Are the Toronto Maple Leafs a victim of their own success?
Over this past week, the team lost two key players from last season’s roster – Ilya Mikheyev and Jack Campbell. The reason was mostly that the team was unable to put together a package that would allow them to be paid according to market value. The two players basically played so well for the Maple Leafs that they priced themselves out of a job with the same team that helped them become the mature and skilled stars they have become.
Ilya Mikhehev’s Story
Mikheyev was signed by the Maple Leafs as an undrafted player in May 2019. He had lots of KHL experience and was a proven scorer with Avangard Omsk. He was also coached by former NHL coach Bob Hartley and played there with former Maple Leafs Cody Franson and Victor Stalberg.
However, although he came to the Maple Leafs with this experience, which obviously helped him, he was a raw NHL talent. In truth, Mikheyev’s defensive play was always strong and his speed helped him overcome mistakes on the ice. But the thing that won him a bigger contract with the Vancouver Cancks was his scoring. And that took some time to develop. Only this season did he score more than 20 goals.
Jack Campbell’s Story
Campbell came in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings in February 2020. When he came, he clearly was a stop-gap measure to fill in for starter Frederik Andersen who was injured. He landed in Toronto as a 28-year-old backup with a losing record of 8-10-2.
Over the last two seasons, Campbell’s stock clearly rose. In 2020-21, he set an NHL record for most wins to start a season. Last season, he started well and made the All-Star Team. He then went into a bit of a funk but pulled out to end the season well. He ended the season with a record of 31-9-6, a save percentage of 2.64, and a goals-against-average of .914.
Both players mentioned above priced themselves out of jobs. In truth, both Mikheyev and Campbell were able to play well enough to create situations where they squeezed their team’s ability to pay them what they thought they should earn and what the clear market value for their services was. They leveraged their success with the Maple Leafs and moved to another team who was willing and able to pay more.
What Happened with Mikheyev and Campbell Is a Regular Thing
That doesn’t happen every time, but it happens regularly. Really, that’s a sign of the team’s success in scouting other players. The Maple Leafs tend to find players who might be on another team’s scrap heap (didn’t receive a qualifying offer) or who were playing at a lesser role than they might have been capable of. They bring them to the team, and sometimes they really come to shine.
In that way, the Maple Leafs’ scouting department has a bit of a Rumpelstiltskin ability. The team can help players spin straw into gold. As a result, the Maple Leafs shape players who (if you want to think of humans only in a business way) become “commodities” that grow out of the Maple Leafs’ ability to retain them because the team has limited resources. These players (as resource commodities) then move on because their market value increases.
Will Michael Bunting price himself out of a Maple Leafs’ contract after this season?
It probably is also a reason why Maple Leafs’ players tend to get picked up off waivers consistently. For example, Dubas noted earlier this year that:
“We’ve had 11 guys claimed, which I think is double (any other team in the NHL), so it’s a good advertisement for agents if you want your players to come to a place where they’re going to get lots of attention and get claimed, probably a feather in our cap. It hurts in moments like this when you have guys claimed.” (from “If you see Dubas on the street, don’t mention waivers to the Maple Leafs GM,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 21/03/ 2022).
The Toronto Sun article suggested that Dubas was having “tough luck” with waivers. I contend that it isn’t such tough luck as much as other NHL teams know the Maple Leafs’ scouting staff is good at what they do and that Dubas and his team regularly bring high-quality players.
It Will Happen Again After the 2022-23 Regular Season
It’s also important to note that the same occurrence will happen again this offseason with at least David Kampf and Michael Bunting. They came to the team without a lot of value, but what NHL team wouldn’t want them today? Who knows, Ilya Samsonov might put himself into that position this season as well.
For me, it’s one reason that, even if many Maple Leafs’ fans are becoming angst-ridden about the moves the team’s management makes during the offseason, I’ve come to relax and trust the process. There will be stars in the making that right now we are only learning about.
That’s the way it is with these Maple Leafs.