Simply put, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to struggle very hard this summer to find the money that Ilya Mikheyev will command.
Given Ilya Mikheyev has carved out a very dangerous role on the Toronto Maple Leafs penalty kill, as well as finding his scoring touch; he could be asking for at the very least $3 million per season.
That sort of money isn’t going to be available for the Leafs to throw at a middle of the line-up winger. Even if it was, the Leafs have made it a point in the Kyle Dubas era to invest their money in star players and cheaper players, while let mid-range players walk.
So whether we like it or not the team will, without making a drastic change, have to let Mikheyev walk to free agency. Such is the cap challenge that contenders face in the modern NHL.
Ilya Mikheyev and the Toronto Maple Leafs
Last year, Mikheyev couldn’t score. He just couldn’t figure his shot out and every breakaway inevitably ended on his stick.
This year though, he’s found the fix and breakaways are leading to goals. Given his incredible speed he is able to blow past defensemen and then with more assured hands is reaping the rewards.
On the penalty kill, he is forcing teams to be wary of his breakaway speed with a team-leading 4 short-handed goals so far this campaign. Particularly telling is that he’s doubled his career NHL goals this year, with his 15 thus far matching his 15 across the previous two years.
In fact, if he manages to reach 20 goals this year, you’d have to imagine he can command similar value to former Toronto Maple Leafs winger Connor Brown.
Brown currently carries a cap hit of $3.6 million on a three-year deal inked by the Ottawa Senators.
Given their somewhat similar point totals and usage as penalty-killing types floating between the second and third lines, you’d think it’s a fair price for Ilya Mikheyev to seek.
At that price though, there’s almost zero chance the Toronto Maple Leafs can fit Ilya Mikheyev in.
Even if they part ways with the contracts of Petr Mrazek and possibly even trade Alex Kerfoot; the likes of Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren and Jack Campbell all need new deals.
Simply put, there is going to be very limited maneuvering room within the Toronto Maple Leafs cap structure and while they’d love to keep him, Ilya Mikheyev will end up being a luxury option they can’t afford to keep.
Indeed, we mustn’t also forget that he very publicly was seeking more ice-time just last year and was at one point reported to have asked for a trade.
"Coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledged that, yes, the left winger yearned for a larger (read: top-six, power-play) role, but viewed that as a positive. (sportsnet.ca)"
While he certainly has some degree of loyalty to the Leafs given they gave him his NHL chance, Mikheyev doesn’t feel like the most overly sentimental type.
Perhaps Kyle Dubas, with his concern for him when he injured his wrist, has bought a small amount of loyalty but it’s not likely enough to keep his price down.
Not enough to fit him under a salary cap that is only increasing by $1 million. Or $2.2 million if you factor the Toronto Maple Leafs will finally stop paying a portion of Phil Kessel’s salary!