Today we’re kicking off a new weekly post on TLN where we second guess the decision making of Kyle Dubas and/or make completely unsolicated suggestions on what he should do. How is this different than any other post? Well, we’ve given it a name and a day in the week we’ll consistently run it. Expect to see more of these popping up in the next little while, and of course we welcome your feedback on which ones hit or miss the mark for you.
About a month ago Sportsnet ran a post suggesting a player on each team that is likely to get traded. While Kapanen, Johnsson, and even Travis Dermott were suggested as options, the name they landed on was Alex Kerfoot:
The Nazem Kadri trade just didn’t work out for the Leafs and they’re likely to let Tyson Barrie walk to UFA. That would leave only Kerfoot behind from the trade, but even he could be a candidate to move on in the off-season. Toronto is facing a cap crunch so there are a few possibilities — and, no, we’re not including William Nylander here. Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen would join Kerfoot among the forwards, and there is some question as to whether Travis Dermott could be added on to the pile after the Mikko Lehtonen signing.
The driving force behind the selecting Kerfoot seems to be that the Leafs are in a salary cap crunch. The same salary cap crunch that will be impacting every team in the NHL other than those with lower internal salary caps, thus limiting their spending as well.
The brief paragraph notes that moving Kerfoot and letting Barrie walk might remove the sour taste left in mouths over the Kardi trade, and admittedly of the other options mentioned, Kerfoot seems to be the player that is on the outside of the Leafs main group.
The biggest selling point on Kerfoot compared to the others is that he can play center. How well and how ideal it is to have him play center is up for debate, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is the position he was brought in to play, and could either help make the case for retaining him or equally could put a premium on the return for him.
In his first two NHL seasons Kerfoot has been consistent as a 42-43 point scorer, and potting 15 goals or more in both seasons. Sliding back to 9 goals and 28 points in 65 games certainly speaks to a decline, but not one that is particularly surprising given the additional centering responsibility and primarily being used on the third line instead of in the top six. Dropping from .53 points per game to .42 does speak to a struggle to fit, the narrative fits until you realize that under Keefe, Kerfoot was primarily used as the left wing and ended the season playing with John Tavares and William Nylander as his most frequent linemates ahead of Ilya Mikheyev and Kasperi Kapanen who he started the season centering.
The reality is probably that Kerfoot isn’t a center, but has value as a potential center option if needed, much like Engvall and Spezza, who are both much more affordable options.
Kerfoot is also likely on the outside of the top six with Marner, Johnsson, Hyman, and Nylander being the primary incumbents when healthy, and Kapanen, Mikheyev, Spezza, Engvall, Robertson, Korshkov, and Agostino being the more reasonable bottom six options.
So basically, Kerfoot is okay, but not necessarily a fit for the Leafs. What does that mean for moving Kerfoot?
Well, the reality is that Kerfoot won’t bring the return that trading Kapanen would, though his value might be a little bit better than Johnsson’s given that Kerfoot is a center option. Kerfoot is a reasonable second line wing option on a lot of teams around the league, and could even be a second line center option on many of the worse teams around the league, but more comfortably a third line center if teams want to use him in the middle.
Kerfoot is a cost controlled option, that should be capable of being a .5 point per game player. He’s certainly not a bargain, but he has versatility. He also will be 26 before he’s eligible to be traded, but his contract will be done before he’s 29. There’s value there, but clearly not as much as if the Leafs explored trading someone like Kapanen, who still has some marketable upside and age and salary on his side as well. Perhaps the Leafs would be better in selling what teams want and keep Kerfoot for his versatility.
Getting back to the initial question, yeah I’d try to trade Kerfoot, but with the mindset that a winger that can play in the top nine and be moved to center in a pinch isn’t just salary to unload and not depth the Leafs can move on from easily without upgrading at the third line center position. While Kapanen and Johnsson might be better players and fan favourites, there is a case that Kerfoot is the player the Leafs need the most at the moment. Kerfoot would need to be traded as an asset for an asset, and ideally for a player who better fits when the organization needs in the 3C role.