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Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Bringing back Mikheyev and Engvall vs. finding the next Mikheyev and Engvall

Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall are two Leafs of many that enjoyed career years (pessimistic voice: “a lot of good it did them) and to their good fortune, they now find themselves negotiating new contracts on the strength of those years. Both players are now regarded as not only premier penalty killers but viable threats to score when shorthanded, as Mikheyev had four shorthanded goals and Engvall had three shorthanded goals and one assist. Mikheyev’s 21 goals with time spent split between the second and third lines, and Engvall’s 15 goals produced bouncing between the third and fourth lines mean that they are potentially on the verge of going from strong depth to expensive depth, and with that comes the question of whether or not the Leafs see the value in these particular players or whether they see the value in wing depth that outperforms their contracts.

A big part of determining whether or not Mikheyev and Engvall will be reasonable options comes down to what their next contract could look like, so I figured it would be worthwhile to start looking at some comparable players. Here are the current NHL players aged 25-28 that produced between 15-25 goals, and 30-40 points. Obviously depending on whether that was an up year or down year for each player last season will need to be considered when looking at their existing contract as well, but roughly here is the class of players similar to Engvall and Mikheyev.

Player AAV Salary Term Age Pos Expiry Status Expiry Year GP G A PT GF% DFF% CF% P/60
Josh Anderson
$5,500,000
$4,000,000 7 28 RW UFA 2026-27 69 19 13 32 43.3 47.1 47.2 1.55
Alex Iafallo $4,000,000 $3,500,000 4 28 LW UFA 2024-25 79 17 20 37 52 53.5 56.4 1.42
Dominik Kubalik $3,700,000 $4,000,000 2 26 LW RFA +arb 2021-22 78 15 17 32 43.7 43.4 44.8 1.18
J.T. Compher $3,500,000 $4,500,000 4 27 LW UFA 2022-23 70 18 15 33 55.7 47 48.4 1.27
Pius Suter $3,250,000 $2,750,000 2 26 C UFA 2022-23 82 15 21 36 45.7 46.4 46.6 1.62
Robby Fabbri $2,950,000 $3,100,000 2 26 C UFA 2021-22 56 17 13 30 44.6 47.2 46.9 1.57
Frank Vatrano $2,533,334 $2,600,000 3 28 C UFA 2021-22 71 18 14 32 53.2 53.7 54.1 1.63
Artturi Lehkonen $2,300,000 $2,300,000 1 26 LW RFA +arb 2021-22 74 19 19 38 49.3 54.04 52.1 3.39
Ilya Mikheyev $1,645,000 $2,190,000 2 27 RW UFA 2021-22 53 21 11 32 58.2 58.6 56.4 1.76
Nick Paul $1,350,000 $1,500,000 2 27 LW UFA 2021-22 80 16 16 32 44.5 47.81 49 1.29
Pierre Engvall $1,250,000 $1,250,000 2 25 LW RFA +arb 2021-22 78 15 20 35 57.1 55.1 54.5 1.74
Ross Colton $1,125,000 $1,000,000 2 25 C RFA +arb 2022-23 79 22 17 39 52.1 52.3 51.6 2.07
Danton Heinen $1,100,000 $1,100,000 1 26 LW RFA +arb 2021-22 76 18 15 33 54.2 58.3 54.4 2
Rem Pitlick $917,831 $917,831 1 25 RW RFA +arb 2021-22 66 15 22 37 50.6 42.97 43.3 3.15
Ryan Donato $750,000 $750,000 1 26 C RFA +arb 2021-22 74 16 15 31 48.8 47.2 48.7 2.07
Nicolas Roy $750,000 $750,000 2 25 C RFA +arb 2021-22 78 15 24 39 55.3 52.8 54.1 1.7
Travis Boyd $750,000 $750,000 1 28 C UFA 2021-22 74 17 18 35 46.4 44 42.3 1.75

Like Mikheyev, Frank Vatrano, Nick Paul, Travis Boyd, and Robbi Fabbri all find themselves as UFAs. Presumably on the strength of his playoff performance for Tampa, Nick Paul is going to find himself cashing in and it seems that Travis Boyd will move beyond the league minimum after getting to play a much bigger role in Arizona and it probably goes without saying that if we were to be talking about replacing either Mikheyev or Engvall at this point, he’s not likely to be a player looking to return to Toronto.

Similar to Engvall, Nicolas Roy, Rem Pitlick, Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, Artturi Lehkonen, and Dominik Kubalik are the arbitration eligible RFAs. This is a much harder group to pin down as Roy, Donato, Pitlick, Engvall, and Heinen all represent players that took steps forward production wise, while Kubalik represents a step back. Lehkonen might represent the most likely to be consistent in what they’ve brought and this year was looked at as an improvement for him too. While he’s on the higher end and higher upside of this group, he could be who establishes the market or at the very least agents for the other RFAs could see Lehkonen’s previous $2.3M AAV as a target.

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When it comes to Mikheyev and Engvall, what sets them apart from the rest in this market is their speed. Both have speed to burn, Mikheyev especially, and given what we see from some of the more expensive names on the list, it seems reasonable that Mikheyev will find himself earning in the $3M-$4M range. Also considering that Mikheyev was rumoured to be unhappy with his utilization on the Leafs prior to this season, and isn’t looking like a lock for heading into next season with second line assurances, counting on a team-friendly deal to return to Toronto seems unlikely.

Pierre Engvall’s situation is a little more complicated. To some extent, the Leafs control the fate of Pierre Engvall a bit more. As a restricted free agent, it is much more likely that he ends up in Toronto. The catch with Engvall is that he has arbitration rights, and that means he could look for a one year deal that would take him to his unrestricted free agency. The Leafs would also have to accept any contract settlement up to $4,538,958. While it’s not likely that Engvall will get that much, even at the $2.3M AAV contract range of the very comparable Arrturi Lehkonen contract would be challenging to fit into the 2022-23 cap situation.

So, do the Leafs want to go from spending $3M on what we’ll essentially call their third line wingers to $5-6M? Given the giant question mark that still exists about their 2LW, I’d say they are looking to commit that money.

To some extent, I think Kyle Dubas has already provided us with his answer about wanting to move on too. He’s spoken about looking to the Marlies, and a quick glance of the Marlies stat sheet shows both Joey Anderson and Bobby McMann as capable penalty killers/shorthanded goal threats. Combine that with the desire to find a spot for Nick Robertson, and the versatile potential of players like Alex Steeves and Nick Abruzzese, and the Leafs could move on in a hurry and reinvest in other areas.

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Going the Marlies route is accepting some risk, but the risk can be potentially mitigated by bringing back Ondrej Kase and Colin Blackwell too. Neither of them is going to break the bank in a significant way.

There is also the fact that this might simply be a situation where moving on from Mikheyev makes sense, and seeing if Engvall’s return can work within the Leafs budget. Pierre will almost certainly be the cheaper option of the two, as well as the one that can fill in at center when needed. It’s entirely possible the Leafs try to see if anything can be done here, but probably needs to be approached with the firm deadline before qualifying offers are due to control costs.

Engvall also offers the Leafs the chance to get something back in return if they want to move on. It might not be much, but it’s better than nothing.

A big part of what the Leafs had last year in Mikheyev and Engvall was that they were developed cheaply and coached into being elite penalty killers. There are players (maybe not with their size and speed) that are available and could take that next step as well. Players like Curtis Lazar and Andrew Cogliano can provide depth safety nets for the Marlies and could also be thriving players within the Leafs bottom six forward/penalty kill model.

For the Leafs, committing money to players that were assets primarily because of exceeding the value of their contracts seems counter-intuitive, and while they should be rewarded for doing a good job on their next contract, that reward should probably come from a new team.

Data from PuckPedia

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