“The interest is mutual,” team president Brendan Shanahan said Thursday during an appearance on Hockey Central at Noon.
“Kyle has really liked it and enjoyed it so far,” Clifford’s agent, Todd Reynolds, told the Sun. “It’s something we would be interested in and it’s something that the Leafs are interested in.”
Clifford is a pending unrestricted free agent who was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in February, along with goalie Jack Campbell, in exchange for Trevor Moore and a pair of third-round draft picks.
“He’s been fantastic for us,” Shanahan said. “I said a few weeks ago when we were back in L.A. and he was playing in L.A. for the first time since the trade, he’s made a tremendous difference to our group. I think he was just starting to get comfortable as well.”
Clifford had averaged 9:33 of ice-time in 16 games with the Maple Leafs prior to the NHL’s indefinite suspension due to COVID-19. Although he only has three points with Toronto, the Ayr, Ont., native has provided some needed grit, toughness and leadership.
“Especially when you play the role he does, you have to play it with your heart on your sleeve,” Shanahan said. “It rips the heart out of many guys when they get traded. From my experience it’s even more so for guys that play physically and that take on the responsibility of sort of the team big brother, so I think he was really just starting to get comfortable and starting to find his voice in that dressing room.”
The 29-year-old’s salary cap hit has been $1.6 million annually since signing a five-year contract with the Kings in 2015. The Kings retained 50 per cent of his remaining 2019-20 salary as part of the trade.
“Anybody I talked to [in the Kings organization] they talk about how he holds people accountable,” Shanahan added. “That’s not something you come in in your first week or two into a new dressing room and start doing that, so I love hearing he’s interested. We’re certainly interested as well. He’s been fantastic and just a great person.”