Toronto Maple Leafs ink RFA Ilya Mikheyev to Two-Year Extension

Just over a week after it seemed Kyle Dubas’ off-season vision started to come to its final chapters with as many as 7 UFA signings, 2 European FA signings, and 2 semi-major trades to free up cap space… The Leafs GM finished some tidy business this past week. Prior to the arbitration hearing, the winger’s agent Dan Milstein asked for a one-year contract at $2.7M AAV and the Maple Leafs asked for a two-year contract with a $1M AAV. Now keep in mind it is typical for both sides to come in on very opposite sides of the realistic spectrum and the arbitrator “usually” splits it down the middle (in this case would be $1.85M AAV). Which brings us to October 20th, when the Leafs and the Mikheyev camp came to an agreement on a two-year deal worth a total of $3.29M ($1.645M AAV).

Like always, everything the Leafs do gets over-analyzed and talked about way too much and the Mikheyev extension is no different. When discussions like this come about in the market, I like to take a holistic approach and think about it in the bigger picture. Specifically, when analyzing a contract extension… I like to look at a close comparable deal on another team via CapFriendly to decide if the Leafs are getting some sort of value in the player and also look at where this new deal leaves the Leafs cap-structure in the short and long term.

With that being said, the closest contract comparables to Mikheyev’s situation were Tyler Motte’s in Vancouver (signed for 2 Years @ $1.225M AAV in 2020), Alex Iafallo’s in Los Angeles (signed for 2 Years @ $2.425M AAV in 2019), and Ryan Dzingel’s in Ottawa (signed for 2 Years @ $1.8M AAV in 2017 but now in Carolina on a 2 Year deal @ $3.375M AAV). These three contracts match a similar signing age and free agent status to Mikheyev yet the Leafs winger out produced all three of them in their respective contract years on a point-per-game basis. Now albeit, Mikheyev does have the least amount of NHL games played out of the bunch prior to signing their new deal but to me that just goes to show the belief that management has in the player.

When looking at what the Soupman can bring to the Leafs roster, he seems to actually resemble an excellent blend of skills that make each of Motte, Iafallo and Dzingel successful in middle-six roles on their respective teams. Mikheyev is a fast and tenacious skater like Motte, which makes them both useful penalty killers… but Ilya can also process the game at a high enough level to play in the Leafs top-six occasionally and make intelligent passes similar to guys like Iafallo and Dzingel. The only thing holding the Soupman back is his shot but thankfully enough, that is a much easier skill to develop than most.

Furthermore, after looking into the terms of the contract and where it leaves the Leafs from a cap perspective, it just made too much sense to get Mikheyev on a two-year deal. With the Seattle expansion draft coming up in the 2021 off-season, most NHL teams will already have enough to deal with. But now the Leafs will not have to worry about extending Mikheyev again and will likely be left with no RFA’s of significant consequence to sign (pending how the Travis Dermott negotiations go). Another benefit to Mikheyev’s new deal is he is exempt from the expansion draft and thus doesn’t need to be protected by the club. This is a huge advantage for the Leafs as it gives them tremendous flexibility on who else to protect as they already have players like Robertson, Barabanov, Korshkov, Hållander, Sandin, Liljegren and Lehtonen who are exempt and also realistic big club players for the 2021/2022 Leafs season.

Overall, this deal is yet another example of a tidy hockey ops move by Dubas and his staff. Of course, not all moves on paper turn out to immediate success on the ice but it is nice to watch a staff stick to a process-oriented mindset and have a clear vision for the club both in the short, medium and long term.