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Analysis: Leafs Trade Kasperi Kapanen to Pittsburgh

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced today that they have traded forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Pontus Aberg, as well as prospect Jesper Lindgren. In exchange, they acquired prospect Filip Hallander, forward Evan Rodrigues, defenseman David Warsofsky, and Pittsburgh’s 2020 first-round pick (15th overall).

Lots to unpack here, let’s get started.

Players Involved

First, let’s talk about the pieces involved.

Toronto Acquires:

Pittsburgh’s 2020 First Round Pick

Mind-boggling. Pittsburgh had the option to pick one of their 2020 or 2021 first-round picks to ship off to Minnesota (due to the Jason Zucker trade), and they chose to keep the 2020 pick. It seemed as if Pittsburgh was finally shifting to focusing on building a younger core.

Nope.

This is one of the deepest drafts in NHL history, there’s going to be someone good at 15th overall.

But I’ll get into that a bit more later.

Filip Hallander

Drafted 58th overall in 2018, I don’t think enough people are talking about Filip Hallander. Projected by most to go higher in 2018, Hallander could end up being a key piece for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 20-year-old can be best described as a two-way forward. Offensively, most of his goal production comes from his net-front abilities. He’s a pretty nice puck-mover when it counts. He has flashes of skill, but whether it’s because he was 19 (turned 20 in June) playing in the SHL, or because it’s not his role, it’s not there consistently.

What’s almost always there are his defensive talents. He uses his skating ability and his persistent forechecking and backchecking ability to shut down players in one of the best leagues in the world.

He’s young and already doing well in the top Swedish league. He could potentially become a mainstay on the Leafs’ third line one day. If his offensive game can develop more than expected, he’ll don the blue and white in no time.

Evan Rodrigues

Evan Rodrigues is an interesting piece of the trade. In what was already an extra return, Rodrigues enters the trade as a bit of a wildcard.

Signed out of Boston University after dominating the NCAA alongside Jack Eichel, it took a few years, but Rodrigues found his stride in the NHL in 2017-18. In 48 games with the Sabres, the 5’11 forward put up 25 points, a 42-point pace in 82 games.

Rodrigues didn’t reach that same level of production the next season, but he took his place as a Sabres mainstay with 29 points in 74 games.

Unfortunately, he struggled mightily this season, his 9 points in 38 games and an overall abysmal showing had him shipped to Pittsburgh, where he was largely used as a depth player.

Overall, though, Rodrigues is generally solid. Evolving Wild’s model portrays him as someone who’s actually solid defensively, just doesn’t provide as much offensively.

Luckily, the Leafs don’t need another dynamic offensive player right now, Rodrigues is a solid option if he’s signed.

Note the “if”… I’ll get to that in a bit.

David Warsofsky

It’s really easy to just write off David Warsofsky from this trade, but he’s more interesting than you’d believe.

It’s possible that Warsofsky could be a depth option for the Leafs. If not, he’ll be a very good addition to the Toronto Marlies.

Warsofsky is an offensive defenseman. He puts up shots… a lot of shots. He’ll put up shots for rebounds from the blue line, but he’ll also occasionally jump in on the play.

Still, his main source of production is his shot production. Warsofsky finished 20th among all AHLers in shots, 4th among AHL defenseman.

He’s also a great puck-mover, he’s able to make plays from the blue line and when he’s jumping into the play.

Offensively, he’s great, with 10 goals and 23 points this season in the AHL. He’s been a consistent producer throughout his career.

Defensively… not so much. It may just be the reason it hasn’t clicked for him at the NHL level.

+/- is generally a useless stat, but when you’re last in the AHL with a -33… there may be an issue. At 5’9, Warsofsky struggles in his own end.

As a result, even with 55 NHL games under his belt, the 30-year-old will have trouble jumping the depth queue in Toronto.

Instead, he’ll likely be an offensive juggernaut with the Marlies and a veteran presence for a team featuring numerous prospects.

Pittsburgh Acquires:

Kasperi Kapanen

Kasperi Kapanen is the centrepiece of this trade, without question.

Drafted in 2014, Kasperi Kapanen makes his return to the team that drafted him in the first place. Just a year after he was drafted, Kapanen was made a major part of the return to Toronto in the trade that landed Phil Kessel in Toronto.

Now, five years after the trade, Kasperi Kapanen is back in Pittsburgh.

Throughout his tenure with the Leafs, one word came up when talking about Kapanen: Potential.

Today, that’s still a huge piece of this trade.

One thing you need to know about Kasperi Kapanen is something that everyone will tell you. The kid has WHEELS. He’s probably near one of the fastest skaters in the NHL.

He has the skill, he has the speed, and he’s a force on the penalty kill. He’s missing a key part or two though…

Kapanen’s decision-making and lack of Hockey IQ have plagued him throughout his NHL career. He’ll use his speed to create a huge chance, and then he’s lost. He’ll either loop back and look for a pass, or shoot right into the goalie’s chest.

Let’s just say… it gets frustrating. Kapanen has exceptionally terrible decision-making skills, whether it’s looping back in a crucial must-score situation, or throwing his broken stick at Jeff Petry and inadvertently causing a penalty shot that changes the course of the game (yeah, I remember that, Kasperi).

At his best, Kasperi Kapanen is an amazing player to watch. At 24, he’s already been involved in two of the most notable moments in the Auston Matthews era. 

His Game 2 double-overtime winner against Washington:

And his breakaway thriller to make it 4-3 in Game 7 against Boston:

Unfortunately, his inability to make the right play cost him in Toronto. And his invisible performance against Columbus was the nail in the coffin for Kapanen’s career in Toronto (at least for now).

Pontus Aberg

Pontus Aberg is a sneakily good pickup by Pittsburgh… if they can get him to come back to North America, that is. Aberg signed a deal with the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk last month, making it very unlikely that he plays in Pittsburgh this season.

After being signed last summer, Aberg was an underrated option for the Leafs depth this season. Personally, I thought he was solid at the NHL level, and he absolutely starred at the AHL level, with 44 points in 55 games.

Ultimately, Aberg is better suited for a middle-six role than he is in a role as a depth player, and that’s why he didn’t succeed in Toronto.

If Aberg does join the Penguins, he’s someone who I think would mesh well with someone like Sidney Crosby. Aberg is a speedy player, he’s a great playmaker with a good shot.

The Pittsburgh Penguins hold Aberg’s rights until September 23rd, 2020, Aberg’s 27th birthday.

For now, though, the Penguins will have to monitor Aberg’s success from afar.

Jesper Lindgren

Lindgren is a solid addition to the Penguins’ lacking prospect pool. At 23, his age may make Penguins fans nervous, but he’s closer to the NHL than you’d think.

While Lindgren was drafted as an offensive defenseman, I’d prefer the word “solid” to describe him.

Lindgren won’t put up eye-popping numbers. He’s a great puck-mover, but he won’t have a huge mark on the scoresheet. That was evident in his first full season in Toronto, with Lindgren putting up 9 points in 31 games.

The Swede is an analytics darling, his possession metrics almost always stand out. On the ice, he’s just solid. He isn’t really bad at anything. At worst, I just want to see him bulk up a bit, fill in his 6’0 frame.

I think Lindgren just needs another season in the AHL, one where he’s a full-time player before he can begin his NHL career.

Currently, Lindgren is getting ready to start the season on loan to MODO Hockey of Allsvenskan. The Penguins will probably leave him there but re-evaluate whether they want him in Sweden, or if they want him with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins when the season starts in December.

The Kap Cap

The key part for any trade these days, the cap and salary impact.

Toronto’s Return

Filip Hallander is still on his ELC. He signed his ELC at 18, and because he hasn’t played 10 NHL games, the first two years will slide. That means he still has three years left on his ELC. Two years of signing bonuses have been paid, so they won’t be included in the slide years. Instead, the Leafs will only have to pay his $92,500 signing bonus for 2020-21. His cap hit is currently $778,333, but I believe it’ll fall to $764,167 after his 2019-20 year officially “slides”. His minors salary remains at $70,000 throughout, and his contract includes a European Assignment clause, so he can opt to go to Europe for the season if he’s sent down.

Just nerdy stuff, nothing that will affect the Leafs greatly.

Evan Rodrigues is the cap piece that the Leafs should watch out for. Rodrigues is a pending RFA. After making 2 million dollars this season, Rodrigues’ qualifying offer would be a one-year, two-way, $2 million deal. That’s not ideal. Instead, the Leafs will likely try to negotiate a longer, more secure deal with a lower cap hit. If not, Rodrigues has arbitration rights, although his underwhelming season wouldn’t do him any favours. It would make sense for Rodrigues to secure himself financially rather than betting on himself with a market that wouldn’t do him any favours.

David Warsofsky is probably more of a salary dump in this trade. His cap hit and salary are $700,000, but he’ll likely spend the season in the AHL. His minors salary is much more than it is normally for two-way contracts, with Warsofsky earning $400,000 at the AHL level. The Penguins likely took the opportunity to shed some cost from their AHL team.

Pittsburgh’s Return

Kasperi Kapanen’s contract looked like it was built to be traded anyway when it was signed. The contract is front-loaded, with Kapanen earning $4.4 million in his first season ($3.7m in signing bonuses). His cap hit is $3.2 million, and Pittsburgh will only have to pay Kapanen a total of $5.4 million over the next two years.

Pontus Aberg is still an RFA until his 27th birthday in September. In other words, the Penguins have a month to work out a deal with Aberg until his rights expire. Like I mentioned before, Aberg is set to play in Russia this season. The Penguins will likely need to pay up to bring him back, albeit not that much.

Jesper Lindgren has one year remaining on his ELC, after which he’ll be an RFA. Lindgren likely won’t play in the NHL next season, but if he does, his base salary is $700,000, and he can earn up to $132,500 in signing bonuses. Pittsburgh will likely only have to pay his $92,500 signing bonus, as well as his $70,000 minors salary assuming he plays in the AHL this season.

Total

Note: Chart assumes that: Jesper Lindgren and David Warsovsky don’t play in the NHL throughout their current deal, that Filip Hallander will only play the final year of his ELC in the NHL and the second year in the AHL, and that Evan Rodrigues will sign for his qualifying offer and play in the NHL.

Also does not include potential ELC for 15th overall pick.

*- Does not include potential Rodrigues extension or Hallander playing in the NHL

**- Does not include potential Lindgren extension.

***- Does not include potential Kapanen or Lindgren extension.

SeasonToronto CapPittsburgh CapCap DifferentialToronto SalaryPittsburgh SalarySalary Differential
2020-21$2,000,000$3,200,000$1,200,000$2,492,500$3,022,500$530,000
2021-22$0*$3,200,000$3,200,000$70,000*$2,340,000**$2,270,000
2022-23$764,167$3,200,000$2,435,833$750,000$0***-$750,000

Who Won?

So… what does it mean for those teams and who won?

Maple Leafs

The main purpose of this move for Toronto was clearing cap. However, that’s not why the Leafs made this particular trade. The Leafs could have traded Kapanen in a package that didn’t see a player with a contract like Rodrigues back. Instead, Kyle Dubas was given an offer he couldn’t refuse. Dubas recoups a first-round pick in one of the deepest drafts in history, one in a similar tier to the one he was forced to trade for Patrick Marleau.

And on top of that, he got one of Pittsburgh’s top prospects in Filip Hallander. He’s not going to be a showstopping player but he’s going to be a very solid third liner for the Leafs one day, potentially even better.

AND he got another depth player that could be in contention to replace Kapanen. Evan Rodrigues had a down year, but if he can bounce back, he could be a great addition to Toronto’s supporting cast (provided Rodrigues signs with the Leafs).

They also get a solid depth defenseman in David Warsofsky, who’ll be a nice addition to the underperforming Marlies.

Penguins

Penguins fans aren’t pleased with the return but don’t get your hopes too low.

Kasperi Kapanen wasn’t as good as one wanted this season, but even at 24, Kapanen still has a lot of potential. Even Kapanen said after the trade that his game was “iffy” and that he was having a bit of a sophomore slump. At his best, Kapanen is an electrifying player. Here’s my issue, though. Kasperi Kapanen isn’t a guy you acquire to play beside Crosby or Malkin. I don’t know what it is exactly with Kapanen, but whenever he plays in the top-6 beside a star, his game just doesn’t function the same.

Kapanen is almost built to be a complementary player, but, instead, he’s an elite third liner when he hits his groove. That’s what Penguins fans should be worried about. If the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Kasperi Kapanen with the idea that he’ll play beside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin (they probably did), they’re not in for a great surprise.

I’m also confused about why the Penguins acquired Pontus Aberg in this deal. It’s looking more and more unlikely that Aberg signs in Pittsburgh before his rights expire. The Leafs have a significant amount of depth players with potential. If anyone, one would think they should’ve targeted someone like Nic Petan, Denis Malgin, or even Kenny Agostino. If Aberg does sign, I’ll have to eat my words, he’ll be a solid pickup for the Penguins.

As for Jesper Lindgren, the Penguins will likely give Lindgren the opportunity to make the NHL much faster than he would’ve in Toronto. I could definitely see him make the NHL sooner than Penguins fans think, but he’s mostly just a depth prospect.

Leafs Must Make Decision With Pick

The Leafs have possession of the 15th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, meaning they have a lot more flexibility than they did before.

They could quite easily trade or package the pick, but for what? Ultimately, I think if they do make a decision, it’ll be much closer to the draft. Kyle Dubas and the Leafs will likely wait for the market to be clearer before they move that pick. I’ll speculate that they’ll also look at what their other assets could fetch, as well as how confident they are in their pull in this year’s free-agent market.

If they do keep their pick, let’s just say they have a fair share of options to pick from. However, if no top-10 talents fall into their laps, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Leafs pull the trigger on another Dubas Draft Day Trade Down™.

What’s Next?

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, this feels like a desperation move. After losing to Montreal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs Qualifiers, one wouldn’t fault Jim Rutherford for trying his hardest to make the best of what’s left of the Crosby/Malkin era in Pittsburgh. Even though it feels like Jim Rutherford used too many of his bigger assets on this trade, this is likely just the start for what’s going to be a hectic offseason in the Steel City.

Kyle Dubas is facing a very different situation. Dubas isn’t trying to make the most of the end of an era, he’s trying to get one started. He’s been rumoured to be dangling pretty big names like Frederik Andersen, Andreas Johnsson, Alexander Kerfoot, and more. This trade is much better than anyone would’ve expected for the Leafs, giving the team the flexibility to make moves they didn’t think they’d be able to make before.

This is just the start for both of these teams, who are facing two very different situations.


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Featured Image: ASSOCIATED PRESS / DAVID ZALUBOWSKI

Spencer White
Spencer White is a Managing Editor of Hockey and MMA at Overtime Heroics. He writes about hockey, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Marlies, Newfoundland Growlers, and the Toronto Six. Spencer is also the Director of Gaming at Overtime Heroics. You can find him on Twitter at @klapanen, @SpencerWhiteOTH, and @LeafsMoves.
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