It has been half a decade since the Toronto Maple Leafs sent perennial all-star forward Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a package centered around Kasperi Kapanen. Today, Kapanen will return to the team that drafted him, as Leafs GM Kyle Dubas agreed to send him, defense prospect Jesper Lindgren, and pending restricted free agent Pontus Aberg to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for the 15th overall selection in the 2020 NHL draft, prospect Filip Hallander, defenseman David Warsofsky, and pending restricted free agent Evan Rodrigues.
Seemingly everyone in the hockey world, whether it be a fan or a league executive, has an opinion on the Leafs current salary cap situation. Due to the effects of COVID-19, it appears unlikely that the salary cap will increase in the foreseeable future, which could have prompted Dubas to make this type of trade. As far as the trade details are concerned, we believe Leafs fans should be incredibly satisfied with this return. According to Pierre Lebrun of The Athletic, “there isn’t a single NHL team executive I heard from Tuesday who didn’t give Kyle (Dubas) credit for his trade with Pittsburgh.” Dubas received a fair amount of criticism and public slander when he dumped veteran Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes last season to free up cap space at the expense of their first-round pick (which later turned out to be #13 overall). Following this trade, it appears he dumped $9.45 million in cap space just to move back two draft slots. Hindsight is always 2020, however, for a cap crunched team such as the Leafs, these points should not be understated. Do not get us wrong though, Kasperi Kapanen is a very talented hockey player, he was just a luxury the Leafs could not afford at this given time.
In all three of his seasons with the Leafs, Kapanen registered positive AB scores, with a career-high +2.49 this season. That number was actually the fourth-highest score on the Leafs this season, under Auston Matthews (+6.33), Ilya Mikheyev (+2.83), and Zach Hyman (+2.78). Spending the majority of his time on the Leafs’ third line, Kapanen scored thirteen goals and registered twenty-three assists for thirty-six points in sixty-nine games this season, while averaging about sixteen minutes per night. Kapanen also drew eleven more penalties than he took, had 7 more giveaways than takeaways this season, and ended the 2019-2020 regular season with an even zero +/- rating. He was also one of several Leafs to register a positive AB score for their five-game series loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers with a +1.16. In that series, Kapanen had two assists for two points in that five-game span, while averaging just over sixteen minutes per game. Kapanen drew one more penalty than he took and had an even giveaway: takeaway ratio. Like the majority of the Leafs in the series, he ended with a negative +/- number of -2.
It is also worth noting that Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was hired by the team on June 6th of 2014. In that time span he has only used his 1st round entry draft pick twice, Kasperi Kapanen in 2014, and Samuel Poulin in 2019. Yes, Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons (2016 and 2017); however, for a team with an aging core, trading a Top-15 selection in a consensus loaded draft plus one of the organization’s top prospects in Filip Hallander for a winger who hasn’t exceeded 45 points in his career definitely raises some eyebrows. Filip Hallander is a twenty-year-old center playing in the SweHL, one of the best hockey leagues in Sweden. In his first season, Hallander scored seven goals and registered fourteen assists for twenty-one points in forty-five games. In his second season, he scored five goals and registered nine assists in twenty-seven games for fourteen points. Astonishingly, Hallander only had six penalty minutes in his two seasons played in the SweHL, which is impressive considering his age.
Moving on to the other pieces in this deal, Rodrigues and Aberg cancel each other out, as both players are most likely not going to be re-signed by their new clubs. In fact, in Rodrigues’ case, the Leafs are unlikely to even offer him a qualifying offer, therefore making him eligible for unrestricted free agency this offseason. However, if the Leafs are able to sign Rodrigues to a team-friendly contract, we think he would be a perfectly serviceable bottom-six forward. In four years of data we have on him, he has registered positive AB scores in three of them, including a +5.02 score in 2016-17. His only negative score came this season at with -0.20. When we include the fact that he played for the disastrous Buffalo Sabres before being shipped to the Penguins at the trade deadline, this score is actually somewhat impressive. In forty-five games played this season between Buffalo and Pittsburgh, Rodrigues scored six goals and registered four assists for ten points, playing just above eleven minutes per game. He drew an impressive four more penalties than he took and averaged one more takeaway than giveaway this season. Primarily due to his time in Buffalo, his +/- number was a below-average -8. Rodrigues was making two-million this season, entering the final year of his contract. That number would obviously need to dip far below that in order for him to have a chance at playing for the Leafs this season, therefore we don’t see it happening.
Today’s trade officially ended the longest NHL trade drought since the 2005 lockout. According to CapFriendly, the most recent trade was February 24th (175 days ago) at the trade deadline. If this is a sign of what is to come in the league, buckle up, it’s about to get extremely interesting. More to come.