We’re roughly one month out from the 2020 NHL trade deadline, my friends. While early forecasts call for a quiet Feb. 24, you never know what kind of shenanigans the open market can cook up.
In the Maple Leafs’ case, Kyle Dubas has some valuable chips at his disposal, given he feels the need to make a move. So, let’s power rank those bad boys, and delve into the pros and cons of shipping each one out.
#1 Kasperi Kapanen
The first entry on this list also happens to be the most simple.
Unless Kapanen manages to net the Leafs the exact piece they believe will thrust them to Stanley Cup glory, he’s not going anywhere. And why would he? The 22-year-old is just too valuable to sell off on a whim.
Accounting for his age, scoring acumen (Kapanen is beginning to look like a perennial 20-goal guy) and ability to play both the power play and penalty kill, he is a tantalizing package in the eyes of rival GMs, who have reportedly been showing interest in him already. The Leafs are clearly high on their speedy winger, too. Yet from the context of the current roster, Kapanen’s inability to slot into the top-six when called upon this season hints at a player with a relatively restricted ceiling.
If Kapanen is only capable of succeeding in a bottom-six role, the palatability of his $3.2 million cap hit lessens, particularly when factored onto a team that desperately needs to upgrade its blueline. Is Kapanen then merely a luxury at this point? Would he be best used as a means of addressing other needs?
Possibly. I’m comfortable enough in saying I don’t know.
Regardless, Kapanen is hands-down the most enticing bargaining chip the Leafs have to work with at the moment and his value seems to be at somewhat of a peak. While Kapanen alone won’t be enough to capture a top-four RHD, obviously, seeing him as the headliner of a larger package doesn’t seem outlandish at all.
#2 Andreas Johnsson
Johnsson’s standing as a trade chip hinges entirely upon one question: Is this as good as he’ll ever get?
If the answer is no, then the Leafs would be smart keeping their former seventh-rounder in-house. Why sell off a still-appreciating commodity before it fully ripens? You know how much this front office loves its asset management.
On the other hand, if that front office is confident that Current Johnsson is Peak Johnsson, his true value may lie more in what he could fetch at February’s flea market rather than his contributions to the roster.
Much like Kapanen, Johnsson is an attractive addition to any contending scavenger. He’s a little older than his trade bait counterpart, sure, but Johnsson still brings the production, versatility and steadiness that could feasibly make him the belle of this year’s trading ball. Not to mention, Johnsson is still in his mid-20’s and can typically be relied upon, when healthy, for roughly 45-50 points per season.
He’s also under contract for the next three years at a very reasonable $3.4 million cap hit. What more do you want?
That depends on who’s asking.
Given his career trajectory, teams willing to pay a sizeable return for Johnsson would seemingly be those of the win-now variety. Players tend to level out between ages 25-29, which is exactly where Johnsson finds himself at the moment; theoretically in his on-ice prime. And with 16 points in 34 games thus far — passable offensive numbers but not indicative of his true best — a return to form in the season’s upcoming latter stretch might push Johnsson’s value to its peak in the summer, rather than midway through an injury-riddled campaign.
If that’s the case, then wait. The option to move him is there — be it now or later. The Leafs just need to weigh the merits of striking while the iron is only lukewarm.
#3 Jeremy Bracco
I’d be shocked if Jeremy Bracco opens training camp next year as a member of the Maple Leafs. His departure from the organization seems inevitable at this point, really.
Midway through his third professional season, Bracco is pretty much the quintessential trade chip; just young enough to develop and just skilled enough to entice, but overall too limited as a player to earn a future in his current home.
What do you do with an asset without a future? You sell, baby!
No one is denying Bracco’s ability to produce. This is a kid who just last season nearly led the entire AHL in both assists and points as a sophomore, and sits with an impressive 29 helpers through 41 games this year, too.
Those numbers are ridiculous for someone his age. They should be commended, not minimized.
Bracco’s eye-popping assist totals are also kind of the problem here. Outside of setting up teammates, the 22-year-old doesn’t offer much of, uh, anything else, really. Like, at all. Bracco is not a strong defensive player, he doesn’t really fit on either the penalty kill or in the bottom-six (which is where he would play for the Leafs) and the bulk of his damage tends to come from a specific spot on the power play.
Fighting for recognition within a land-locked winger corps, you simply cannot be that one-dimensional. With injuries having ravaged the Leafs’ roster this season, that Tyler Gaudet received a non-emergency call up over Bracco should tell you all you need to know about his standing on the depth chart.
If that weren’t enough, there’s also the little kicker that Bracco straight up doesn’t score goals. I’m not talking about a player with a slight passing fetish here. No, Bracco is pass-obsessed; he’s season-one Joe Goldberg and assists are his Beck.
Remove his 22-goal output from 2018-19 — achieved while playing primarily with AHL goal-leader Chris Mueller — and the remaining 91 professional games under Bracco’s belt feature a mere 10 goals. Ten. Stripped of Mueller this season, he has four. In what should be a show-me year, Bracco hasn’t demonstrated nearly enough evolution to warrant an NHL look, let alone trade immunity.
If the Leafs can leverage their prospect’s playmaking prowess and box score flash into a worthwhile return, this should be a no brainer. Pull the trigger.
#4 Cody Ceci
Look, GMs have done dumber things before. And that’s saying something. Nothing is out of the question.
To paint the Cody Ceci experiment in Toronto as a failure to this point would be an understatement. Ceci is more than just an underwhelming asset, he’s borderline unplayable. Despite all the truth behind one year of Ceci being definitively better than five more years of Nikita Zaitsev, that still doesn’t gloss over Ceci’s standing as an offensive succubus who has yet to find chemistry with anyone the Leafs have put him alongside.
That being said — and this is important — he shoots right. Do not discount the power of those three words, my friends. They’re Hockey Men™ catnip.
Sprinkle in Ceci’s pedigree as a former first-rounder and his perceived upside as a prospect from back in the day, and there’s a future in which the 25-year-old holds juuuuuuuuust enough value on the trade market to garner something of a return.
And let me be very clear about something: If you get offered an asset in exchange for Cody Ceci, take it and run. Barricade your trading partner in whatever room you happen to be in until that deal goes through. Do not squander the blessing that just fell into your lap.
Ceci can’t just be given away for free, though. Like it or not, his presence accounts for a good chunk of the available minutes on the Leafs’ blueline, and subtracting the 20-or-so Ceci logs on a nightly basis from that equation can only be done with a clear idea of who will step up to take them.
Will that responsibility fall onto whoever comes over in return? Likely. If nothing else, Ceci’s role in the lineup — regardless of how he performs in it — likely restricts any potential deal into a player-for-player swap.
#5 Alexander Kerfoot
The problem with parsing through hypothetical trade scenarios on a slumping team is that pretty much every candidate tends to be playing below expectations. When expectations are not being met, the trade value of all involved tends to reflect that.
Enter Alexander Kerfoot.
Looking at his resume to this point, Kerfoot should be better than he currently is. Typically money-in-the-bank for around 40-45 points a season, this year he’s on pace for around 35. While that’s not a necessarily catastrophic dip on paper, when gauging one’s ability to recoup assets it begins to matter a heck of a lot more.
For the TL;DR crowd, I’ll put it like this: Kerfoot almost certainly won’t fetch a worthy return for his value so long as he’s headed towards the lowest points total of his career
That’s not to say he doesn’t have any value at all. Quite the opposite, actually. What we’re dealing with here is a player with an image crisis.
Take Andreas Johnsson, for instance. Both he and Kerfoot are the same age, are slated to hit the UFA market at the same time in 2023, have the exact same career-best points total of 43 in a single season and are each on pace to finish 2019-20 as positive possession players at 5v5.
If Johnsson’s perception is that of a leverageable asset, Kerfoot’s should theoretically be no different. They’re remarkably similar players — statistically and on the ice. It’s that shared similarity, when making decisions ahead of the trade deadline, that makes either one relatively expendable.
The next few weeks are bound to be an interesting ride. Buckle up.
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