The Toronto Maple Leafs made it clear to teams last week that they would be willing to trade Ilya Mikheyev’s rights before the start of free agency, as it seemed unlikely that he would be re-signing with the team. That is because of the contract demands of the pending free agent winger. Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic tweets that Mikheyev and agent Dan Milstein will be looking for a multi-year contract with a cap hit somewhere between $4.75MM and $5.5MM, a hefty price and one that the Maple Leafs likely cannot pay.
Mikheyev, 27, did have a strong season, scoring 21 goals in 53 games including four short-handed tallies. That’s an 82-game pace of 32 goals and it was done without a ton of powerplay time or extended play in the top-six. Often used as a more defensive weapon, Mikheyev started a higher percentage of his shifts in his own end than almost any other Maple Leafs forward. His penalty-killing stats jump off the page, and his speed is something that can change a game at any moment.
Still, this is a player that has just 146 NHL games under his belt and has scored just 36 goals so far. A strong 82-game pace is one thing but at this point, the 2021-22 season could just as easily be an outlier, and Mikheyev’s production is closer to the 15 goals he scored across years one and two. A severe wrist injury during that time did affect his ability to shoot the puck but given how much of his offense has come from counter-attacking with speed and not controlling the play–he had just 11 assists this season–there is some risk that in a new system, those chances disappear.
At this point, with so much money tied up in their other big-name forwards, spending $5MM on Mikheyev doesn’t make much sense for the Maple Leafs. The team will have to look for cheaper options to replace his production or promote an internal option.