The Toronto Maple Leafs were poised for a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but fell short in Game Seven of the first round. Now facing difficult roster decisions, they could be a target for the Chicago Blackhawks to pick from to improve for 2021-22.
Toronto, which finished the season as the top-seed in the North Division this year and faced the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They took a 3-1 series lead before falling short in Games Five, Six, and Seven and losing the series 4-3 to the Canadiens. Following the disappointing series loss, compounded with the current flat-cap era of the NHL, the Maple Leafs are in a spot that should feel familiar to Blackhawks fans. They are cap-strapped and have difficult roster decisions to make with the Seattle Expansion Draft coming up and the high standards the organization has set for them leave little room for mistakes.
If you’re a fan of the Steve Dangle Podcast, as I am, you’re probably familiar with these problems facing Toronto and with the latest episode of the podcast dissecting all these issues. While listening to it myself, it sounded like a lot of the players that the Maple Leafs may have to part ways with this offseason would be really helpful to the Blackhawks either in trades or players that will hit the free agency market this summer.
The intersection of most enticing and most logical comes down to forward Zach Hyman, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Hyman is exactly the type of forward the Blackhawks could use to provide size, physicality, and skill. Chicago started to build an identity this season of being a high-energy, hard-working team and while they are far from being perfect in that model, Hyman is exactly the kind of player that fits the mold.
He is an unrestricted free agent this summer, coming off a four-year, $2.25M AAV contract with Toronto and he is going to expect a hefty pay raise in free agency that the Maple Leafs will likely not be able to afford. Hyman turns 29-year-old next week and is a veteran of 345 career NHL games. He tallied 15 goals and 33 points in 43 games this season and has topped the 20-goal mark twice in the last three seasons, which includes two shortened years. Over the past three seasons, Hyman has scored 57 goals and 111 points in 165 games, an 82-game pace average of 28 goals and 55 points. If Hyman hits the market, the Blackhawks could look to offer him a deal around the $4-5M range, depending on how they navigate their own free agents and the status of Jonathan Toews.
Now if the Maple Leafs decide they are going to work to keep Hyman, they would likely have to make some trades to free the cap space necessary to afford his deal. One player mentioned by the guys on the podcast was forward Alex Kerfoot. Heading into year three of a four-year deal with a $3.5M AAV cap hit, Kerfoot is a versatile center/wing that could help the Blackhawks with two areas that they have lacked in recent years: middle-six scoring depth and killing penalties.
The added benefit of looking to acquire Kerfoot is that the majority of his current deal has already been paid by Toronto, with just $2.7M of total salary owed to him in years three and four of the deal, with a 10-team no-trade clause activating in year four. At 26-year-old (turning 27 this summer), Kerfoot has played in 278 NHL games with the Maple Leafs and Avalanche over the past four years. He skated in all 56 games for Toronto this season with eight goals and 23 points, adding a goal and six points during their first-round series against the Canadiens. The price to add Kerfoot wouldn’t likely hurt Chicago too much, considering they would have leverage in the deal and assets to spare.
Now if you really want to get wild, another player the Maple Leafs could end up moving to keep Hyman could be defenseman Morgan Rielly. First off, Rielly does have a 10-team no-trade clause in his current deal, so moving him would offer some challenge to the Maple Leafs and with most high-end players trying to navigate their way to contending teams, Chicago could likely end up as one of those ten no-trade teams. But, in the event the Maple Leafs made Rielly available and Chicago was not a blocked team, the Blackhawks could address the issue of needing a true No. 1 defenseman by adding the eight-year veteran.
Rielly has led Maple Leafs defensemen in scoring in three of the last four seasons, with the 2019-20 season only seeing him play 47 games due to injury. Rielly has scored at a half-point per game pace or better in each of the last four seasons and has averaged 22:59 minutes per game over that span. He led Toronto defensemen in ice-time this season, averaging 23:37 minutes per game.
He is entering the final year of his current deal with a $5M AAV cap hit to come with it. At 27-years-old, if the Blackhawks could acquire Rielly and sign him to an extension, they could solve the issue of needing a true top-pair defenseman for the foreseeable future. Of course, the trade package to acquire a player like Rielly would be much more intricate than the one needed to land a player like Kerfoot. I’d imagine for a player of Rielly’s caliber and importance to Toronto, you’re talking at least two top round (first or second) draft picks, an NHL-ready player and a top-tier prospect in return. It’s hefty, but it’s possibly the biggest need Chicago needs to address and they need to address it soon.
It’s not exactly “bargain hunting,” but the Blackhawks could be beneficiaries of the epic disappointment of the Maple Leafs’ season. Toronto General Manage Kyle Dubas is a smart guy and one that doesn’t seem too interested with the outside noise of the fan base or notorious Toronto media to influence decisions. There’s a chance they swallow the hard pill and let Hyman go in free agency and then roll their dice in the Seattle Expansion Draft, much like the rest of the NHL. If I’m Blackhawks President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Stan Bowman, I’m making calls to Toronto no matter what and feeling out what they are willing to part ways with to make sure they can remain at the top of the NHL.