Maple Leafs’ Emerging Depth Is Making Kerfoot Expendable

It has been no secret that Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alex Kerfoot has struggled so far this season. He has been counted on during his time with the team as a “Swiss Army knife” who can play up and down the lineup, and this season he has been almost a non-factor. With the recent emergence of players like Pontus Holmberg and Denis Malgin, he could become expendable by the March 3 trade deadline.

Kerfoot’s Contract Situation

Kerfoot signed a four-year, $14 million contract on July 4, 2019. This deal paid him $3.5 million per season with a modified no-trade clause in his final year. It is now the last year of the deal and it’s clear things haven’t gone as planned for him. He was coming off a 51-point season and his confidence was high. The spot on the second line was available after Ilya Mikheyev left in free agency for the Vancouver Canucks, but with a sluggish start, he hasn’t been able to seize the opportunity. If the Maple Leafs do look to shop Kerfoot, his current cap hit is one that teams wouldn’t shy away from. 

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, the final year of his contract does include that modified no-trade clause, which is a 10-team list submitted on July 1, 2022. That leaves 22 other teams that Toronto can work out a deal with to move him. There also could be a scenario that a change of scenery helps him find his game, and therefore helps his offers heading into next season.  Unfortunately for Kerfoot, if his struggles do continue it will have a big impact on his negotiations, which could force him to sign a smaller deal than he wants.

Competition in the Maple Leafs Organization

As mentioned, Kerfoot does have some tough competition within the Maple Leafs organization. In order for him to stand out from the rest of the competition he needs to be productive. Even with him recording 51 points last season, he hasn’t been overly effective when it comes to scoring, never having more than 30 points in any previous year with the Leafs. If you place some of the other players in the situation that he is slotted into, 30 points a season isn’t that hard to achieve, especially at $3.5 million per year. Trading him will be a topic of discussion from now until the trade deadline, and that could be made easier based on some other players in the lineup playing above expectations.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Holmberg Playing to Stay in the NHL

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Holmberg has become an everyday player in the Maple Leafs’ lineup since his return to the NHL. His defensive strengths and play as the team’s third-line center have allowed the team to focus on other areas of need, like the addition of much-needed defensive depth. If his consistent play continues until the end of the season, his name on the roster in 2023-24 is all but guaranteed.

The return to North America has been good for Malgin, who came back to Toronto this past offseason after a few years in the Swiss League. Since his return to the NHL, he has found a home on the fourth line alongside David Kampf and Zach Aston-Reese. Together the trio has found chemistry and is relied on by the coach.

David Kampf is a player who is also playing for another contract this season, and he shares some of the same skills that Kerfoot does. However, the coach’s utilization of them is different as Kampf doesn’t offer the same “Swiss Army knife” style that Kerfoot does. He is also often used in more of a defensive role, like the penalty kill rather than power play. The question is, who is more important to the Maple Leafs? The answer should be Kampf. Not only can he win that needed late-game face-off but he most likely won’t demand as much on his next contract. All things considered, Kerfoot is valued by the coaching staff, but let’s welcome Calle Jarnkrok into the conversation.

David Kampf Toronto Maple Leafs
David Kampf, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Jarnkrok signed a four-year, $8.4 million ($1.2 million per year) contract with the Maple Leafs this offseason. So far this season he has taken over Kerfoot’s role and has moved up and down the lineup, playing both winger positions. He has also added an aggressive forecheck to the roster. However, he lacks the offensive numbers that Kerfoot has. That said, the lack of production could be replaced by Nick Robertson who should see everyday action by next season. The team has Jarnkrok on their roster for the next three seasons after this one which may allow Toronto to move Kerfoot, unless he can pick up his game before March 3, 2023.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Nick Robertson at Risk of Losing NHL Roster Spot

Although it is only a quarter way into the season, NHL teams are always looking for ways to improve their rosters for the long haul. So, if there was a trade that allowed the Maple Leafs to improve another area of their roster for the playoffs, then moving Kerfoot is a no-brainer. However, if the past history of the Maple Leafs should tell us anything it is that any confidence they have towards their depth pieces usually results in moving them to clear both cap space and recoup potential draft capital. Either way, the Kerfoot trade talks will only heat up if his poor play on the season, and the better play of other depth pieces, continues.

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