The Toronto Maple Leafs are sending Kasperi Kapanen back to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the organization that drafted him. As Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reported a few weeks ago, the teams eliminated from postseason contention can already complete trades without waiting on the playoffs to finish. The Maple Leafs will send Kapanen, Jesper Lindgren and Pontus Aberg to Pittsburgh, while receiving the Penguins’ 2020 first-round pick (15th overall), Evan Rodrigues, Filip Hallander and David Warsofsky.
It wasn’t so long ago that Kapanen was a budding young first-round pick in the Penguins organization. Selected 22nd overall in 2014, he was actually Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford’s first draft pick with the organization after coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes. Rutherford knew the name well, given Kapanen’s father Sami played for both Hartford and Carolina under the executive. The younger Finn was traded just a year later when the Penguins acquired Phil Kessel from the Maple Leafs, where he has blossomed into a strong middle-six winger.
Kapanen’s best attribute is his speed, which he uses routinely on the penalty kill to create shorthanded chances for himself and his teammates. Over the last two seasons, he’s totaled 33 goals and 80 points in 157 games but hasn’t quite been able to develop into the top-line player that some imagined when he was dominating the minor leagues.
For the Maple Leafs, this deal is all about balancing their roster. The team has so much salary tied up in their forward group, they needed to move some of it out in order to address the defense. In the meantime though, they’ll restock their prospect capital with a first-round pick (remember, the Maple Leafs didn’t have one this year because of the Patrick Marleau trade) and Hallander, who was one of the Penguins’ top prospects. The 20-year old center has played the last two seasons in the SHL, recording 35 points in 72 games.
While the Maple Leafs say goodbye to Kapanen’s $3.2MM cap hit, the Penguins will gladly welcome it into the mix for the next few seasons. The 24-year old is under contract through the 2021-22 campaign and will still only be a restricted free agent at the expiry of his current deal. His speed and goal-scoring ability will give the team a dimension they have had success with in the past with players like Carl Hagelin, but also gives them some more youth to build around.
As for the rest of the deal, Aberg and Warsofsky both spent the year in the minor leagues and are unlikely to have huge impacts on their new teams. The former is a restricted free agent and coming off a $700K cap hit, while the latter is signed for that amount through 2020-21. Rodrigues perhaps brings the most intrigue, but appears destined to go unqualified this fall. His current cap hit of $2M means the Maple Leafs would have to extend him the same amount in a qualifying offer to retain his rights, something that doesn’t seem justified after he recorded just 6 goals and 10 points in 45 games this season.