The 24-year-old Dermott received a well-earned pay bump and dodged restricted free agency Thursday, when he inked a two-year, $3-million extension with the club that drafted him in the second round of 2015.
What Dermott won’t be able to dodge is the uncertainty that comes with a contract that should make him more enticing to the Seattle Kraken in July 21’s expansion draft or as a movable trade piece should GM Kyle Dubas rearrange the personnel on a blue line that make great improvements in 2021.
Teams must submit their protection lists by July 17. Alexander Kerfoot and Justin Holl join Dermott as potential targets for the talent harvest.
Dermott’s strengths and weaknesses are well known by Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol, who served the past three seasons as the Leafs’ defence coach.
An upbeat Dermott sounded encouraged, however, by the Maple Leafs’ commitment. He’ll let the chips fall where they may.
“[The expansion draft] is always in the back of your mind, but it's something that I have zero control over, so it's kind of if it happens, it happens,” Dermott said, following a morning training session with his Toronto-based teammates.
“Happy to be here. Happy to be back for another couple of years. It’s where I want to be, where my family is, and where the best fans in hockey are. So, it's exactly where I want to be and just honoured to be back for another couple of years.
“The Seattle thing, it's there in the back of your mind, but all guns a-ho on going forward in the Blue and White next year.”
Dermott says seeing the Montreal Canadiens come within three wins of hoisting the Stanley Cup this week has only fueled the fire of the Maple Leafs, several of whom were out for a run in the rain Thursday morning.
“A couple of opportunities that we capitalize on, and that could’ve been us right there,” Dermott said, reflecting on Toronto's seven-game collapse in Round 1.
“Everything just adds to the motivation. Year by year, if you lose and you lose, it just adds to that fire. Like, God, I don't want to do that again. I don't want that to happen again. It sucked last year [and] the year before. I don't want it to happen.”
Dermott says conversations with veteran Leafs still chasing a championship has helped him understand that careers speed by faster than you think: “It just makes you want to make the most of your opportunities and just don't let anything slide.”
Once the organization’s prized defence prospect, Dermott was humbled by the one-year, prove-it deal ($874,125) he settled for in the 2020 off-season, and saw his ice time threatened by Mikko Lehtonen and Rasmus Sandin during the season.
Still, the smooth skater dressed in 51 games, pitching in two goals and six points in a sheltered third-pairing role while being asked to focus on his puck retrievals and defensive prowess.
“I felt like I kinda found my game a little bit more. Wasn't too pretty at any time on the point sheet by any means, but I felt more confident in my game throughout the season,” Dermott said.
“It's fun having the confidence to be a part of the play instead of just making my play that I have to make.”
Dermott described negotiations as “smooth sailing” this time around. He left Dubas to work out details with agent Jeff Jackson, and the player’s involvement was mostly “thumbs up, thumbs down.”
The Newmarket, Ont., native gives a thumbs up to the term of the deal.
The second year of his backloaded contract pays Dermott $1.75 million, which sets him up for a better qualifying offer and arbitration rights in 2023, according to PuckPedia.com.
“A shorter deal is better for me now. Personally, I feel like I still have a lot to prove to myself, to everyone,” Dermott said.
“It's nice to get two years where I can kind of bear down for two years and see what I can see what I can do with myself and the team.”
Which team that’ll be remains open. For hockey players on the edges of the roster, security is an illusion anyway.
“You never know what's going to happen, right? During the hockey game, in the numbers of the hockey game, in the trades after — you never know what's going to happen,” said Dermott, taking the Kraken speculation in stride.
“It's a possibility. Nothing was assured that I wasn't going anywhere, that's for sure.”