In what seems to be a well-balanced display of the intelligence of Kyle Dubas and the ignorance of Jim Rutherford, Maple Leafs’ brass can confidently pat themselves on the back following Tuesday’s blockbuster deal that saw them trade Kasperi Kapanen. They dealt him and a pair of prospects to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a trio of players. Toronto also received the 15th overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft.
In a move that has been anticipated for a few years at least, Kyle Dubas finally moved one of his many top-nine wingers in the first of what could be many transactions to follow. This also frees up some much needed cap space in anticipation for one of the most unprecedented free agent classes in recent memory.
While it is way too soon to say for sure, this trade is lopsided at first glance. Since Jim Rutherford took over as GM back in 2014, the Penguins have only selected in the first round twice, ironically selecting Kapanen in 2014 and Samuel Poulin in 2019. It seems as though the Penguins will do anything to hold onto their “win now” mentality; no matter how much it costs the future.
With that being said, here are three reasons why the Leafs exit Tuesday as winners in what promises to be a busy summer.
1. It’s All About The Return
The entire hockey world knew that Dubas was going to deal a winger sooner rather than later. The real question was what a top-nine forward would bring in return. Well, it’s safe to say that a precedent has been set, at least for now, in the value of depth forwards.
For starters, Kasperi Kapanen is not worth a first-round pick, especially not after this past season where the 24 year-old struggled mightily. The fact that the Leafs were not only able to grab the 15th overall selection in this year’s draft plus a top prospect in Filip Hallander speaks volumes to Dubas’ ability to pull off trades when they matter most.
So what’s the bottom line? The Leafs traded one of their many wingers for cap space, a first-round pick and a promising prospect. A solid victory in anyone’s books.
Rutherford, on the other hand, continues to show his refusal to move on from an aging core, sticking with a “win now” mentality and sacrificing the future of the Penguins in order to do so. With the acquisition of Kapanen, the Pens GM is betting that the Finnish-native will thrive alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin; a relatively safe bet, but not nearly worth the price of a first-round pick in a loaded draft class.
Hallander, who’s only 20, will continue to develop in a Toronto system that has prided themselves on player growth and development. Expect him to continue to grow in the SHL overseas and make the transition to North American hockey in the next couple of seasons. Evan Rodrigues and David Warsofsky, both of whom are NHL veterans, are replacements for Pontus Aberg and Jesper Lindgren and should provide organizational depth moving forward.
2. The Leafs Addressed A Need, The Penguins Send A Message
While both the Penguins and the Maple Leafs had different areas that needed addressing, value-for-value assets in this deal would suggest the Maple Leafs coming out on top; despite Toronto getting worse on paper.
For Pittsburgh, this trade sends a clear message that management still has full confidence in the abilities of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Rutherford has already mentioned that Kapanen will slot in alongside Crosby or Malkin, which indicates the Penguins need for consistency in their top-six. At the end of the day, Rutherford’s intentions behind this trade is simply to maximize the abilities of the two forwards in order to compete for more Stanley Cup championships.
Whether Kapanen was worth a first-round pick and top prospect or not doesn’t takes away from the message and culture the Penguins organization is trying to establish. They still have faith in their core and will continue to have faith until clear signs of regression appear. Is that a wise decision today? Only time will tell.
For Toronto, their areas of need are completely different. For one thing, they gain a much needed first-round pick. After shipping their own first-round selection to Carolina earlier this season, the Leafs made it clear that a return for Kapanen would have to include a first-round pick at least. Now that they have one, Toronto has a plethora of options in terms of NHL-ready prospects at the upcoming draft.
Perhaps the most intriguing addition in this deal is Swedish prospect Filip Hollander who spent last season with Luleå in the SHL. Projected to be a high-end third-line centre, the Leafs address a rather underrated area of need; this area being right down the middle.
While yes, Toronto has an abundance of wingers to choose from, their options at centre (behind Auston Matthews and John Tavares) are quite slim. Alex Kerfoot, who has played both centre and wing on the third line, is he a viable, long-term option? Jason Spezza, who proved his effectiveness on the fourth line, is he worth another contract? Many of those questions are now stabilized with the addition of Hollander. While still a couple years away from cracking an NHL roster, he was the Penguins No. 2-No. 3 prospect for a reason.
3. A Prelude For What’s To Come
Not only does this trade benefit the Leafs today, but it is also more than likely a prelude for transactions further down the road.
With Kapanen’s $3.2 million dollar cap hit off the payroll, the Leafs continue to progress towards making a run at a defensemen in free agency while also planning to unload another asset in their surplus of wingers. As previously mentioned, 2020 presents a star-studded free agent class; something the Toronto Maple Leafs should take advantage of if the opportunity arises.
The addition of the first-round pick also provides further roster flexibility moving forward. Dubas has publicly stated that the Maple Leafs aren’t nearly close to being finished this offseason, a statement that has generated a fair amount of speculation as to who the Maple Leafs are targeting next.
At the end of the day, Dubas addressed his team’s needs; clearing cap space and gaining assets, while diving into his reserve of wingers.
Is this the end of the offseason for Toronto? Definitely not. Is it a great start to a busy summer? One hundred percent.