The Toronto Maple Leafs first major move of the offseason sent winger Kasperi Kapanen to Pittsburgh for the 15th overall pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft and 20-year-old prospect Filip Hallander, but also potentially brought back a depth forward in Evan Rodrigues, depending on the 27-year-old’s demands on a new contract.
Rodrigues is a Toronto native who went undrafted out of the OJHL and four years at Boston University. In 2015, he scored 61 points (21 goals, 40 assists) playing with Jack Eichel and after his senior year followed the 2015 second-overall pick to the Buffalo Sabres as a free agent.
After his entry-level contract and a two-year league-minimum deal, Rodrigues set a career-high with 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists) in 74 games, mostly because he was moved into the second-line center role by Sabres head coach Phil Housley, which resulted in an arbitration award of $2 Million.
The Sabres did not get their money’s worth last season, as Rodrigues saw his role diminish to a bottom-six role under Ralph Krueger. After producing only nine points in 38 games, he was traded with Conor Sheary to the Penguins for Dominik Kahun.
The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported on Monday that the Leafs and Rodrigues representatives have had “productive talks about new deal, but that coming to an agreement would be contingent on his cap hit being lowered than the restricted free agent’s qualifying offer (which is 10% more than last year’s salary).
Based on the current realities of the NHL with a flat salary cap and teams budgeting well below the $81.5 million limit, it is likely that the Leafs would only sign Rodrigues if his salary is in the neighborhood of $1 million, hoping that the allure of playing at home, with an opportunity to play and getting the increased visibility playing in the Toronto market would be attractive.
If he is looking for something closer to his 2019-20 salary, GM Kyle Dubas will likely not qualify Rodrigues before the October 7 deadline, which would result in him becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Dubas is well aware that the free agent market this offseason will be inflated because many teams will not qualify players and knows that a number of players would follow the same road that Tyler Ennis and Jason Spezza took the last two years and take a one-year deal for the veteran minimum.
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