuration. For example,
according to capfriendly’s armchair GM, with a roster that looks like this….
Nick Ritchie/Auston Matthews/Mitch Marner
Alex Kerfoot/John Tavares/William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev/David Kampf/Ondrej Kase
Michael Bunting/Jason Spezza/Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly/TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin/Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin/Travis Dermott
Jack Campbell/Petr Mrazek
…the Leafs would be left with just 80K in cap space. Getting this roster into the regular season would mean waiving Adam Brooks and Joey Anderson. While I’m not saying that either are top line players, both have shown flashes of usefulness in the NHL. For a rebuilding team like Arizona, Buffalo or Detroit that could be all it takes for them to want to snap those players off the waiver wire. Also, as in the case of Dmytro Timashov, we know that Kyle Dubas isn’t fond of waiving young players with potential if at all avoidable.
On top of that they would need to waive some depth pieces such as Kurtis Gabriel and Alex Biega. While this isn’t much to worry about at a glance, just consider that after the top 6 defense listed above, the team would be tapping into a depth chart that looks like Timothy Liljegren, Alex Biega and Carl Dahlstrom. I cringe at the thought of more than 1 of the team’s top 6 defenders going down at one time and the situation would be made even more dire if a team decided to snatch up Alex Biega. In short, the Leafs are thin on defensive depth and it needs to be addressed.
This leads me to question what GM Kyle Dubas is looking to do this summer. Rumours have been floating around that they are testing the market on Alex Kerfoot, who has been a bit of a man-without-a-role on the roster lately.
Dreger said on TSN 1050 there's some trade speculation about Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot— J (@Account4hockey) July 27, 2021
Kerfoot isn’t exactly an ideal 3rd line centre, he doesn’t contribute a ton to special teams and he isn’t a great top 6 left winger. While his versatility has been terrific, with his ability to suit up at centre or the wing, that might not be enough to justify his 3.5M cap hit to a cap strapped team. The fact that his salary over the next 2 seasons (he’s owed 750K salary this season and 2.7M total in signing bonuses and salary next season) averages out to about half of his cap hit, that could be a big selling point to a team that is looking to shed salary while still reaching the cap floor.
My question is, could the Leafs package together a player such as Kerfoot, with a prospect like Joey Anderson, as well as a pick to sweeten the pot, to get a top 6 left winger or a 3rd line centre? My thought process is simple when asking about a 3rd line centre. While a lot of people have David Kampf slotting in as the pivot on the 3rd line, he brings little to no offense to the table. A 3rd line player is generally able to score between 30-40pts a year, depending on what else they bring to the table, whereas Kampf has a career high 19pts. I view him as an ideal 4th line centre, but lacking the necessary skill if you move him up the lineup.
My ideal target? Boone Jenner. However, Jenner just signed an extension in Columbus, which could mean he’ll be sticking around Ohio for the foreseeable future.
Another option would include moving on from Ilya Mikheyev with just picks or prospects coming back to Toronto. This is actually a simple solution to a lot of problems. Mikheyev didn’t produce much in the way of offense last season (7G, 17pts, 54GP), but he is a useful player in that he brings speed to your lineup, while also being an effective penalty killer. Moving his 1.65M cap hit would mean keeping both Brooks and Anderson on the roster, while still having 250K in cap space. It also opens the door (slightly) for Nick Robertson. By taking away a little bit of depth on left wing, Robertson could more easily get reps in the NHL if there are injuries, if he doesn’t outright win a job in camp.
The only problem this doesn’t solve is the teams lack of defensive depth. The most creative solution could involve moving on from Kerfoot and Mikheyev in order to add a depth defender, cap space and picks for future trades, but in a flat cap world we may be asking for a little much in that regard.
Either way, after this free agency period, Dubas has garnered a little bit of renewed hope from me.
Now if only the star players would do the same.