On day three of the 2020 free agency period the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Jimmy Vesey. He was a free agent once before, in 2016. In the spring of that year Vesey finished up his senior year at Harvard. The Maple Leafs Alex Kerfoot was on that Harvard team and played on a line with Vesey. They were the two top point producers on the team; Vesey was number one and Kerfoot number two. Now, they are reunited as members of the Maple Leafs.
Leafs Salary Cap Issues Must be Resolved to Put the Reunion On-Ice
On a recent call with TSN staff, Dubas was asked about his two restricted free agents, defenseman Travis Dermott and forward Ilya Mikheyev, and his sounding confident that he’ll have both of them under contract.
“Between the free agents that we still have and what we can do with them on their contracts, and additionally the players that are waiver exempt for us, we wanted to always be able to have a way, and find a way, to not box ourselves in and have to move somebody.”
Dubas’ mention of players that are waiver exempt was likely intended to shift attention away from questions about Kerfoot joining two other $3 million plus players that were traded to create cap space, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.
Dubas must have known those in the media scrum were prepared to suggest Kerfoot may be the next to be traded. Although Kerfoot’s name was not mentioned, it was logical to think he is next. The Leafs sure seem boxed by the flat salary cap.
Without waiting for the specific question about Kerfoot’s future to be asked, Dubas said:
“I can assure you Brandon (Pridham) has carved out a number of ways that we can dance as it pertains to being complaint on opening day without having to necessarily move somebody that people would normally look at and say that ‘they’re going to have to move this player at this salary’.”
The comments made by Dubas must have raised Vesey and Kerfoot’s hope that their reunion finds its way on to the ice.
Besides Vesey and Kerfoot, Who Else Have the Leafs Got?
Three of the Leafs top six forwards are young players. Forwards Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are 23 and William Nylander is 24. Defenseman Dermott, projected to be signed, is also 23. The jury is still out on whether or not Dermott is a top-four defenseman.
Nonetheless, it is fair to say that these four players are a great bunch of young players to have on your team, as long as they are supported by a group of older players that compliment them. Building the right mix of players is what Dubas has worked on since he joined the Leafs.
The Leafs are solid in goal. There’s nothing wrong with going into the next season with Frederik Andersen as the number one net-minder. In the 2020 playoffs his save percentage was 0.936 and goals against was 1.84 per game. Yes, he let in a bad goal. Had his team averaged two goals per game, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Back-up goaltender Jack Campbell was a really nice acquisition by Dubas. The team also added Aaron Dell in free agency on Tuesday to a team-friendly $800K contract.
On defense, Morgan Rielly (26) was locked up while Dubas was assisting Lou Lamoriello. Jake Muzzin (31) was acquired by Dubas. Justin Holl (28) played for him while he was GM of the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs farm team. Now, T.J. Brodie (30) and Zach Bogosian (30) have been added.
Even before the signing of John Tavares (30) in 2018, a commitment was made to Zach Hyman (28). Jason Spezza (37) signed last year and again just recently. We seem to have assurance that the free agent forward Mikheyev (26) will be back. The most exciting player may be new addition Wayne Simmonds (32), an incredibly fortunate signing that makes everyone else better. This list of forwards ends with Travis Boyd (27).
Dubas’ Use of Waiver Exemptions Supports the Harvard Reunion
NHL Hockey Operations Guidelines state each club must have a roster of at least 20 players, composed of 18 skaters and two goaltenders.
In summary, the players already mentioned account for two goaltenders and 17 skaters (six defensemen and 11 forwards). With the challenges caused by the flat cap, the Leafs opening day roster may need to match the minimum number of skaters required. Therefore, at a minimum, only one more forward can to be added to the list of players already mentioned.
Based on the Leafs roster of NHL players already signed to a contract, the candidates to fill the remaining one spot are those who are waiver exempt. This conclusion exposes Dubas’ strategy to have a way not to box the Leafs into a place where they have to move any of the 17 skaters already mentioned, including Kerfoot.
Cap Hit of Waiver Exempt Players Creates Space Required to Keep Kerfoot
The waiver exempt players are defensemen Rasmus Sandin ($894,167) and Timothy Liljegren ($863,333). The waiver exempt forwards are Pierre Engvall ($1,250,000) and Nicholas Robertson ($821,667).
Three of the above players, and their contracts, need to be assigned to the Marlies in order to free up the cap space required to sign Dermot and Mikheyev. The amount accumulated by the assignment of three players to the Marlies gets added to the $406,467 cap space that currently remains.
Let’s assume that age and player development matter. In that case, Engvall becomes the 18th skater and the other three are given the opportunity to polish their skills in the American Hockey League, which is anticipated to start on December 04 2020.
Is $2.99 million enough to sign Dermott and Mikheyev? Even if it is, many will argue the Leafs are still boxed in.
Other Dance Moves Can Make the Harvard Reunion Come True
Calle Rosen (26) hasn’t been mentioned yet. He currently sits on the Maple Leafs NHL roster displayed on Cap Friendly. There are two options to consider regarding Rosen and his $750,000 cap hit. He can be the 19th skater, and seventh defenseman, or he can be put on waivers with the intent of assigning him to the Marlies. In the latter scenario the available cap space grows from $2.99 million to $3.74 million.
Thinking the Leafs is still boxed in? Selling the $1.2 million of Phil Kessel’s contract that remains on the Leafs books is another tactic Dubas must have considered. Successfully sold, and in conjunction with everything else mentioned, the available cap space swells to $4.94 million. Certainly, that is enough to sign Dermott and Mikheyev, have some cap space remaining, and make the Harvard reunion of Vesey and Kerfoot come true.
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