Only this morning, the word was out that the Edmonton Oilers might be interested in trading with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both teams have needs, and when you look at what each team has and what each team needs it seems as if it might be mutually beneficial for both to talk more.
So What’s the Story?
Specifically, the Edmonton Oilers need a good winger and the Toronto Maple Leafs need a veteran defenseman. At least, that’s what Darren Dreger reported during the Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames game on Thursday. And, it so happens that each team needs something the other team has plenty of.
In truth, Dreger noted that both Calgary and Edmonton needed a winger but, for now, I want to talk only about the Oilers’ potential for trading with the Maple Leafs. In fact, I don’t even want to talk about the players who might move from the Oilers if a trade were made. Instead, I want to outline what the Oilers might get in return – those players who make up that seemingly expendable trio now playing on the Maple Leafs third line. They are Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, and Alexander Kerfoot.
In this post, although I think each of these young players could be a huge talent and value-added for the Oilers, I want to make the case that, if I were the Oilers, I would prize Kasperi Kapanen more than the other players.
The Oilers’ Situation
All season long, the Oilers were waiting for the team to implode. The Oilers had created arguably the best line in the NHL by putting generational talent Connor McDavid together with almost equally as gifted German winger/center Leon Draisaitl. Added to the mix was the old-school player who’s kicked around a bunch but now seems to have found a great space in Edmonton – Zach Kassian.
However, there seems to be a common belief – and one I don’t share by the way – that, if the Oilers were going to flourish as a team, they’d need to separate McDavid and Draisaitl. Sooner or later, the line would wear down and no longer be able to carry the team to regular victories.
The three of those players – McDavid, Draisaitl, and Kassian – partner on a really solid line. However, the Oilers have little secondary scoring they can count on beyond that top line. James Neal’s comeback season has helped and he’s given the Oilers unselfish play and power-play success. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is also a very good center. But, then what?
The team has competent players when it needs another star. The Oilers need someone who can flesh out another top-six line that offers regular scoring, even if that scoring isn’t as prolific as the McDavid, Draisaitl, Kassian line.
The Maple Leafs’ Situation
The Maple Leafs are awash in talented forwards but need solid defensemen. Near the beginning of the new year, sturdy defenseman Jake Muzzin broke his foot and was placed on the injured reserve. Then, horror of horrors, a couple of games ago last season’s Norris Trophy hopeful Morgan Rielly, trying to block a shot, went down for two months with a broken foot as well.
Although the Maple Leafs have brought up Rasmus Sandin, who was freshly named the top junior defenseman at the just-completed 2010 World Juniors and has played beyond his 19 years with the team’s AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies. He’s been good – really good. However, he’s also young – really young.
The Maple Leafs fortunately have Tyson Barrie but the next best defenseman on the team is Cody Ceci and, to most Maple Leafs fans’ eyes, he’s not the strongest defenseman. The team could use a veteran presence on the blueline. But they simply don’t have it.
It’s always been known with the Leafs’ roster composition that, at some point, they’d have to trade from their abundance of forwards to upgrade their defense. Even though they’d never deal any of their core four of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner, that still leaves good wingers on the roster who could be moved to upgrade their blueline.
The Maple Leafs Are Ready to Trade
No one is surprised that the Maple Leafs are willing to trade. In fact, many Maple Leafs fans and hockey insiders have wondered why it’s taken so long to come to this point. As noted, the Maple Leafs have good young forwards they can spare and fewer veteran defensemen than they need. Sooner or later, the Maple Leafs would seek a trade.
Here are the players on the Maple Leafs roster who seem most likely to be offered in trade.
Kasperi Kapanen had a great season in 2018-19. It was his first full NHL season, and he proved he belonged. During Nylander’s extended holdout (it lasted until one second before December 1), Kapanen was called upon to play top-six minutes in Nylander’s spot until the reluctant young Swede finally signed. In fact, when Nylander emerged on the scene after his signing, that lineup spot actually seemed a downgrade from Kapanen’s play.
Last year Kapanen scored 20 goals and 44 points playing in different situations. He signed to three-years at $3.2 million during the offseason. He’s fast, shoots from all over the ice, and has great skills. Although he also can kill penalties, I don’t think that’s his greatest skill.
Andreas Johnsson is also a youngster who had his own breakout season with the Maple Leafs in 2018-19, picking up almost identical numbers to Kapanen (20 goals and 43 points) playing mostly with the offensive wiz-kid Auston Matthews. During the offseason, Johnsson signed a similar contract to Kapanen, but for four seasons instead of three, $3.4 million per season.
Alexander Kerfoot came to the Maple Leafs in the Nazem Kadri for Tyson Barrie trade, and took over from Nazem Kadri as the Maple Leafs third-line center. He had success scoring when he was with the Colorado Avalanche (with 43 and 42 points in his two seasons in Colorado). That’s almost exactly the same numbers as both Kapanen and Johnsson. Kerfoot’s also a Harvard grad and was the captain of his collegiate team. He’s smart and has leadership skills.
This season, Kerfoot’s numbers have dropped and he’s scored just 18 points in 43 games. When Kerfoot arrived in Toronto he met with the Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and signed a four-year contract worth $3.5 million. In fairness, one reason Kerfoot hasn’t scored like he did in Colorado is that he hasn’t skated on the power play and that’s something he did with the Avalanche.
Why Kapanen Is the Right Pick for the Oilers
Of those three great young players, and I really believe they are, there are a number of reasons why I believe the Oilers should push for Kapanen over the other two.
Reason One: Kapanen is a two-way player in ways that Johnsson isn’t. He can play on both special teams and he’s a good penalty killer.
Reason Two: Kapanen doesn’t need a superstar to generate points. Johnsson skated with Matthews last season and benefitted from that. Kapanen did much of his scoring on his own.
Reason Three: Kapanen has excellent speed and can keep up to the Oilers’ superstars. If desired, he could partner with McDavid on the top line.
Reason Four: Kapanen comes from good lineage. His father Sami played 831 NHL games and had a good reputation as a teammate. Kapanen knows how to survive and prosper in the NHL because, with his dad as an example, he’s been preparing for the NHL his entire life.
Reason Five: Kapanen wants to do what is asked. During this offseason, after Kadri was traded and the Maple Leafs tough winger Zach Hyman was out for an extended time, Kapanen gave a curious interview where he talked about embracing the physical aspect of the game. I have to think that the Maple Leafs has told him he would replace Kadri or he was in Hyman’s spot until his injury was healed. It didn’t work and Kapanen struggled, but I was impressed he embraced the challenge. As I say, he’s not Hyman. He’s more of a skate-like-the-wind and shoot-from-anywhere kind of guy.
Reason Six: Kapanen was a first-round pick for a good reason. A scout for The Hockey News reported that Kapanen was a “smart player who distributes the puck well and reads off his teammates. He has great on-ice awareness and a professional demeanor. He is a very talented offensive player who moves well on the ice, and when afforded too much time and space, he is a very lethal finisher.” Johnsson was chosen in round seven.
Reason Seven: Kapanen is ultimately flexible, and he scored at a point-a-game in his last two AHL seasons. He can add scoring to any NHL team.
Reason Eight:Kapanen appreciates being wanted. When it came to signing his new Maple Leafs contract, he didn’t balk. He wanted to play and was glad the team wanted him.
Reason Nine: I believe Kapanen is a speedy, dynamic winger, who will eventually play himself into a top-six scoring role with some team. He was able to replace Nylander during his holdout last season and, even after Nylander returned, Kapanen scored wherever he played.
In short, Kapanen would be a good return in a trade for a defenseman. He’d fit easily in the Oilers top-six and would add value in that role.
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