It seems like the Leafs are going to go to great lengths to make sure that they can keep their whole lineup together and add still add at the deadline (or before) through waiting for their cap space to align perfectly, and deal prospects or picks to get what they want. If their trade partner is willing to retain 50% of the salary the Leafs are nearing the point where adding a player with a near $4M cap hit is possible. Still they may want to do more than that, go bigger than that, and in those situations salary will need to come off the roster and the most likely salary to be shipped out is Alex Kerfoot.
In the past the Leafs have always had a bad contract that they needed to dump, and with the exception of this last year of Frederik Andersen, that bad contract doesn’t really seem to exist on the Leafs, the problem is that of the non-core players there doesn’t really seem to be any significant salary attached to a player beyond the $3.5M attached to Alex Kerfoot.
Once you get past the fact that Alex Kerfoot is not Nazem Kadri, it becomes clear that Kerfoot is a solid NHL player, and what he is earning is likely a fair contract. I wouldn’t say that Kerfoot is either over or under paid, he’s pretty much market value.
Kerfoot is a decidedly middle of the road player, which isn’t a bad thing when he plays in the middle of the line up. He’s also a bit of a swiss army knife in that he’s proven to be both a capable top six winger or third line center and heading into a time of year when depth is key, you can both understand why Kerfoot is not a player the Leafs are looking to part with, nor should they toss him into a trade solely for the purpose of balancing out salary.
Some of the players with valuation scores comparable to Alex Kerfoot are Jake DeBrusk, Troy Terry, Ryan Dzingel, all three who are being treated as desirable assets heading into the trade deadline. To consider Kerfoot, a player with a reasonable cap hit and term to not be of value and to be simply a player to discard as unwanted salary doesn’t make sense.
Now, that being said, it’s unlikely that teams that are sellers at the deadline are going to put much value in acquiring a middle six forward who can line up at center or the wing to play down the stretch. The teams that will want a player like Kerfoot are in fact the teams that also have playoff aspirations, so it’s a bit of a conflict in sending Kerfoot to a team that could use him to make things more difficult for the Leafs. I certainly wouldn’t look to make a Kerfoot move within the North Division, but potentially there’s a non-North Division (preferably non-Atlantic Division) team that is interested in Kerfoot.
From Greg Wyshynski of ESPN on Kerfoot being a trade target:
The Leafs know what they have here in Kerfoot: around 14:36 in ice time per game, around 0.44 points per game per season and a frustrating inability to excel in the faceoff circle. The theory is that Toronto would move Kerfoot if it found the right upgrade for his spot on the roster. He’s only 26 and has two more years left on his reasonable deal.
Given what Wyshynski has said here, and what we know about Kerfoot, and about who the Leafs have been pursuing it’s entirely possible that the Leafs view someone like Mikael Granlund as that potential replacement. Granlund can be brought in as early as today without moving a roster asset, and he can either be a compliment to someone like Kerfoot, or give the Leafs the opportunity to trade Kerfoot and then use the cap space gained from that transaction to acquire another player(s) that meet the needs of the Leafs (most Leafs fans may choose to read this as Taylor Hall.)
The question at this point might be whom amongst the playoff bound teams would have the interest in Kerfoot, and the cap space to bring him in without requiring the Leafs to take salary back. As much as a deal within the North Division isn’t appealing, the Jets do have the cap space, but do they have the desire to add Kerfoot over a defenseman, probably not. The Oilers want a PK capable third line center, but their preference seems to be a for right shot, and they may not have the cap space to pull off this move either. Teams like Pittsburgh, Florida, or St. Louis might be the best options, as it’s easy to see how Kerfoot could compliment those systems.
As for the return on Kerfoot, well, getting the cap space without retaining salary is it’s own reward, some form of future even a third round pick on C level prospect is better than having to pay a higher price to a team for taking on Kerfoot’s salary.
The Kerfoot situation is probably a simple one. It doesn’t hurt the Leafs to keep him and if he needs to be traded, it’s probably for a significant upgrade. The only piece that needs to hopefully factor in is that he’s not being dealt as a salary dump and instead treated as an asset.