Maple Leafs Could Use Landeskog But Making It Work Is Tricky

With the Toronto Maple Leafs being linked to possible trade targets like Conor Garland and Tyler Bertuzzi, it’s has become known that they could be in the running to land a big name through free agency.

Enter Colorado Avalanche’s captain Gabriel Landeskog. It was recently suggested by The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta on Sportsnet 590 that if the Maple Leafs are able to shed off Alexander Kerfoot’s $3.5 million contract, it will definitely free up more cap space for the them to pursue the physical and reliable, two-way winger.

A lot would have to go right for the Maple Leafs to make a significant offer for his services as they really can’t afford to throw big money at big names. They have to work with their tight salary cap. It isn’t entirely out of the question for Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas to make a serious move and add another marquee free agent, but it’s also a long shot for that to happen.

Stalled Negotiations with Avalanche

Recent reports have shown that talks between the Avalanche and Landeskog haven’t materialized between the two sides. The 28-year-old has already expressed his disappointment that a deal hasn’t been done, as he wanted to get it completed ahead of time. It’s looking more likely that he may go to free agency. 

Gabriel Landeskog Erik Karlsson
Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog drives past San Jose Sharks Erik Karlsson. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Currently coming off a very friendly seven-year, $39 million dollar deal with an annual average salary of $5.57 million per season, it’s very fair to say that Landeskog wants to cash in wherever he goes. Over his 10 seasons, he has eclipsed the 50-point mark seven times in his career. His best season came in 2018-19 where he scored 34 goals and recorded 75 points. He’s definitely earned the right to explore the market and get his worth.

While the Avalanche would love to keep Landeskog in the fold as a leader and effective forward, they could be looking to the future. Nathan MacKinnon is most likely going to earn more than his current contract at $6.3 million and Cale Makar is a restricted free agent. If the Avalanche have a limit they don’t want to exceed, then a number of teams– including the Maple Leafs– would love to have him on their team.

Maple Leafs Tight Cap Situation Makes It Tricky

Pagnotta mentions that Landeskog does have connections to the Toronto area and that the length of the contract could very well determine the value. He also played two seasons with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, where he had 66 points in his draft year. 

If the Maple Leafs are going to sign Landeskog, everything has to fall into place and a lot needs to happen in a short amount of time. As Pagnotta stated, the first thing that needs to happen is that Kerfoot needs to be traded in order for them to have any chance at making a strong push. He provides great value as a middle-six forward either on the wing or at centre. His contract has great value that can be moved without any issue to a team looking for the kind of energy that he has. 

The Maple Leafs currently have just over $9.35 million in cap space for next season after re-signing Wayne Simmonds and Travis Dermott. A good amount of space, but given how the Maple Leafs need to fill other spots, it’s tough with that amount already and will be more difficult if they want Landeskog. Then again, we’ve seen how well Dubas and assistant general manger and cap guru Brandon Pridham have worked things out in the past. 

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s also the expansion draft, where it’s very likely that the Seattle Kraken could select one of Kerfoot, Justin Holl or Travis Dermott. Let’s not forget about the NHL Entry Draft where even more movement can happen. If the Maple Leafs do manage to move Kerfoot, Holl, Dermott and even Pierre Engvall during that span, they could potentially shed around $8.25 million in cap, bringing the total to around $17.6 million in space. 

While it’s possible the Maple Leafs could sign Landeskog in the range of $6-$7.5 million, anything higher might be too steep. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested on the 31 Thoughts podcast that a good comparable is New York Islanders captain Anders Lee, as his contract is over seven-years at $7 million a season. Signing him to that kind of contract is well worth it than it is for Zach Hyman. The Maple Leafs could also add a few depth pieces up front, on defense and in net with the added space.

It’s very possible that the Maple Leafs may steer clear and not make any rash decisions as 49.7% of their cap is already allocated to Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. That alone can hand cuff any team from making any major signings. Even though Landeskog is what the Maple Leafs need as a top-six forward, the price would have to be something they’re comfortable with and not jeopardize their contract situation any further. Then major trades would have to happen. 

Landeskog Would Be A Significant Upgrade

If the Maple Leafs sign Landeskog, there’s no doubt they’re getting a marquee, top line winger. Hyman was productive during his time with the Maple Leafs, particularly the last few seasons. He reached the 40-point mark twice and would’ve had reached that mark again over the last two seasons if it weren’t for sustaining two knee injuries, one which required surgery. 

I would love to keep Hyman around, as he deserves to earn his full value much like Landeskog. At his price and injuries, it’s a major concern and could be problematic for the Maple Leafs. Multiple teams are showing major interest in Hyman, who is looking for a big payday around $6 million, as reported by Pagnotta. It’s something the Maple Leafs should avoid by letting him walk or trade his rights. 

Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog New York Islanders Jordan Eberle
Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog and New York Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

It would make more sense to give Landeskog, who is a year younger than Hyman and has proven to be more consistent with his offensive production. Even though Landeskog has had his fair share of injuries, you could sense that there will be more regret at the end of Hyman’s contract than that of Landeskog’s. 

Even when taking a deeper look at Landeskog’s underlying analytics, he’s earned the right to explore the market. He’s a reason why the Avalanche were so effective when he was on the top line. With a minimum of 200 minutes played in the regular season, Landeskog ranked third in Corsi For percentage (shot attempts) of 62.13 and scoring chances for percentage (64.32) when he was on the ice at five-on-five. Those are strong metrics for him as he’s going to be a major threat on the ice. 

As this model from JFreshHockey shows, Landeskog’s power play production makes him very effective and given his defensive awareness and style of play, he’s a player that would definitely make the Maple Leafs more competitive. While he may not play on the penalty kill like Hyman, he’s effective in being a dangerous offensive threat and a tough player to go up against in his own end. 

Should the Leafs Pursue Landeskog?

The Maple Leafs wanting to sign Landeskog does make sense. Who wouldn’t want him? He’s the prototypical power forward with a strong defensive mindset that you would love to have as he’s a consistent 50-60 point player in his career. 

The tricky thing is their cap situation. If the Maple Leafs are able to work their way around the cap crunch and make things work for the present and the future, then everything will work out. Signing Landeskog to a six-year deal worth $7 million per season, could work out. 

However, the Maple Leafs can’t afford to make any real rash decisions, as there are still some cheaper names on the market to fill out the team’s depth. The fit is there, but the Maple Leafs have to make sure they don’t put themselves in a deeper hole financially.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick. Contracts and numbers for CapFriendly.