Ilya Mikheyev, dubbed “Souperman” after he was quoted saying “I like soup” to reporters during one of his first interviews in North America, is returning to the Toronto Maple Leafs after signing a two-year extension, carrying an AAV of $1.645 million. The two sides were set to head to arbitration on October 21st.
Following four productive seasons overseas with Avangard Omsk of the KHL, Mikheyev inked a one-year, entry-level contract with Toronto at the beginning of last season and made his NHL debut a few months later.
Notching a goal and an assist in that debut, Mikheyev quickly solidified his role in the Maple Leafs’ top-six, slotting alongside John Tavares and William Nylander and enjoying a great start to his rookie season.
And then? Tragedy.
During a game against the Devils, New Jersey winger Jesper Bratt tripped after taking a shot, causing his skate to come up, violently slicing the wrist of Mikheyev, who was trailing the play. A devastating injury, many agreed that would spell the end to an otherwise productive rookie season, as early reports indicated that the Russian winger would miss upwards of three months to repair tendons and arteries in his wrist.
However, thanks to the halt in play caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Leaf fans saw Mikheyev hit the ice once again when Toronto suited up against the Montreal Canadiens in their lone exhibition tilt before the play-in rounds got underway. Unfortunately, despite finding himself on the scoresheet against Montreal, Mikheyev wasn’t able to carry over his early season success, as he went pointless in the five-game series against Columbus.
For those of you who have since forgotten his impact, let me bring you up to speed and remind you exactly why Kyle Dubas fought so hard to bring back Ilya Mikheyev.
Value Everywhere You Look
According to Mikheyev’s agent, Dan Milstein, “Ilya decided to step off a little bit from an already agreed number to help the team fit under the cap… for him it was less about the money, more about the role in the organization. He wishes to win a Stanley Cup.”
Don’t we all, Ilya.
But before we get to that, Milstein’s quote is the perfect embodiment of the kind of person that Kyle Dubas is. Few remember that Dubas actually stayed with Mikheyev in New Jersey for a couple extra days to make sure the surgery went according to plan; a gesture that few other GM’s would be willing to make. And now? Here he is, signing a team-friendly contract.
Now, let’s talk numbers. This contract is an absolute steal and nobody should be disputing that. Registering a very respectable 23 points in 39 games, $1.645 million annually is tremendous value for a player producing numbers like Mikheyev. Not to mention, he was on a hot streak before his gruesome injury, so there’s no telling where Mikheyev would’ve plateaued during his rookie season.
In regards to contract structure, Mikheyev’s contract doesn’t contain any signing bonuses, and instead, consists of a flat salary which will see him make $1.1 million after 2020-21, before jumping to $2.19 million following the 2021-22 season. Slated to hit unrestricted free agency at the prime age of 28, Mikheyev’s production over the next two seasons will likely dictate his salary moving forward. While it’s way too early to think about the end of his contract, I see no reason why he would leave Toronto. He loves the city (clearly), has a great relationship with Dubas, and his own soup endorsement to boot.
With the potential to become a 50-60 point player, Mikheyev has barely scratched the surface of his NHL potential. His rookie season was a great sample size to the type of value he brings to the team and this deal has tremendous upside when you break down his comparables. For Toronto and Kyle Dubas, this is another great, team-friendly signing that further solidifies their forward group following the departure of Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.
Now at full health and with parts of one season of North American ice under his belt, expect Mikheyev to compete for his top-six role once again this coming season. Although this time around, he’ll have much stiffer competition as the likes of Nick Robertson and Jimmy Vesey will likely give him a run for his money when training camp opens up.
What Does Toronto Do Next?
I don’t want to say definitively that Toronto is almost done, because knowing Dubas, anything can and probably will happen between now and the start of next season (which is still very much unknown, by the way). In terms of trades and signings, I do thoroughly believe that the bulk of that is now done, as Toronto only has a of couple players left unsigned.
Who are those players you may ask?
Well, with the Mikheyev signing, the Leafs are currently left with $1,418,967 in cap space with their current 20-man roster, one that sees both Rasmus Sandin and Pierre Engvall demoted to the AHL, with the latter’s salary being buried under the cap. A 20-man roster isn’t commonly seen around the modern NHL, however, it’s worth noting that it’s something Dubas has continued to consider as the offseason moves along.
The only two remaining RFA’s that the Leafs have to worry about are Travis Dermott and Joey Anderson, however, only Dermott is expected to be on the team next season, meaning the Leafs simply move from one RFA to the next. With under $2 million in cap space, it’ll be interesting to see how the Leafs approach negotiations with Dermott. Being just 23, Dermott has tremendous upside and has enjoyed some consistency during his three-year NHL career thus far.
After being taken in the second-round, 34th overall back in 2015, the Newmarket native is a homegrown product and is still just beginning to break into the NHL, which is why I believe Dubas will fight just as hard to keep him around.
Now, does that force Dubas to ship someone out of town? From all indications, that doesn’t seem to be the case as he’s been quite confident that he can keep this team together, while also locking up Dermott. All I can say is that if this offseason is any indication, I think fans would be wise to trust Dubas, as he’s effectively silenced the majority of his critics and put truth to his coined term, “we can and we will.”