This edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors is dominated by today’s breaking news that Alex Pietrangelo might be interested in more than speed dating with the Maple Leafs. That news is highly speculative, but it’s being tossed around and seems worth some space.
As well, could the news of changes to Pietrangelo’s status impact the likelihood that Frederik Andersen might be traded? Finally, does this news likely mean that any talk of re-signing rugged forward Kyle Clifford is simply blowing away in the breeze? It wasn’t that likely anyway, but is this the last Maple Leafs fans hear about this rugged winger?
Item One: Alex Pietrangelo and the Maple Leafs Are Sharing Phone Numbers?
Oh my, in three days things can change in a hurry. On Thursday, when he was interviewed on Leafs Lunch, Pierre LeBrun believed there was “mutual interest” between Pietrangelo and the Maple Leafs if the right-shot defenseman didn’t re-sign with the Blues. However, LeBrun believed – as I did, I must say – that that’s “a big if” because the Blues would work hard to make that signing happen before Oct. 9.
Then, on Friday there was news that Pietrangelo had committed to meeting with other teams. No one knew if the Maple Leafs were one of those teams, but it would be a no-brainer if the two sides didn’t at least speak with each other. Pietrangelo is from the area. In addition, almost everyone who knows the Maple Leafs’ situation believes the team would and should jump at a chance to addhim to its roster – as unlikely as that might be.
This morning, after further news that contract negotiations between the Blues and their captain had broken, speculation hit a fever pitch. Cap Friendly tweeted, “We just got a server alert telling us that traffic to our #Leafs page sky rocketed.”
Such evidence suggests there’s obvious interest among Maple Leafs fans. Even LeBrun, when he spoke about the possibility of Pietrangelo playing with the Maple Leafs, uncharacteristically seemed a bit giddy himself. He noted, “The idea of a (Morgan) Rielly-Pietrangelo top pairing is an unbelievable thought, but it’s incredibly difficult salary cap gymnastics. If the Leafs could even entertain Alex Pietrangelo, they would have to make some major moves to move more cap space out.”
Even if Pietrangelo were onboard with the idea, some heavy lifting needs to be done by Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas to clear salary-cap space, and it would take more than moving the usual suspects – Andreas Johnsson and Alex Kerfoot. For example, would the Maple Leafs move Andersen and play a much cheaper alternative?
Undoubtedly, there will be more news on this front over the next few days. But, as I suggest, how things change in three days.
Item Two: Speaking of Frederik Andersen, Here’s an Out-of-the-Blue Idea
Now that Andersen’s name has come up in this post, allow me to throw out a thought that I admit I’m just making up. Here’s my logic.
Earlier this week, TSN1040 radio tweeted:
To cut to the chase, Arizona is an organization that struggles even when times are good. But the COVID-19 pandemic has really thrown the franchise into a financial spin. The Coyotes have been hit hard and it feels as if they are trying to move quickly if they are to survive. That financial philosophy has caused a bit of a fire-sale mentality. It seems from the outside, which is likely accurate, that the organization lacks cash to pay its players.
Now, suddenly, up come the Anderson trade rumors again. Given how the Maple Leafs have structured his contract, it must look awfully attractive to the Coyotes. Would Arizona trade Darcy Kuemper (not necessarily to the Maple Leafs, although Kuemper is a good goalie who’s signed at $4.5 million through the 2021-22 season) and then trade for Andersen?
In some ways, such a scenario seems perfect for the Coyotes. Andersen’s salary-cap hit is $5 million, which helps put the Coyotes closer to the salary-cap floor without actually spending the money – because the Maple Leafs have paid Andersen his $4 million signing bonus. That means the Coyotes would only be on the hook for $1 million.
As I say, I’m just thinking aloud here.
Item Three: Perhaps a Final Note about Kyle Clifford?
Recent news about the Maple Leafs clearing salary-cap space in a bid for Pietrangelo now extends both to the medium-range salaries (Johnsson’s $3.4 million and Kerfoot’s $3.5 million salary-cap hit) and to lower salaries as well. For example, Clifford’s last-season salary at $1.6 million.
Should he want that salary again, and his experience suggests that isn’t an outrageous contract ask even in a depressed market, he’s priced himself out of the Maple Leafs’ future. Even if the team desires him, it won’t be able to sign him. That’s why it makes sense for the 29-year-old to test free agency.
In addition, in the shadow of a potential Pietrangelo signing, the Maple Leafs are likely prizing their upcoming draft choices (and their salary-cap implications) more than they did last week. Furthermore, the team certainly would rather lose the 2021 third-round pick it gave up in the trade with the Los Angeles Kings than the upgraded 2021 second-round selection it would give up if it signed Clifford.
Good luck to Clifford as he seeks another contract closer to what he was making on the five-year, $8 million deal he just finished. Because he’s a physical player who skates well enough to keep up with the youngsters, he might have had a valuable place on the Maple Leafs roster. It seems that simply won’t be the case now.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
So much action, so much excitement. News about Pietrangelo’s difficulties with the Blues’ organization completely reshaped my post today. If there’s anything to this news that isn’t just smoke and mirrors, it will likely also reshape any news emerging from the organization for the next while.
Maple Leafs fans will certainly be interested to see if Dubas can pull the salary-cap rabbit from the hat and find a way to sign one of the best right-shot defensemen in the NHL.