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Photo Credit: © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs should consider selling high on Alex Kerfoot at the deadline

We may be less than two months away from the trade deadline, but the speculation on who could be on the move is quickly picking up steam. It is especially the case when it comes to what buyers will do and what pieces could be involved in an attempt to upgrade their team for a better chance at a deeper postseason run.

This is why we need to talk about Alex Kerfoot.

The 2021-22 campaign has been a solid one for Kerfoot so far and it has been highlighted by a resurgence in performance that has not been seen since his last season with the Avalanche. In 39 games played, he has registered six goals, 21 assists, and 27 points. That equates to a 0.69 PPG rate, putting him on pace to finish the season with 57 points, which is 14 points clear of his previous career-high of 43 points in 2017-18.

It has been impressive to see Kerfoot finally find his rhythm after having trouble adjusting to the Leafs in his first two seasons following the infamous trade that sent Nazem Kadri to Colorado. But when you take a closer look at the underlying metrics, you see a player who is riding an unsustainable hot streak while also playing fairly similar to seasons past.

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PLAYER CF% FF% SF% GF% XGF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% PDO
KERFOOT 51.09 50.88 51.32 62.50 52.09 54.47 53.93 59.38 1.047

Note: All numbers are at 5v5

For the most part, these numbers are mostly fairly pedestrian and most of Kerfoot’s underlying metrics align to his previous seasons in Toronto. However, there are a few outliers that would indicate he is getting luckier this time around. His GF% has never been as high as it currently is, has been on the ice for an abnormally amount of goals in high-danger situations, and his PDO is the highest on the Leafs. For reference, the next closest Leaf is Morgan Rielly at 1.031 while the closest forward is Ondrej Kase at 1.027.

 

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Consider that for the majority of the season, Kerfoot has been primarily slotted alongside John Tavares and William Nylander. That line at 5v5 has done a masterful job of putting the puck in the net at the expense of puck possession, resulting in an even amount of scoring chances. For forward lines with a minimum of 200 minutes of ice-time, MoneyPuck has the trio rank seventh in the league in GF%, 11th in xGF%,15th in shot attempts for, and 14th in unblocked shot attempts for. In short, the line has been riding a streak of fortuitous luck with the high abundance of goals while also being pedestrian at everything else.

LINE CF% FF% SF% GF% XGF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% PDO
KERFOOT-TAVARES-NYLANDER 49.89 51.06 51.03 65.00 51.92 50.83 51.02 66.67 1.046

What this all means is that Kerfoot has been the Leafs’ PDO king all season and has been the beneficiary of being on the ice for a lot of tallies at even strength. He is on pace to surpass his career highs in points despite only recording a combined one point on special teams (a shorthanded assist). To boot, he is riding shotgun on a line that is on a tear offensively and getting luck on their side in regards to goals.

This level of success is impressive, but not sustainable. Whether it be later this season or in 2022-23, Kerfoot will eventually regress to the mean and see his luck start to balance out.

So before that happens, the Leafs need to take full advantage and use him as the main asset in a trade to bring in help.

Chris Johnston reported on Tuesday that the Leafs are in the market for a player with term on their current contract and were open to adding as many good players as they can. Darren Dreger also reported that they were one of many teams that kicked the tires on Jakob Chychrun. This means they are making an effort to avoid the same mistakes made when acquiring Nick Foligno last year and that means the price to acquire a player with more than a year of salary remaining will be significantly more pricey.

With names like Claude Giroux, Tomas Hertl, Damon Severson, Mark Giordano, and Josh Manson potentially up for grabs, teams will need to pay up a pretty penny if they want any chance of acquiring their services. The Leafs especially want to ensure that this season has a much better outcome given the uncertainty regarding their future should things go astray in the postseason. Hence why it is so vital for Kyle Dubas to bring in as much talent as they can afford and give the lineup everything needed for improved results this spring.

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When it comes to assets currently on the main roster that could feasibly be dealt with for immediate help, there are few better options that could net the desired return quite like Kerfoot. As mentioned, he is posting strong numbers while also getting a lot of good luck on his side and sellers would certainly value bringing in a player who can be inserted into their lineup. He is also on the books for this season and next at a $3.5 million AAV which would give said teams assurance they can have him in their lineup for at least a year and change. Kerfoot won’t be the main piece going the other way in a hypothetical trade, but him attached to a first-round pick and a prospect could be a good starting point for a package to net a big-name player such as Chycrun or Giroux.

It would sting to send off the last remnant of the Kadri trade when he is well on his way to a career season, but it is hard to envision Kerfoot replicating the success he is having beyond 2022. He is the Leafs’ undisputed PDO king and has been riding shotgun to an effective line while having little playing time on the special teams. And with him being on pace to smash his career highs in points, he is one of the best tradeable assets on their main roster that could bring in the desired return.

Simply put, it would be in the Leafs’ best interest to consider selling high on Kerfoot at the trade deadline.

Stats from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick.

Salary information from PuckPedia.com.

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Chart from Evolving Hockey.