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Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Dreger speculates on Kerfoot being an option for the Oilers

Darren Dreger joined TSN Edmonton’s Dustin Nielson for his morning insider report, and spent some time speculating on whether Alexander Kerfoot could be a possible fit for the Oilers. The basis for this discussion is that the price seems to be going through the roof on J.G. Pageau, and teams looking for a top six forward or third line center might need to look at other options. That led to into the Kerfoot talk: (you can find the entire radio hit here.)

“There has been a lot of speculation around the Toronto Maple Leafs, about how are they going to acquire a defenseman. And I don’t know that the Edmonton Oilers are the right fit for Toronto in that regard, but I know that the Oilers are among the teams that are watching the Toronto Maple Leafs very closely. And for the Maple Leafs to get that piece, whatever that piece might be, maybe it’s a third pairing guy that Toronto thinks with more opportunity can bump into the top four on the blue line. They would prefer a right side d-man that they can work with longer term. So then you are looking at forwards in Toronto and it’s the usual three, but the one that doesn’t get talked about a whole lot is Alex Kerfoot. Alex Kerfoot for the Maple Leafs essentially is a winger, often he’ll play center, he was a center man for the Colorado Avalanche, could he be a more bargain related option for Kenny Holland and the Oilers, or another team that islooking for a versatile forward. Kerfoot is a good player. He just doesn’t seem to be the right fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs and he hasn’t quite found his stride just yet, so I don’t know, he might be an interesting option that develops in the days ahead here.”

Pageau (27, pending UFA) Kerfoot (25, 3 years @ $3.5M remaining)
GP G P CF% xGF% GP G P CF% xGF%
2019-20 54 21 34 47.6 51.8% 52 8 24 52.3 46.9%
2018-19 39 4 12 46.5 44.2% 78 15 42 51.7 52.8%
Career 422 84 176 47.6 49.5% 209 42 109 50.6 49.4%
data via hockey-reference.com

So, ignoring the fact that Pageau is off and running on what is certainly a career year, and knowing the amount of weight that will carry with certain GMs, Kerfoot probably isn’t too far off from what Pageau is. And assuming that Dreger is right (a big assumption), Kerfoot might be capable of performing beyond what he has done in Toronto, which so far has looked like a step back from Colorado.

An interchangeable center/winger might be the best fit for the Oilers at this point, as it increases their flexibility on the deployment of Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins as well. When healthy, they can run McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH, and Kerfoot across their top six, or use Kerfoot or Nugent-Hopkins as a third line option, when needed. That might have a greater appeal beyond their previously rumoured interest in Kasperi Kapanen, who is pretty much a right wing or bust.

The biggest issue with Kerfoot speculation probably comes from the Leafs, who would be putting a lot of eggs in the Pierre Engvall/Jason Spezza 3rd line center basket. While both have looked more comfortable in that role than Kerfoot has, it seems like limiting center depth prior to the playoffs could carry consequences.

What would Toronto possibly get out of this?

In true Dreger fashion, he seems to be underselling what the Leafs could get in return for Kerfoot. I’ll do my best to risk overselling Kerfoot, but straight up for a bottom pairing defenseman, with some possible upside, seems like a stretch. The player that Dreger is clearly alluding to as a possibility for trade is Matt Benning, a 25 year old right shooting pending restricted free agent (arbitration eligible) who has been limited to 31 games this season due to injury. Benning’s got some offensive upside to him, he’s also more physical than a lot of other Leafs defensemen, but that doesn’t change that his numbers aren’t ideal, he’ll likely cost more on his next contract, and bottom pairing right side isn’t really the issue when you have Justin Holl and Timothy Liljegren as suitable options for that role, and (sigh) Cody Ceci when he returns.

Benning is a reasonable player to get as return acknowledging the Oilers are likely actively shopping him, they may need to send salary back in the deal, and he clearly doesn’t fit into their long term picture and would likely go unqualified and be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st anyway.

The question then becomes where is the actual return? Well, allow me to trot out my favourite name to bring up in these situations, and that’s Jesse Puljujarvi.

Puljujarvi isn’t an option for being able to play in the NHL this season, so you’re going to need to be a little patient on that return, but he’s been stellar in Finland this season, he’s a former 4th overall pick that at one time was mentioned in the same breath as Auston Matthews for going first overall, and based on his NHL career to date, seems capable of at least becoming a 3rd line winger.

Now, that might have swung the pendulum too far back in a lopsided deal in favour of the Leafs, depending on how you view the pieces, but it doesn’t seem like the difference is little more than letting the Oilers help themselves to a Marlies player of their choosing.

I’m still not entirely sure the Leafs do this, as they are in as good a spot as they’ve ever been to be competitive in the playoffs, and giving up Kerfoot for a depth defensemen and a player who wouldn’t help them until next season could be unpalatable. Nevertheless, I would wager the key to any trade being done between the Oilers and the Leafs is dependent on the inclusion of Jesse Puljujarvi in the trade.

As for Kerfoot, I’d have to say I’m far more comfortable with the Leafs dealing him than Kapanen, and he might be the common ground the Oilers and Leafs could find. It seems there has been interest from the Oilers in Kapanen as a potential first line winger to play with McDavid, but there seems to be an equal level of stubborness of producing any kind of return that resembles what you’d give up for a potential first line winger.