And there’s the salary dump.
The Toronto Maple Leafs announced Saturday that they have traded forward Andreas Johnsson and his $3.4 million in annual income to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forward prospect Joey Anderson.
Johnsson struggled through an injury-plagued 2019-20 season, scoring eight goals and chipping in with 13 assists in 43 games. It marked a considerable step back from his 20-goal, 43-point season, which he used as a springboard to negotiate his current four-year deal worth almost $14 million.
The fourth-year forward appeared in one playoff game, replacing Nick Robertson in Toronto’s Game 5 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
This is really nothing more than an effort to shed salary for the Leafs, who were pushed over the limits of the cap after committing $6.5 million in total salary on acquisitions T.J. Brodie and Wayne Simmonds on the first day of free agency.
However, the Leafs are taking back a reasonably decent prospect in Anderson. It’s likely that Anderson will spend most of this upcoming season with the Toronto Marlies, but the 22-year-old has split time between the Devils and their farm system in Binghamton in each of his two professional seasons, and could compete for a spot in the Leafs’ bottom six.
Between Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins shortly after the Leafs were eliminated from the postseason, the Leafs opened up almost $7 million in cap space this offseason. While Ilya Mikheyev and Travis Dermott still need to negotiate new contracts, the decision to cut ties with two prominent members of the middle six should open up enough space (albeit barely) to ensure the Leafs are cap compliant for the upcoming season, though it’s certainly possible that there’s another deal in the works.
On the surface, this is obviously not a trade that makes them better in the immediate term. And it’s difficult to say that the Leafs are unequivocally better now than they were last season after losing two key members of their forward group, or that they achieved their goal of becoming a harder team to play against.
What they are doing is leaving their core in tact, and taking another run at it with the best supporting cast they can assemble under the weight of the salary cap.
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