On Wednesday, when all eyes were on the draft, the Maple Leafs culled their roster down to two unsigned RFAs when they decided not to issue Qualifying Offers to any others. Those two are Ilya Mikheyev and Travis Dermott.

Both have a QO of $874,125, and Mikheyev’s is a two way, while Dermott’s is one-way. Players can simply accept the QO at any time between now and October 18 when they expire. When the offer expires, the player does not become a free agent. In fact nothing changes beyond the removal of the ability of the player to simply end negotiations for a year by accepting the QO.

Once the QOs expire, teams have until an undetermined date after the season starts to sign RFAs and keep them eligible to play in the 2021 season. That date can’t be set until an opening day is set and a schedule is agreed to. The NHL will not start before January 1, so February 1 or later seems like the end date for RFA negotiations.

The only way to ensure negotiations don’t drag on is through arbitration. Travis Dermott is not eligible for arbitration, so his deal will get done when it gets done. Ilya Mikheyev is eligible.

Kyle Dubas referred to the potential of arbitration with Mikheyev’s contract on October 9 as he discussed free agency since the deadlines are this weekend. For player elected arbitration the deadline is today, Saturday, October 10 at 5 p.m. One minute later a 24-hour window opens for team-elected arbitration.

Mikheyev will not receive a contract in arbitration large enough for the Leafs to walk away from under the rules, so there’s no need to travel down that path. The difference between who elects the arbitration for him simply means the other party gets to pick the term of the deal — one year or two.

The NHL will begin scheduling arbitration hearings on Monday, and they will begin as early as October 20, and should be wrapped up by November 8.

Each side submits a suggested amount of the salary to be paid; they present their cases to the arbitrator, and with rare exceptions, the arbitrator picks an amount almost precisely in the middle. The Leafs have telegraphed in several comments from Dubas and Brendan Shanahan that they plan to issue a lowball offer to Mikheyev.

Because Mikheyev only played 39 games before his injury, he’s well down the list of Leafs players in points with eight goals and 15 assists. He was sixth in TOI per Game Played for forwards with 13:13 at five-on-five and eighth for all-situations, making any claim on his part to a full-time top-six role a little tenuous. Without power-play time, his points per game or per 60 minutes, however you want to look at them, aren’t high up the list either.

Arbitration cases are made with points and ice time, and player comparables, and none of his are that good.

One potential comparable is Oskar Sundqvist of the St. Louis Blues. He elected arbitration twice in 2018 and 2019 at age 24 and 25. Mikheyev is currently 26. In 2018, Sundqvist had only 42 games played due to injury with 5 total points, very little power play time and 10 minutes per game. He was a notch lower than Mikheyev, and his settlement before arbitration  that year was $700,000 for one year. The next year with 31 points and third-line minutes, he settled for 4 years at $2.75 million, a contract that bought three UFA years.

Right now, Mikheyev, who will be UFA after one more season, is more similar to Sundqvist in 2018 on points. He won’t get an award or settle for an amount below his QO, but on that comparison, he looks like he’s in the less than one-million range.

Zach Aston-Reese elected arbitration last year. He had 43 games played due to injury and 17 total points. He’d been playing about 13 minutes a night, so slightly less than Mikheyev. He settled for two years at $1 million per year.

Blake Coleman elected arbitration in 2018. He’d played a full season with 25 points and 14 minutes a night. He settled for three years at $1.8 million prior to the hearing.

The Leafs won’t get laughed out of the room is all they offer is exactly what Mikheyev was paid on his ELC this year: $925,000. Mikheyev hasn’t got a case for much more than that in an ask that doesn’t rely on potential.

The other confounding factor is that if he elects arbitration himself, the Leafs can choose two years, buying a UFA year for free. If the Leafs elect arbitration — the more likely scenario — Mikheyev is left with no real choice but a one-year deal that will be eroded by 20% escrow, 10% salary deferral on the rest and then taxes. It’s almost not worth the effort to quibble over the amount of this contract.

A two-year deal that sells a UFA year for a bigger salary and shifts the salary into year-two, so he gets to keep more of it (in theory) might be nice, but that requires the Leafs to accept a higher AAV and to believe in his potential both after a very uninspiring playoff performance.

He’s at the point where betting on himself comes with a lot of downsides, but I don’t see a way out of the trap he’s in. I don’t see it for Travis Dermott either. The Leafs might offer deals right at the $1 million mark to keep their players happy, but they’ve got no incentive to offer term to either or to go higher on AAV.

If I had to bet, I’d say that if a deal isn’t done by this afternoon, the Leafs will elect arbitration on Mikheyev.

Update: obviously my bet was wrong, and this really does strike me as an odd play, because if this goes the distance, then the Leafs can take whatever cheap award he gets and elect two years on it. The Mikheyev camp are likely anticipating a settlement.

The full list of player-elected arbitration from the NHLPA:

Boston Bruins

Matt Grzelcyk

Buffalo Sabres

Victor Olofsson

Sam Reinhart

Linus Ullmark

Calgary Flames

Andrew Mangiapane

Carolina Hurricanes

Clark Bishop

Haydn Fleury

Warren Foegele

Gustav Forsling

Colorado Avalanche

Ryan Graves

Detroit Red Wings

Tyler Bertuzzi

Florida Panthers

MacKenzie Weegar

Minnesota Wild

Kaapo Kahkonen

New York Islanders

Joshua Ho-Sang

Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews

New York Rangers

Tony DeAngelo

Alexandar Georgiev

Brendan Lemieux

Ryan Strome

Ottawa Senators

Connor Brown

Christian Jaros

Nick Paul

Chris Tierney

Toronto Maple Leafs

Ilya Mikheyev

Vancouver Canucks

Jake Virtanen