The Toronto Maple Leafs are in first place in the Eastern Conference, after a win against the Columbus Blue Jackets yesterday.
Despite not playing William Nylander at all, and Auston Matthews for the majority of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are destroying the competition. One reason for that is the breakout of Kasperi Kapanen.
Kapanen was drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, 22nd overall. He was traded to the Leafs in the Phil Kessel trade (that also, in a roundabout way, netted the Leafs Freddie Andersen and Auston Matthews).
Kapanen has forced Leafs fans to be patient. He has played in parts of four seasons and while his skill and speed have been on display the whole time, it is only this year that he has started to put it all together.
Kasperi Kapanen’s Breakout
Kapanen has played 21 games this year and has eight goals and 15 points. More impressive, is that he’s doing it without power-play time. Kapanen is 37th in the entire NHL (min. 100 minutes) in 5v5 scoring per hour with 2.74 points/60.
His 13 5v5 points are the 8th highest total in the NHL, and he is ranked 33rd overall when you factor in the various ties. He has one less 5v5 point than Connor McDavid (McDavid’s teammates are terrible, so don’t get too excited!).
As good as Kapanen has been, there is bad news: he’s a pending RFA, meaning that after this season he is going to be a restricted free agent.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are probably going to have to trade him.
As good as Kapanen is, and has can be, he is no William Nylander. Anyone saying different is an out of control troll, or incredibly misinformed. There is zero evidence that Kapanen is on Nylander’s level. He is good, but he’s not that good.
Saying that Kapanen can replace Nylander should go down as the worst hockey take in the entire history of the NHL – it’s incomprehensible that any informed person could hold that opinion.
The Leafs will eventually have to sign Nylander and then follow that up with new contracts to Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. They may or may not be able to keep Jake Gardiner, but getting Kapanen’s name on a new contract after this season may prove to be impossible.
One possibility that they can do it, however, comes in the form of a bridge contract. Unlike Nylander, Kapanen doesn’t have multiple years of success to base a longterm deal on. Since he is breaking out in the last year of his ELC, a one or two year deal to prove himself might be best for both parties.
Except, a healthy and fully signed Leafs team isn’t going to ever get Kapanen on a power play, and he’s most likely going to be on a third line playing reduced minutes which means that he could probably make more money on a team that has less good player.
Then again, maybe he just wants to win. Who knows?
The bottom line is this: Assuming the Toronto Maple Leafs sign Matthews, Nylander and Marner to long term deals (and there’s no reason to think they won’t) it leaves very little money for Kasperi Kapanen.
But really, if signing Nylander costs you Kapanen, it’s a small price to play. Teams know full well in a salary cap era that you have to trade guys as they earn more money and keep a nice pipeline of players on their entry-level deals (cheap deals). The Leafs best move would probably be to trade Kapanen for a prospect that can step into the lineup and provide skill for little money.
stats from naturalstattrick.com