The Toronto Maple Leafs are close to finishing up their second-most important piece of RFA business this offseason: An agreement is in place with Kasperi Kapanen on a three-year deal in the neighbourhood of $3.2 million AAV.
TOR, more or less, has an agreement in place with Kasperi Kapanen on an extension. Not expected to be formalized until TOR cap (Marner) situation clarified. It will be a 3 year deal with an AAV in the $3.2M to $3.4M range.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 22, 2019
Kapanen will be a 25-year-old RFA at the end of the contract, meaning the Leafs have bought two arbitration-eligible seasons at a nice price here in the low $3 million range AAV over three years.
In 2018-19, Kapanen started on the fourth line centered by Par Lindholm but moved up the linieup in no time and took full advantage of William Nylander’s absence by becoming the team’s second-most productive right winger behind Mitch Marner in 2018-19. He put up 19 goals and 41 points in his first 63 games — jumping around the top nine but spending a lot of time on a line with Auston Matthews — before he cooled off considerably in his final 15 games with just one goal and three points down the stretch. He was a positive possession player with a +1.97 CF% relative to his teammates in 2018-19 and has been a plus-player in that category since he entered the league (+1.56 CF% rel over 124 NHL appearances).
Kapanen has also been the subject of trade rumours in recent weeks. On a capped-out roster with Marner and Nylander ahead of him on the right-wing depth chart and a forward core of Tavares, Matthews, Nylander and Marner eating up as much as $40 million in cap space (depending on what Marner’s final number comes in at), the 23-year-old is in the zone between a core piece and a depth piece on this Leafs team. He has a number of attractive qualities that intrigue other teams — he offers A+ separation speed that can stretch the ice and change a game in an instant, he owns a good shot/one-timer, he has a track record of scoring big goals, and he is a real threat to score shorthanded (albeit still figuring out his in-zone 4v5 defense). He’s also now locked in for three seasons on a team-friendly contract.
Kapanen is an excellent secondary offensive weapon on this Leafs team and one Kyle Dubas seems to really value, but the Leafs GM is in the position of needing to avail cap space and at the same time is desperate to upgrade a blue line that is likely losing Jake Gardiner and potentially Nikita Zaitsev this offseason. If Kapanen could be a part of a package that brings back the right piece on the blue line at some point in the coming weeks or months or years, it’s a move the Leafs would need to strongly consider.
That said, it is refreshing that a Leafs RFA (albeit one that is less than star calibre) was eager to get a deal done to stay in Toronto without pushing it late into the summer and exposing himself to the possibility of an offer sheet. Kapanen is a unique asset and one the Leafs should be in no rush to move unless the deal is right. He can blow hot and cold offensively and arguably has his limits as a playmaker, but he offers more dimensions than break-away speed and some goal-scoring ability — he can be really effective as a forechecker who closes on defenders quickly and brings a physical edge to his line. On a team that arguably lacks enough “heaviness” up front, Kapanen has developed into a really sturdy player in his one-on-one battles who isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty.
A lot of the speculation has been fixated on the likelihood of a Mitch Marner offer sheet and what the walk-away point would be for the Leafs if one were to transpire, but Kapanen may have been the more vulnerable off-sheet target given the more reasonable compensation package involved and the Leafs’ inability to easily stretch the cap to fit him in at a larger figure, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding Marner. Getting this done now (or soon) at a very reasonable number gives the Leafs more cap certainty heading into a hectic couple of weeks.
With Marleau’s cap hit moved out and this Kapanen contract penciled in, the Leafs have in between $10.5-11 million in space to get Marner and Andreas Johnsson under contract, but Kyle Dubas is far from done in the trade market.