On the first (official) day of the NHL offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced the signing of 24-year-old defenseman Travis Dermott to a two-year, $1.5 million AAV contract.
The arbitration-eligible Dermott showed fairly well on the left side of a bottom pairing with Zach Bogosian throughout the shortened regular season, controlling 53% of the shot attempts and 57% of the expected Goals in 362 even-strength minutes together. Although they were marginally outscored (13-11) at 5v5, it was a stress-free partnership throughout the season, and it probably should’ve been the team’s bottom pairing throughout the full series against Montreal.
This is a reasonable enough (and should be movable, if need be) salary if Dermott is indeed the team’s bottom-pairing defenseman — with potentially some upside left beyond that — for the next couple of seasons. That said, my initial reaction was one of mild surprise that Dermott received as high as $1.5 million AAV on a two-year contract (he will still be an RFA with a $1.75M qualifying offer upon expiry) after earning $867k on his last one-year deal under the flat cap.
Travis Dermott has always had strong on-ice numbers, but has also always been heavily sheltered.
He has some solid comps (Martinez, DeMelo, Niskanen), but most players with his profile don't end up in the top four. pic.twitter.com/dF1zV1fZIZ
— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) July 8, 2021
Dermott played significantly fewer minutes per game (17 minutes in 2019-20 vs. 13 minutes per game in 2020-21), produced fewer points (six points in 51 games after 11 in 56 last season), contributed on neither side of special teams, and tallied nearly half as many shots on goal. He also appeared in just three of seven playoff games, playing well overall in limited 5v5 minutes but committing one egregious mistake leading to a critical goal against in overtime of Game 6.
However, there was an arbitration looming in Dermott’s situation this summer. Dermott wouldn’t have had much of a leg to stand on in terms of a significant raise on a one-year settlement, but the Leafs must have looked at the comparables and projected Dermott would receive something a little south of this range on a one-year deal as a 24-year-old NHL defenseman with his career production and total games played (47 points, 208GP) before making the calculation that it represents better value over the duration of the deal to lock him up for the second year at a slightly higher AAV.
Of course, it still seems very likely Dermott will be exposed to Seattle in a few week’s time so the team can protect either Justin Holl or Alex Kerfoot over him. Assuming the Leafs are protecting Holl as part of their eight skaters + one goaltender protection scheme, they are meeting the minimum exposure requirements and can submit a protected list that includes John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie, Holl, and Jack Campbell.
If Dermott is back next season (if Seattle plucks one of Kerfoot or Holl over him, and the Leafs don’t move Dermott separately), they must be foreseeing a bigger role than 13/minute a night for Dermott going forward on the left side of the defense. Notably, Morgan Rielly is now entering the final year of his deal on the left side of the blue line, although Rasmus Sandin is also in this mix. Defense coach Dave Hakstol has also departed, so perhaps Dermott will earn more minutes out of the new AC hire who will manage the backend.
If Dermott remains in Toronto but ends up hanging around more as a part-time 6/7 with Rasmus Sandin taking more of the minutes on the left side ahead of him, this contract will look a little rich at $1.5 million AAV.