It looks like an era of excitement is over before it began. Just four days after the Maple Leafs acquired Jared McCann from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli has reported that the Seattle Kraken will be selecting the winger at tonight’s expansion draft.
The news comes after a few days of chaos, perhaps hitting it’s zenith yesterday when a leaked video of a fish toss (I’m not kidding here) suggested that Alex Kerfoot would be the player selected by the Kraken. As it turns out, though, that was just one of many recordings, but the first of which that was uploaded online.
I wrote about the McCann acquisition on here when it happened, labelling it as a good bet on a young player if that was the intention, but implying that could have some greater meaning:
I believe that this is the likely play, though it’s possible that the Leafs now get very courageous and put McCann on their exposure list, making Seattle pick between him and Kerfoot. This would be on the gutsier side but might be the smartest play – Kerfoot is the type of player that Seattle would likely lean towards, especially with Head Coach Dave Hakstol already having familiarity and trust in him. It would terrify the town, no doubt, but even in the worst case scenario, Hallinder and 7th simply becomes the cost of protecting Kerfoot, and we all pretend this trade never happened. It’ll be interesting to see what Toronto decides to do here.
Admittedly, I was wrong that Hakstol would vouch for Kerfoot. That “worst case scenario” is indeed what happened here, as the Leafs did indeed opt to use this as a smoke grenade to protect their whole roster. Prior to the trade, a 7/3/1 scenario all but meant the loss of Justin Holl, and a 4/4/1 scenario all but meant the loss of Alex Kerfoot. In making this move, the Leafs essentially moved a good prospect who hasn’t progressed as fast as hoped to avoid losing a roster player.
The argument moving forward will be in whether or not this was the correct decision, with the possibility that McCann is the most valuable of the three players at play here. I do think that there’s a possibility that he would have been a better fit for this group than Kerfoot was, though with both of them on the table together and McCann being selected, it now seems that there wasn’t a scenario available to them that would have had Seattle likely to take Kerfoot over McCann without a sweetener. Depending on what that sweetener would be, I don’t know that the gap between the two players would be sufficient. All suggestions imply that Seattle were expecting to take Kerfoot before this scenario was drawn up, and Toronto were expecting to lose him.
The bigger debate here, based on protection structures at play, is whether or not Toronto made the correct decision in valuing Holl over McCann. While most feel they haven’t, I do think that opting to protect Holl is the correct call. Holl has been a very solid #4 option for the Leafs over the past two seasons, playing more than adequately against tough competition while pushing less-capable players into more sheltered roles. That carries a lot of value in this league, particularly when you’re a right-handed defenceman and come in at a cap hit of just $2 million. There is a fair point to be made about Holl’s best play coming with Jake Muzzin and not being able to drive a similar pair of this deployment on his own, but the counter to that is that Holl has been Muzzin’s most reliable partner, and the sum of them is a $7.5 million duo that can be trusted to play top-pair assignments.
In protecting Holl, Toronto secures their Top 4 defencemen for next year, with Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin, and Timothy Liljegren likely to fill out the bottom of the lineup. Given Toronto’s defensive results were arguably their best in the salary cap era last season, and not at all the problem for them in the playoffs, it makes sense that they’d like to keep that box checked.
Overall, I understand being let down by losing McCann without getting to even take him for a test drive – I think he’s a quality player that Seattle is going to love, and that he would’ve been a great add here. He’s likely a better forward than the one he was used to shield, which makes this a bit of a let down, but the sum result of this move keeps two good players on the roster at a minimal cost. What happened here is akin to paying Seattle a protection cost, but at a lower overall price than the Kraken were rumoured to be asking for from teams. It’s a painful way to do it optically, but the overall result is to Toronto’s benefit.