Rick Zamperin: Kapanen trade the start of a major Maple Leafs shakeup? Think again

The Toronto Maple Leafs have traded Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Just over two weeks removed from the official end to their season, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has begun tinkering with his underachieving roster.

The Maple Leafs traded winger Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the club that originally drafted the speedy winger in the first round, 22nd overall, in 2014. He ended up being shipped to Toronto a year later in a trade that sent Phil Kessel to the Pens where he would win two Stanley Cup championships.

Also headed to Pittsburgh are minor league players Pontus Aberg and Jesper Lindgren while Toronto has obtained the Penguins’ first round, 15th overall, pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, along with journeymen Evan Rodrigues and David Warsofsky, as well as prospect Filip Hallander.

Read more: Toronto Maple Leafs deal Kapanen to Pittsburgh Penguins

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Moving Kapanen, who despite several opportunities to play with Toronto’s big guns found himself in the group of bottom six forwards more often than not in 2019-20, frees up $3.2 million in salary cap space in each of the next two seasons that Dubas can use in other areas.

Some of that much-needed cash, which has given Toronto nearly $7.8 million in cap room next season, will likely be used to re-sign restricted free agents Ilya Mikheyev and Travis Dermott and allow the team to bolster its defence corps through free agency.

Kapanen is going to get every opportunity to play in Pittsburgh’s top six, meaning that he will ride shotgun with either captain Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, so we shouldn’t be surprised if he dramatically improves his stat line from the 44 and 36 point seasons that he put together in each of the last two years in Toronto.

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The fact of the matter is, the Leafs have an abundance of offensive punch and speed up front so they were dealing from a position of strength and basically traded a third line winger for a mid-first round pick and a prospect.

And let’s not kid ourselves, 18-year-old Nick Robertson’s impressive NHL debut in Toronto’s playoff qualifier against the Columbus Blue Jackets – and his $850,000 annual cap hit – made Kapanen expendable.

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Far from completing his remodeling job of the Maple Leafs, does Dubas have any plans to trade away his other third liners, Andreas Johnsson ($3.4 million/season through 2022-23) and Alexander Kerfoot ($3.5 million/season through 2022-23)?

Or is Dubas conjuring up a much bolder plan and considering trading away a member of Toronto’s top four paid players in Auston Matthews, captain John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander?

Read more: Rick Zamperin: Toronto Maple Leafs likely wish they could undo the Nazem Kadri trade

The latter in that group would be, without a doubt, the easiest piece to move considering Nylander earns about $3 million less per season than the others, and would fetch an upper echelon defenceman in a trade.

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There is no shortages of options available to Dubas this off-season, but the question is will the team’s recent playoff failures be the trigger that leads to substantial change in Toronto or simply a fine tuning?

Maple Leafs fans should bank on the latter.

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.