Games may not be played anytime soon, but we’re just over a month away from KHL signing season, and if recent history has taught us anything, that’s a significant time for the Leafs.
With the KHL season officially being cancelled Wednesday, players with expiring KHL contracts are free to sign with NHL teams as of May 1.
However, as TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun reports, the NHL has instructed teams that they can only sign players to deals that begin next season while this year’s campaign remains suspended. Whether or not that changes if the NHL resumes play is unclear.
So as far as Leafs reserve list players they’d possibly consider bringing over, there isn’t much over there, no Egor Korshkov in waiting. Vladislav Kara is an intriguing option, but he’s still got some development time, and I can’t see the Leafs rushing this Russian.
Now if the Leafs are wanting to consider their tradition of bringing over KHLers like Soshnikov, Zaitsev, Ozhiganov, or Mikheyev, the Leafs have had rumoured interest in a number of KHLers this season…
Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Nesterov are a couple of potential targets, as we discussed back in January.
As a fan of unconventional signings of the hit or miss variety, I’m not opposed to pursuing these players. Nesterov could be a stable presence in the bottom pairing in a season that could see bigger roles for players like Dermott, Sandin, Holl, and Liljegren. Nesterov could buy Sandin and Liljegren more development time if needed as well.
As for Grigorenko, bringing him in on an affordable contract allows the Leafs some flexibility on making decisions on their more expensive middle of the lineup wingers like Kapanen, Johnsson, and Kerfoot. If Dubas feels he can get similar results at a fraction of the cost it may be worth exploring trades on those players.
Alexander Barabanov is another name that was floated around in connection to the Leafs.
He’s never been drafted by a NHL team, he was an Olympic gold medalist in the Olympics that no one cared about, and is coming off a year that he put up 17 goals in 56 games. He’s off to a much slower start with only 3 points in 13 games so far this year, but like Elliotte said, the fact that Alexander might not be in the club’s future is going to be working against him.
Overall for his career he has 52 goals and 120 points in 232 games, scoring at a .52 point per game pace. Recognizing that scoring totals in the KHL are a little lower, he remains an interesting option for the middle six wing positions.
My own speculation is that we might see more Russians choosing to stay in the KHL given the border challenges of the COVID-19 world, and the barriers that exist in getting home to family. Similarly we could see more North American born KHLers looking to return to the NHL/AHL for the same reasons. Names like Cody Franson and Peter Holland could reemerge as options.
For now we wait. We still have over a month until anything can happen on this front either. Though it’s certainly something to not lose sight of, given the Leafs love of the KHL.