Late in the day on July 1st, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded centre Nazem Kadri, defender Calle Rosen and a 2020 3rd round pick to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defender Tyson Barrie, forward Alexander Kerfoot, and a 2020 6th round pick.
Three days later, they signed the restricted free agent to a four year contract worth $3.5 million per year. It’s a good deal for someone in his position, and Katya looked at his contract and arbitration comparisons here.
So now that we — theoretically — have Kerfoot locked up for the next four years, we need to know what we’re getting from him.
Kerfoot was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by the New Jersey Devils, but he stayed in college rather than sign a pro contract, and after getting his business degree from Harvard, he signed with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent in the summer of 2017. The Avs had more room at the centre position on their depth chart, which gave Alexander a Ker-foot in the NHL door, rather than go down to the AHL.
It worked for him, as he has never played an AHL game in his professional career, spending two seasons with the Colorado Avalanche scoring 43 and 42 points in those two seasons.
Coming to the Maple Leafs as an established NHLer, it’s not surprising that he ranked so high with a lot of the voters.
There are two basics about Kerfoot that keep getting repeated over the summer: He’s good at defense, and we shouldn’t expect him to match the offense we got from Nazem Kadri.
After the trade was done, Katya looked at the two players, and how different they were. You can read the whole article here.
Kerfoot is a modestly gifted player who generates a lot more excitement with his defensive numbers than his offensive, once you dig past the boxcars. He had a 25% shooting percentage at five-on-five his first season in the NHL (he’s played two so far) which might have led a lot of gullible people to think he was an offensive dynamo the Devils had discovered in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. (Kerfoot was an NCAA player who waited out the Devils rights and then signed with the Avalanche as a free agent.) Last year, Kerfoot’s shooting percentage regressed, as they do, and that dream died.
The story that he’s a hot property on the power play persists.
And when that power play shooting percentage regresses, he’s going to start looking like who he really is, a peripheral player of value as a centre, but not in the class of Kadri.
This is a step down.
Over at The Athletic, Ian Tulloch looked at the possibility of Kerfoot sliding into Nazem Kadri’s spot as third line centre. He’s been called a centre everywhere, but didn’t play that role his entire time in Colorado. It’s well done with videos and charts and I don’t want to copy all of it here....
Can Kerfoot play centre full time?
Not getting overmatched in the faceoff circle is usually the hardest part of earning a coach’s trust when a winger shifts over to centre (since most of them hover in the low 40-percent range when they make that transition), but Kerfoot has already become one of the league’s better players in that department. Kerfoot was excellent at faceoffs in 2018-19, winning 56 percent of them (which ranked 12th in the NHL among players who had taken at least 400 faceoffs).
So why would anyone be skeptical of his ability to play centre? The issue is we don’t have a large sample of him playing down the middle at the NHL level. He mostly played on the wing in Colorado, with some limited stints at centre.
Kevin Papetti had some thoughts at Maple Leafs Hot Stove after the signing as well.
Kerfoot reminds me of Andreas Johnsson, as he’s a competent two-way player but won’t be able to drive his own line while scoring 60+ points in the process. He’s a fine puck carrier rather than an outstanding one, a competent puck mover on the power play, and possesses a pretty good shot when he actually decides to use it. I don’t buy that he’s some sort of elite defensive center, but he’s looked pretty responsible out there during my viewings while winning his fair share of puck battles. His 40+ point seasons were not a fluke. I expect him to enter the season as Toronto’s third-line center.
Other than that, most of the ink spilled on Kerfoot looks at his basic info - where he grew up (Vancouver), where he was when he got the trade call (in a boat), who he talked to first (Morgan Rielly, his off-season training buddy), and how he’s going to deal with the media spotlight in Toronto. Even in his post-July 1st press conference Kyle Dubas barely mentions Kerfoot...
I would love to have a group of guys that have that organic grit and nastiness to their game that also are great players, and I think we are just going to have to draft and develop those guys because they are very scarce on the marketplace. There are not a lot of them in the league that are always available. When you look at moving Naz out, there is no argument that he has that in spades and he brings that every single night. We think certainly Ceci plays hard and Harpur certainly plays very hard, but also Kerfoot plays extremely hard day in and day out. He’s very competitive as well. I think he is a younger guy in the league and maybe it’s not as overt as Naz was, but we think our group and our fan base and everybody will really like the way he plays in terms of grit and competitiveness night after night. We are excited about that.
Kerfoot has been one of the least talked about Maple Leafs acquisitions I can remember. He’s been overshadowed by the spectre of Cody Ceci, Tyson Barrie’s fancy right-handedness and the oh so long saga of the Mitchell Marner contract.
This is bad because I’m not good at player analysis and usually rely on others to do the heavy lifting for me (know your strengths and weaknesses). Thankfully people came to my rescue.
Kevin offered more insight to where he ranked Kerfoot:
When I think of Kerfoot, I think of the NHL equivalent of Adam Brooks. He’s not a clear standout in terms of skating, shooting, or strength, but still somehow finds a way to be an above average forward. He’s known for being a smart player, and he racks up a fair number of assists by making effective passes all over the ice.
He’d be known as an efficient scorer if this was the NBA, as he doesn’t shoot often, but makes the most of his opportunities. It’s tough to tell if he’s legitimately skilled at tipping pucks in, or if he’s just been lucky. I’m guessing it’s a little bit of both.
He didn’t play a ton of centre last year, but seems to be responsible defensively, and wins quite a few battles for a player of his size. Most teams would use him as their 3rd line centre, and I’m not stressed about his ability to handle that role. This is a player who had just four goals in 33 games in his second last season at Harvard, and he’s never going to be much of a goal scorer, but dependable 40-point centres do not grow on trees.
I ended up putting Kerfoot at #8, and he was neck-and-neck with Andreas Johnsson at #7. I’m a huge fan of Dermott’s game, I think Kapanen’s speed will keep him in the league forever, and Sandin is clearly ahead in my eyes.
Brigstew had his say:
Maybe not as good as Kadri, but also maybe better suited to a 3C role than Kadri. Reportedly has the ability to play up in the lineup as a LW, which will help late in games if they need some goals. A top 9 center than can put up 40+ points on a team devoid of offensive talent outside their top line sounds good to me. Even playing on the Leafs’ third line he’ll probably have the best wingers he’s ever been able to play with.
And Katya helped me out as well:
It’s possible to get a little too caught up in what Kerfoot is not, and forget to check and see what he is. He isn’t as good a shooter as his NHL career number imply. He isn’t Nazem Kadri, in any way you might measure that. He isn’t even guaranteed to play at centre. But what he is, so far, is a player who knows how to play hockey — like an NCAA grad usually does — and he has enough talent to go with the drive and the work he’s put in to make him a good, just not elite player. He’s also affordable. Once we get to know him better, we might find out he’s fun too.
Me? I like to watch highlights and ooh and ahh over things.
We’re going to have a lot of fun discovering Kerfoot this season, and seeing what he can bring to the team.