The Toronto Maple Leafs have traded Kasperi Kapanen back to the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Heading to Pittsburgh are Kasperi Kapanen, Pontus Aberg, and Jesper Lindgren. Coming back to Toronto is pending RFA Evan Rodrigues, minor league defenceman David Warsofsky, prospect Filip Hållander, and the Penguins 1st round pick in the 2020 NHL draft, which is 15th overall.
Right away, it’s clear that the Penguins are getting the best player at the moment in Kapanen. In 202 NHL games, Kapanen has 41 goals and 49 assists to go along with seven points in 25 career playoff games. He has two more years remaining on a deal paying him 3.2 million per season and will be set to become an RFA once his deal expires.
Kapanen has game-breaking speed and uses it very effectively when he wants to, the problem with him has been finding a level of consistency in his game. Kapanen has games where he looks involved in the play, determined to get the puck, and playing strong and physical in the corners. Then there are games where he looks to be gliding around the ice, carrying the puck on the outside and not driving to the net or generating any high scoring chances.
So far in his career all his stats point towards him being a 3rd line winger, who has enough skill to put up around 40 points in a season and be a really effective player when he wants to be. His ability to come in and help the Penguins right away is why Jim Rutherford made this deal, because as long as Crosby and Malkin are around the Penguins will do everything they can to be in a win-now mode.
A major issue for the Penguins here is that the Leafs also have elite players such as Matthews, Marner, and Tavares. There was a reason why a player such as Kapanen was never able to stick on a line with those players, and that’s because he struggles to make quick decisions under pressure. In the offensive zone, Kapanen will often throw the puck on net from far out instead of taking an extra lookup to find the open player, and that might not work well if he’s placed on a line with Crosby or Malkin.
Unless Kapanen has a big breakout in Pittsburgh and becomes a legit top-six player then this was a steep price to pay for the Penguins. First off, Rodrigues is a very serviceable bottom-six forward who if the Leafs can sign for less than his 2 million he made last season could be a nice depth piece for Toronto.
Warsofky, Aberg, and Lindgren are all solid AHL players who won’t likely make any massive impact in the NHL.
Then there is Filip Hållander, who is easily a top-five prospect in their system. Drafted in the second round, 58th overall by the Penguins in 2018, Hållander registered 14 points in 27 games last season in the Swedish Hockey League. He’s a centre with an incredible work ethic and determination, as well as an elite hockey IQ that many scouts believe with be a solid NHL player in the future.
The main piece going back to Toronto, however, is the Penguins 1st round pick in the upcoming NHL draft, which is 15th overall. There is a lot of value to be found at the 15th pick, as the Maple Leafs will have the option to possibly take a future star if they can hit on the pick.
What this does do for the Penguins is give them a speedy winger who makes their forward group better today than it was yesterday. What it does for Toronto is allow them flexibility moving forward.
No one is looking at this trade going “well this was the change the Leafs needed to make this off-season”. This looks to be just the start, as this trade gives the Maple Leafs 3.2 million dollars more in cap space. They still have some RFA’s to re-sign, but this helps them be more aggressive in both the trade and free-agent market. The Leafs knew they had to subtract from their forward group to add to their defence, but it didn’t have to be done with just one big trade.
The Maple Leafs could keep their 15th overall pick and select a player who could help the Maple Leafs in a couple of season. Or they could move the pick in another package to help them bolster their right side of defence. This trade gives Dubas some options and flexibility to fix up the teams defence, through trade or free agency.
The Leafs will miss Kapanen’s 40-ish points next season, but the hope is with a healthy Mikhiyev and Johnsson, and the likely first NHL season for Nick Robertson can be more than enough to replace it.
Kapanen is a good player, but the price they paid to get him from Toronto might have too much for a third line player.