The Maple Leafs have made their first notable player transaction of the Brad Treliving era, signing 28-year-old depth centerman David Kampf to a four-year, $2.4 million AAV contract.
David Kampf re-signs in TOR for 4 years, approx $2.5M AAV
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 28, 2023
There was some chatter that Kampf could command upwards of $3 million with some term on the open market, but this still feels a few hundred thousand above the ideal and a year or two too long, which is often part and parcel with securing UFA seasons from a natural NHL center with some demand/value in the market. Previously signed to a two-year, $1.5 million AAV contract, Kampf is coming off of a career-high 27 points in 2022-23.
The question is whether the Leafs should have sought a cheaper/more cap-efficient option for their fourth-line center role rather than paying Kampf this much for this long of a contract. There is also an internal option in 24-year-old centerman Pontus Holmberg (signed to a two-year, $800k AAV contract today as an RFA), who showed well in 37 games in 2022-23, even if he hit a bit of a “rookie wall.” He plays a reasonably mature two-way game and was pacing for over 10 goals and nearly 30 points over 82 games, albeit he is unproven and does not have the experience and credibility of Kampf (or the faceoff ability) when it comes to taking on tougher assignments in the NHL over a long regular season and playoff run. A team with serious Cup aspirations can certainly benefit from proven depth centers that can hold their own in tough situations.
A coach’s pet for the returning Keefe, the 6’2 Kampf can capably anchor the team’s fourth line as a defensive conscience, faceoff taker, and penalty killer who eats defensive-zone starts, stays afloat at five-on-five, and chips in 5-10 goals / 20-30 points a season. He can be penciled in next to Sam Lafferty on the team’s fourth forward unit for next Fall, which should be two-thirds of a credible fourth line — a mix of some size, speed, and a bit of secondary offense that was effective together in the Florida series — at a reasonable price of $3.5 million combined.
Graduating Holmberg (at $800k) full-time is a nice idea in theory, but if they didn’t bring back a veteran C like Kampf who Keefe can reliably trust with some heavier assignments to free up John Tavares and Auston Matthews (not to mention his importance on the PK), Brad Treliving was likely paying at least this price to replace him via either trade or UFA.
What Kampf isn’t is a full-time 3C on account of his limited offensive impacts. In the playoffs, he buried two past Andrei Vasilevskiy in the 2022 playoff series, but he has six points in 27 career postseason games. Sheldon Keefe played Kampf 17:27 per night in the 2022 series against the Lightning, which was far too much ice time and spoke to their depth scoring/center issues beyond Auston Matthews and John Tavares at the time. His TOI dropped to the 14-minute range with Ryan O’Reilly in the fold for the 2023 playoffs, which is closer to where Kampf should be on a team that has legitimate Cup aspirations.
At $2.4 million, Kampf is now paid more like a good 4C than a 3C, and the Leafs can live with this contract even if he isn’t exactly the bargain he was on his previous contract. What’s critical now is that they find a solution at the 3C spot ahead of Kampf. Contract talks with Ryan O’Reilly have been underway but apparently have been “a bit of a rollercoaster,” according to Elliotte Friedman, and the UFA market is not particularly flush with quality center options.