The Maple Leafs have signed Russian free agent Ilya Mikheyev to a one-year deal. Here are the winners and losers of that signing, and the changes that could follow.
The two biggest winners here are pretty obvious: The Toronto Maple Leafs and Ilya Mikheyev himself. For Toronto, the win is that they get another talent to join their ranks and bolster their offensive depth. His pedigree in the KHL also suggests that he has a lot more to offer than some underripe AHLers, too.
Last season, Mikheyev put up 45 points in 62 games for Omsk Avangard in the regular season, plus another 11 points in 13 playoff games. His production is solid and shows that, as a depth winger, he may have some firepower to offer.
With the ability to score on top of his 6’2″ frame, Mikheyev may have a crucial role to play on the Leafs, as long as Mike Babcock is at the helm still. Physically, Mikheyev won’t have as much to prove as the common undersized forward Dubas seems to prioritize. With Babs behind the bench, Mihkeyev could win him over before ever touching the ice.
Teammates who benefit
The third and fourth line centerman are the biggest winners here. Immediately, that means Nazem Kadri and Frederick Gauthier but in the (possibly near) future, that also includes Adam Brooks and Nic Petan.
Kadri’s future is up in the air; his suspension gave Dubas and co. all the excuses in the world to trade him away, which they already may have been working on to fit in Marner’s cap hit this year. Gauthier as often is the case, is just going to be happy he’s here for the ride. More size on the fourth unit would be welcomed, though.
Brooks is a bit of a longshot, but his AHL form this year has not gone unnoticed. His chemistry with the likes of obvious 2019/20 Leaf Trevor Moore may also give him the inside track on the third unit should Kadri be traded.
Nic Petan – is he expendable, is he a cover player, or is he going to be a legit factor in the bottom-6 for the Leafs next year? Time will tell, but if he gets more time at center then chalk this signing up as a win for him.
Any bottom-6 winger not named Trevor Moore. That may be over-simplifying it, but it’s not untrue. I believe Connor Brown may be forced out due to his $2m cap hit so he could be the biggest loser.
Like Brown, cash may dictate one of Kasperi Kapanen and/or Andreas Johnsson out of Toronto, too. Both players are awaiting contracts and both players are due for substantial upticks to their salaries. Mikheyev may not get close to their productivity, but if the choice is between him and Marner vs. Kap/Johnsson and no Marner, the former is going to win.
This signing is also a bit of a slap-in-the-face to the Marlies, who are currently succeeding past their NHL team in the playoffs. Jeremy Bracco and Egor Korshkov are the two most affected players.
Bracco is destined for the top-6 on the Leafs, but his path may start on a depth line. Korshkov, who recently signed his ELC with the Leafs and joined the Marlies after, has produced immediately in the Calder Cup playoffs, but now has some competition come September for a roster spot.
This could be one of a few moves that start the process of change to the Maple Leafs. They have to get Marner’s contract done as soon as possible and by any means necessary. The Mikheyev signing adds depth to the forward group to insulate the team from possible important losses.
Can we connect the dots and cast out one of Johnsson and Kapanen now? Does this move make any sense in the story arch including a Nazem Kadri trade?
Maybe, but one thing we can see already with Kyle Dubas at the helm is that he doesn’t like to sit idly by, instead he likes to instigate the next move rather than react to it. It should be an exciting offseason with the potential of great chance coming to the team.