Photo Credit: © Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Mikheyev might be more valuable as a trade chip than a roster piece

On the surface it’s hard to ignore that 23 points in 39 games looks pretty darn good for a first year in North America. The fact that he largely did that playing on the third line is even more impressive. And it’s important to note that all but two of those points came 5v5 as well. In short Ilya Mikheyev was offensively good, while being a reliable two-way player as well. Talking about trading him might be a tad absurd.

The need to at least consider the idea of trading Mikheyev comes when we consider what his next contract might look like. While there is a lot optimism in the home GM world that Mikheyev’s injury might lead him to take a heavily discounted deal because of his injury. While admittedly I too fell into this wishful thinking camp for a while, the reality is that Mikheyev has been good enough to warrant a pay raise, and given the projections from Evolving-Hockey.com his compensation could but him closer to the Andreas Johnsson and Alexander Kerfoot range than the overly optimistic range of around Pierre Engvall and less than Zach Hyman.

Mikheyev Predicted AAV Predicted Term
1 yr Term $2.357M 16%
2 yr Term $2.104M 25%
3 yr Term $3.091M 34%
4 yr Term $3.621M 21%
Avg. $2.885M 2.7 years
predictions from evolving-hockey.com

The fact that almost everything on here prices Mikheyev above what a lot of fans seem to be counting on makes the offseason a bit more challenging for Kyle Dubas than we initially game him credit for, although if it’s possible to get Mikheyev on that two year deal, we should all be pretty happy.

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Now, let’s look at that average range and the mode range (year 3). That would put the Leafs likely paying Mikheyev somewhere around the $2.9-3.1M mark. Not ridiculous, perhaps somewhat ridiculous on a 39 game body of work, but statistically not ridiculous. That’s a tad expensive for a player who will either be a second or third line winger this season and with much less expensive Plan B’s like Robertson, Barabanov, and Korshkov waiting down the line. Not to mention what can be found heavily discounted in free agency. While that might be the market value on Mikheyev, the Leafs simply can’t afford him, if they are in fact adding a top tier free agent like Alex Pietrangelo. If they aren’t doing that, Mikheyev’s contract still likely means that a decision needs to be made between him, Kerfoot, and Johnsson.

Putting Mikheyev in a side by side comparison with the rest of the Leafs $3M forward block from last season it’s clear to see both Mikheyev and Kerfoot were a notch above. It’s also easy to remember that we aren’t too far removed from Johnsson and Kapanen having the most value and then their production swiftly declined. Perhaps what I’m getting at is, while Kapanen had his speed, age, and draft position to still make him seem like a valuable trade commodity, Mikheyev is a player the Leafs should be less inclined to see if he can keep it up and selling high might be a more favourable approach. While I’m not saying that Mikheyev is worth a first because Kapanen netted a first (and somehow more), I’d say that Mikheyev’s trade value would exceed that of Andreas Johnsson, who the Leafs might be better off sticking it out with for now, and exploring other options. As for Kerfoot, anything around him is going to be complicated by the more challenging idea of backfilling the 3C position on the roster.

As for who might be interested in Mikheyev, well, the Coyotes are on the verge of losing Hall. The Jets are on the verge of trading Laine. Florida will lose Hoffman and Dadonov, and the Canucks might not be able to re-sign Toffoli. A cheap-ish 6’3, 26 year old might help address some of those losses, as well as he’s another solid name to put out there in a year when it’s not entirely clear who all is available.

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Now, I don’t want to make it seem like this a sell, sell now post on Mikheyev. The Leafs too can benefit for a reliable 3rd line winger capable of putting up points, and even if he’s not overly physicial, the Leafs can benefit from having a 6’3 winger in their lineup. There’s also the not so small factor that Mikheyev doesn’t require protecting in the expansion draft, which might also be a major selling point on him, but in reality that might make him more valuable to the Leafs in most scenarios. Trading Mikheyev isn’t something the Leafs should do lightly as he’s quite good and might find himself playing further up in the lineup this year.

If you are looking for optimism on the Mikheyev front it might come in the form of his arbitration eligibility. The Leafs would probably go into arbitration putting his qualifying offer as their offer, and it’s hard to imagine that Mikheyev’s camp can make much of a case beyond Kerfoot’s contract. Given the tendency to land somewhere in the middle, that would favour the Leafs and at least give them one more somewhat cost controlled season on Mikheyev.

While it’s more likely than not that Mikheyev will return to the Leafs next season, there could be some interest out there in him, and if moving him creates the cap space the Leafs need while bringing in a better return than the Leafs would get for a player like Andreas Johnsson, Toronto should at least consider it.

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Also relevant:

“No update” on Ilya Mikheyev and Maple Leafs contract extension