The Toronto Maple Leafs and forward Ilya Mikheyev have avoided salary arbitration by coming to terms on a two-year, $1.645 million AAV contract, Gold Star Hockey announced on Tuesday night.

The submitted asks by the two parties had the arbitration hearing happened: two years, $1 million from the Leafs; one year, $2.7 million AAV from Mikheyev’s camp.

Avoiding an arbitration hearing is the most common outcome — over 90% of arbitration filings settle beforehand — and certainly the preferable one in this case. Had it gone to arbitration, the Leafs might have gotten Mikheyev locked up for two years at a little cheaper than the $1.65 million AAV — as Mikheyev opted for arby’s, the Leafs would’ve been able to pick a one or two-year term — but both sides leaving this negotiation feeling content is a plus, especially when the allure of KHL money is always there.

The Leafs would have been in a position where they would’ve had to argue against Mikheyev’s case on the basis of the player’s limited length of service (just 39 games played), which was impacted by a freak — and terrifying — injury caused by a skate blade slashing his wrist, and that wouldn’t have been fun for anyone involved. The loving relationship between Leafs brass, the city of Toronto, and Mikheyev has been a heartwarming tale in Mikheyev’s first year overseas, so it’s a relief to see this settled before a hearing was necessary.

Mikheyev’s leverage on his one-year, $2.7 million ask — it goes without saying agents always ask for the moon for their clients in these situations — was limited knowing the length-of-service limitation and the relevant comparables. The 26-year-old ended up agreeing to a reasonable number here accordingly, with a back-loaded second year ($2.19 million) that bridges him to UFA at the end of the contract.

The Leafs could have stuck to a “prove it” one-year deal before revisiting the negotiation next offseason to save on the 2020-21 cap number, but this should be easily manageable and a good bang for their buck at $1.65 million for the next two seasons.

Mikheyev was a revelation early in the season prior to his injury in late December, earning his way onto John Tavares’ wing at 5v5, making an impact on the penalty kill, and tallying eight goals and 23 points in 39 games — a 17-goal, 48-point pace over 82. Those are solid first-year on-pace numbers, and it felt like he had left a little production on the table in the first half of the year, as he could’ve been more opportunistic with the number of chances he generated for himself. He shot 8.2% individually on 98 shots on goal along with a 9.09% on-ice shooting percentage, which isn’t unusually high by any means.

Mikheyev’s injury was an awful turn of events in the Leafs’ best feel-good story of an otherwise rocky start to the 2019-20 season. While he was ready to return in time for the play-in series versus Columbus and received rave reviews for his showings in camp, he was a non-factor in the playoffs, never really impacting the game while failing to get himself on the scoresheet (zero points). Whether or not it was the residual effects from the injury and the lack of competitive game action in over seven months, it was a little disappointing given the Mikheyev we saw in the first half of the regular season seemed like he would be a playoff sparkplug-style addition to the lineup.

The good news is that, whether Mikheyev is a 50+-point player or not, he’s not paid like a top-six scorer for the next two seasons and he won’t need to be in the team’s top six permanently to play the type of game that makes him effective — courageous, relentless in his puck pursuit, consistently around the front of the net, reasonable puck skills, responsible defensively, a willing shooter of the puck, 6’3 every night. He’s a left-handed shot, but he has experience playing both wings. He’s versatile enough that he can complement a scoring line or be a part of an effective checking line.

The Cap Situation

According to Cap Friendly, with Mikheyev signed, the Leafs are now ~$175,000 above the upper limit with 22 players on the active roster and Travis Dermott left to sign.

However, Cap Friendly’s roster doesn’t include the buried $1.075 million of Pierre Engvall’s $1.25 million cap hit should he make the team. If we pencil Dermott in at $1 million and pretend the waiver-exempt Engvall isn’t on the team to start the year, that gives the Leafs about $1.2-$1.4 million to clear off the active roster — meaning, they will need to run a 20 or 21 man roster, assuming no other player movement. It’s a half-million or so more in space that they’ll need to clear if Engvall is on the team in place of Travis Boyd.

There is so much unknown around roster limits and potential taxi squad rules when it comes to a Covid-impacted 2020-21 season, but it’s totally feasible that the Leafs could run a 20-or 21-man roster and accrue cap space throughout the season — a more flexible situation that is amenable to in-season additions compared to the previous two years in which they were hamstrung by their LTIR situation.