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To sign or not to sign: Clifford, the big red question mark

It seems like a month ago, but it was actually only five days ago that we started discussing whether or not bringing back Denis Malgin next season would be a good idea for the Leafs. Since that time he’s been rumoured to be returning to Switzerland next season, and I wonder if that will be a growing trend among borderline NHLers from outside North America.

Malgin is a restricted free agent, so today we’re going to switch things up and take a look at an unrestricted free agent and see if he’ll be part of the long term plans for the Leafs, and that’s Kyle Clifford.

Clifford was long rumoured to the Leafs because of his connection to Kyle Dubas. Throw in his friendship with Jake Muzzin, and the team’s desire for more veteran leadership and physical play, and the intangible case for Kyle Clifford seems to be pretty apparent. His $1.6M cap hit from his previous contract might however price him out of Toronto’s consideration, as that’s a little rich for a fourth line forward a team that has already dumped so much money into it’s forward group. The best case for the 29 year old was probably going to come in the playoffs to see if Clifford moved the Leafs closer to playing “playoff hockey”, but since that seems unlikely to occur this year, the decision on Clifford will have to be made based off of the other available information.

There is also the interesting factor regarding the conditions of the trade for Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell…

Via hockey operations, the 2021 third round pick will become a second round pick if Toronto re-signs Clifford or if the Maple Leafs make the playoffs and Campbell wins six regular season games. (via Jon Rosen)

The conditions around Campbell winning six regular season games and the Leafs being in the playoffs may be null and void at this point ,and the 2021 3rd round pick would only transfer to the Kings if Clifford re-signs with the Leafs. There is a pretty big difference in what the Leafs could potentially draft in the second round versus the third, and I’m not certain that Clifford does enough to make that worthwhile. Especially since he’s also probably carrying a bigger cap hit than his replacement as well.

Season Team GP TOI CF% GF% xG% HDCF% PDO
20172018 L.A 50 515.03 52.42 42.86 51.45 53.25 0.976
20182019 L.A 72 734.45 52.12 52.94 52.24 51.33 1.001
20192020 L.A 53 595.65 55.18 42.86 55.89 57.08 0.962
20192020 TOR 16 149.57 47.04 45.45 44.86 46.15 0.996

There’s also a couple of things to consider in whether Clifford was truly a standout bottom six player or if he was the product of a team that knew how to use him properly. In the short and small sample with the Leafs, the results aren’t there the way they’ve been with the Kings. That can certainly change overtime, but again, is the chance that Clifford will improve worth having a 3rd round pick turning into a 2nd?

The reality is the Clifford trade happened at an unfortunate time, and circumstances have probably been that he’s probably the odd man out on the Leafs future. Any decision to keep him around would likely be intangible driven rather than results driven at this point. Hopefully Clifford will have his chance to make a better case for himself with some playoff hockey.