We aren’t used to noteworthy trades happening during the second round of the NHL playoffs, but we’re not living in normal times. Just two weeks after being eliminated from the playoff qualifying round, the Toronto Maple Leafs have traded winger Kasperi Kapanen, defense prospect Jesper Lindgren, and Pontus Aberg to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a 2020 first-round pick, 20-year-old forward prospect Filip Hallander, Evan Rodrigues, and David Warsofsky.
The bit parts here are Rodrigues (undersized depth forward with ample NHL experience in Pittsburgh and Buffalo, currently an arbitration-eligible RFA who made $2 million last season), David Warsofsky (signed through 2020-21, but 30-year-old AHL depth on defense), Jesper Lindgren (a RHD who showed some potential on the Marlies this past season but is 23 years old and a project prospect), and Pontus Aberg (not signed past this season).
The main pieces in the deal are Kapanen in exchange for the first-round pick, the cap space the Leafs have made available, and a solid B+ prospect in Hallander.
A franchise — one that is spending to the cap in a flat-cap environment, no less — that technically didn’t make the playoffs this season going without a first-round pick is something of a cardinal sin, one Dubas has addressed here by picking up the 15th overall selection in the 2020 draft.
The cap space freed up here in a flat cap year is also noteworthy, as this is no doubt a table-setting move that we won’t have the full picture on until we wait for subsequent moves and signings. While the trade is solid value asset-wise for the Leafs (15 OA + decent prospect), given where the team is trying to go in regards to Cup contention in 2020-21, this move has a “wait and see,” “a step back in order to step forward,” feel to it as of today.
After signing a three-year, $3.2 million AAV contract last offseason, Kapanen took a slight step back production-wise in 2019-20, tallying 13 goals and 36 points in 69 games while jumping around the lineup, splitting his time between the top six (on the left side of John Tavares’ wing after Ilya Mikheyev’s injury, as well as on the right during Mitch Marner’s absence) and the third line centered by Alex Kerfoot. He maintained a secondary role on the penalty kill, where he scored two shorthanded goals and played 1:39 per night.
On the surface, dealing a 15-20 goal middle-six winger with elite speed, some jam, and penalty-killing ability for a mid-first and a prospect is not a move that makes a team — one that is attempting to contend during its current core’s prime window — immediately better, but we don’t have anywhere near the full picture today. Rather, this is the first domino of what is going to be an interesting offseason in Leafs land. Many had Kapanen included in hypothetical trades to address the defense, but the cap space and a mid-first-round pick may have more asset value especially given the current economic turmoil in the league.
Additionally, Filip Hallander, who was drafted 58th overall by Pittsburgh in 2018, is a prospect the Leafs rated pretty highly in that draft class and has two years of professional experience in the SHL for Timra and Lulea, where he tallied 14 points in 27 games last season. He plays a well-rounded, high-tempo, courageous game with good speed and hockey sense. He projects reasonably as a useful middle-six NHLer with enough professional experience under his belt already that he could make the transition to the NHL fairly soon.
In terms of cap space, the Leafs freed up $3.2 million — Rodrigues did make $2 million last season and is arbitration-eligible, but the Leafs won’t want him on their roster anywhere near that number — and that puts them at $73.9 million committed to 16 players under a $81.5 million cap. Mikheyev and Travis Dermott are in need of contracts, while the team has decisions to make on pending UFAs Kyle Clifford and Jason Spezza, who they have some degree of interest in bringing back.
Filip Hallander Scouting Reports
2017 – HockeyProspect.com’s Blackbook
2018 – ISS Scouting
Scouting Report | Hallander is a very smart centre that has a high hockey sense. He is a player that works hard, never takes a shift off and you always know what to expect from him. He is a complete 200-foot player that has very good offensive instincts to go along with his good skill set. Can make plays and has good work ethic. Really good skater and has nice top speed. He is hard to stop when he has the puck on his stick at top speed. Very good hockey sense and has that read and react game, which allows him to be a dangerous offensive player. Defensive game needs some improvement. Tend to lose his position and needs to work harder in the own end.
Director of Scouting, Dennis MacInnis | “Talented, agitating winger who drives his way into scoring areas and has a good nose for the net. Tends to go missing for periods of time and needs to develop better consistency to his game. I like this kids upside – third line energy player who is reliable defensively and chips in points.”
ISS Scout Fredrik Johansson | “Speed guy that doesn’t fear the blue paint. Worked hard in all areas, plays both special teams. Excellent job in BP, blocking shots and minimized time for the opponents. Created space in PP with his skating and went for rebounds/loose pucks. Could add some calm into his game. Potential role player in a bottom line in NHL.”