Why the Maple Leafs made last-minute trade for Jared McCann

Pittsburgh Penguins' Jared McCann celebrates the first of his two goals during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

TORONTO – The Seattle Kraken had their tentacles out for both Jared McCann and Alexander Kerfoot.

Thanks to an 11th-hour trade, however, the 32nd franchise will only be able to snatch one of the middle-six forwards during the July 21 expansion draft.

Shortly before Saturday’s 3 p.m. ET trade freeze — slotted two hours prior to the expansion draft’s deadline for protection lists — the Toronto Maple Leafs secured McCann from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for 21-year-old prospect Filip Hållander and a seventh-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

No salary was retained in the deal.

McCann, 25, carries a $2.94-million salary-cap hit through 2021-22, but is due $3.38 million in actual salary, which will be of little consequence to the cash-flush Leafs.

Unlike McCaan, Hållander does not require protection from the Kraken.

The transaction better positioned both Pittsburgh and Toronto for next week’s player harvest. It was merely one in a blizzard of 10 trades involving 15 teams — none of them Seattle — in a frenzied 48 hours leading up to the freeze.

Learning well from George McPhee’s skillful hoodwinking and opportunistic double-dipping at the 2017 Vegas Golden Knights Expansion Draft, the NHL’s general managers have thus far favoured deals amongst themselves instead of letting Seattle GM Ron Francis play puppet master.

“Different teams have different motivations to make player transactions,” Maple Leafs assistant GM Laurence Gilman said previously.

“A lot of teams look at the expansion draft as an opportunity for them to divest themselves of some players or — if they’re sharp — acquire players in advance of the expansion draft from other teams that are vulnerable.”

That is precisely what the Maple Leafs (among other clubs) accomplished Saturday.

In McCann, the Maple Leafs have secured another Ontario-born forward and some measure of insurance against losing Kerfoot, a 26-year-old on the books through 2023 at $3.5 million.

Both players have shown versatility, playing centre and left wing. Neither is dominant at the face-off dot.

McCann, a natural pivot, moved to the left flank on the Penguins’ third line once the organization acquired centre Jeff Carter at the trade deadline.

A late first-round draft pick by the Vancouver Canucks in 2014, McCaan recorded 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) and was a career-best plus-17 rating in 43 regular-season games with the Penguins in 2021. He posted one assist in Pittsburgh’s six-game Round 1 loss to the New York Islanders.

McCann’s positive underlying numbers would’ve caught Leafs GM Kyle Dubas’s eye, and his shooting percentage (15.1 per cent) was higher than normal last season.

The Maple Leafs have yet to make McCann available to reporters, and he immediately joins Kerfoot, Travis Dermott and perhaps Justin Holl as the Leafs likely targeted by Francis.

If Seattle snatches McCann or Kerfoot, Dubas will no longer lose a versatile middle-six forward at a reasonable price point.

Simply put: McCann is Kerfoot insurance… and he’s cheaper.

Suspecting the Kraken might nab McCann, Pittsburgh was able to re-acquire Hållander, whom it drafted in 2018 and dealt to Toronto in 2020 as a key part of the Kasperi Kapanen trade.

“We are excited to add Filip back to the organization. He is a well-rounded player with good size who plays the game the right way,” Penguins GM Ron Hextall said. “We are grateful to Jared for his contributions to the team and wish him the best.”

Hållander, 21, is signed through the 2022-23 season at a $764,167 AAV. He has yet to play for a North American team.

The six-foot-one, 190-pound forward spent 2020-21 with Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League, recording 13 goals, 11 assists and 24 points in 51 games.

Protection lists for the Seattle expansion draft will be released Sunday morning.

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