The Hakanpaa Plan B and excitement about Mark Leach taking over the Maple Leafs draft table Leaflets

They say no news is good news, but when you either looking to write about hockey or read about hockey in the summer, a little news would help. The Maple Leafs gave us a microdose of that this week with the hiring of Mark Leach, so we’ll start there in this week’s Leaflets.

Reasons to be optimistic about Mark Leach

Mark Leach being part of the Dallas Stars amateur scouting team looks like a huge plus. Recent success stories like Wyatt Johnson, Thomas Harley and Logan Stankoven are signs of strength for a team that generally has been drafting at the back of the first round. That’s not a bad way to replace Wes Clark.

During Mark Leach’s time with the Stars most of their success has been at the top of the draft. The past decade hasn’t produced any late round success stories, and you’d have to go back to finding Nick Paul in 2014, Esa Lindell in 2013, and John Klingberg in 2010 to find Stars players found deep in the draft. Leach joined the Stars in 2013-14.

Before that, Leach was part of the Red Wings staff from 1997-2013 and they did make finding late round gems a regular part of their draft track record. Interestingly, Mark Leach was one of the first people to come to Dallas when Jim Nill took over, so there is an appreciation for his work there.

While Mark Leach has been listed as an amateur scout and hasn’t held a formal leadership position with either the Stars or the Wings, most information related to Mark Leach identifies him as a key individual in the decision-making process.

With a track record that not only includes Johnson, Harley, and Stankoven but also Hintz and Robertson, there is good reason to believe Leach can help maximize the Leafs picks when they have them.

What if… Hakanpaa isn’t a Leaf

As we approach the three week mark without hearing one way or the other about whether Hakanpaa is a Leaf, it’s probably time to consider what the Leafs do without him. In fact, Puckpedia has already updated their site with Hakanpaa left off the Leafs roster and now showing $2.45M of cap space with Nick Robertson and Connor Dewar left to sign.

A pretty obvious Plan B to signing Hakanpaa is to sign Robertson and Dewar and call it a day. The dollars probably work out fine that way. And while Hakanpaa was potentially going to allow for the Leafs to get more creative with what they can do on the blueline, running back McCabe and Benoit as a unit while putting Ekman-Larsson with Liljegren still feels like an upgrade over last season.

The issue is depth and Hakanpaa was a pretty good insurance policy (if he could maintain his health). The Leafs are going to use a lot more than just their top six defencemen, and even their top seven. Conor Timmins as the 7th defenceman is already a sign that there is a need for additional depth and Toronto won’t want to jump to Dakota Mermis or Phillipe Myers too quickly, and the NHL readiness of Cade Webber and Topi Niemela will need to be established in training camp.

The Plan B might come in the form of Nick Robertson wanting out. If there is a path to trading for a Hakanpaa replacement option that might be better than relying on what is presently left in free agency, although Calen Addison and Oliver Kylington are intriguing options, and bringing back Travis Dermott specifically for using him in the depth role he’s suited could work as well. Still none of those options offer the toughness of Hakanpaa and that seems to be the priority here. I’m certainly not advocating for the Leafs flipping a young potential 20 goal scorer for a bottom pairing defenceman, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs consider it.

The other piece that is less straight forward is that without Hakanpaa, with Robertson wanting a trade, and the Leafs still in need of more help up the middle, does Toronto look for a centre option?

Morgan Frost remains an option. Free agency, not so much. It’s hard to imagine there will be an abundance of options on the trade market either but with teams presently sitting over the salary cap and plenty of others still likely scrambling like the Leafs are to see what else can be done, there’s some hope that something could come up out of nowhere.

While Hakanpaa was an interesting option for the Leafs and you can’t fault Brad Treliving for seeing if this could work. It just would be nice to know if Hakanpaa is completely off the table.

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Around the NHL Torey Krug to miss 6-8 weeks, Evgeny Kuznetsov clears waivers, and more

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Halfway through July, and we are just over 80 days away from the National Hockey League’s season opener.

Every year after the free agent frenzy, the league hits its quiet period of the year. Despite that, there’s still plenty of news around the league, as the Carolina Hurricanes made some moves recently, a former Anaheim Ducks player is heading to the Kontinental Hockey League, and a St. Louis Blues defenceman will be out for a period of time.

Let’s dig into all of that in the latest Around the NHL!

Kuznetsov mutually terminates contract

A few days ago, Russian website reported that Evgeny Kuznetsov was going to sign with Kontinental Hockey League team SKA St. Petersburg, which was promptly denied by his agent.


Two days later, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravali reported that Kuznetsov was placed on waivers and Elliotte Freidman reported that he cleared on Thursday.


Kuznetsov was selected by the Washington Capitals late in the first round of the 2010 draft, and headed to North America in 2013-14. Throughout his tenure with the team, he scored 171 goals and 568 points in 723 games over 11 seasons, and even won a cup with the team in 2018. That postseason run saw him score 12 goals and 32 points in 24 games.

This past season, he was waived by the Capitals and later traded to the Hurricanes, where he scored two goals and seven points in 20 games to end the season. Kuznetsov was better in the postseason though, as he scored four goals and six points in 10 postseason games with the Hurricanes.

Assuming he does sign a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, he’ll be 36 when that contract runs out, and the likelihood that he returns to the National Hockey League is slim.

Jack Drury re-signs with Carolina

Speaking of the Hurricanes, they made a second move on Wednesday, as they signed left-shot centre Jack Drury to a two-year-deal with a cap hit of $1.725 million.

Selected in the second-round of the 2018 draft, Drury became a regular in the National Hockey League for the first time last season, scoring eight goals and 27 points. He also played in 11 postseason games for the Hurricanes, scoring a goal and five points.

The Hurricanes still have two more restricted free agents that need to be signed, Martin Nečas and Seth Jarvis. The latter scored a career-high 33 goals and 67 points in 81 games last season, as well as five goals and nine points in 11 postseason games. 

Nečas is also a right-shot centre, who scored 24 goals and 53 points last season, down from his career-high of 28 goals and 71 points set the season prior.

It’s not impossible to believe one or both of these players received an offer sheet, as right-shot centres who can score are hard to come by.

Maxime Comtois heads to the KHL

Maxime Comtois was once a promising player, but he signed a one-year deal with Dynamo Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, Comtois made the Anaheim Ducks’ opening day roster in 2018-19 where he scored two goals and seven points in 10 games before heading back down to the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League. He played between the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League the following season, before becoming a mainstay in 2020-21.

His first full year saw him score 16 goals and 33 points in 55 games, looking like a key player for the Ducks whenever they ended their rebound. However, he scored just 15 goals and 35 points over in 116 games over his next two seasons, and was released when free agency opened on July 2023.

He had a professional tryout with the Vegas Golden Knights, before signing a deal with the Chicago Wolves, the only independent American Hockey League team at the time. Comtois eventually signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes in March 2024, playing one regular season game with an assist, as well as a postseason game.

Torey Krug diagnosed with pre-arthritic issue in left ankle

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Blues announced that their defenceman, Torey Krug, had been diagnosed with pre-arthritic issues in his left ankle. The team also noted he’ll rehab it and be re-evaluated in six to eight weeks, and if he needs surgery, Krug will miss the entirety of the 2024-25 season.


Krug spent the first portion of his season with the Boston Bruins, scoring 67 goals and 337 points in nine seasons, including a Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Blues. He joined the Missouri based team in Oct. 2020, where he has 22 goals and 146 points in 255 games played.

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Does the signing of Daniel Sprong necessitate a trade for the Vancouver Canucks

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Just when you think you’re done writing about Vancouver Canucks transactions for the summer, something goes down, and suddenly you’re sprung back into action.

Sprang? Springed? Sprungeth? What is the exact verb tensage we’re looking for here?

Maybe it’s Sprong?

GM Patrik Allvin and Co. broke up the summer silence at mid-day on Saturday as they announced the signing of 27-year-old right winger Daniel Sprong to a one-year, $975K AAV contract. And while those contract terms might make a casual observer question Sprong’s potential impact on the Canucks’ lineup, those who know his scoring history know there may be more there than meets the financial eye.

Sprong has scored as many as 21 goals and 46 points in a single season. Last year, he scored 18 and 43, respectively. Those numbers would have had him ranked in a tie with Dakota Joshua for sixth overall in goal-scoring and with the seventh-most points on the 2023/24 Canucks.

In other words, Sprong carries far more potential production value than does the average sub-$1 million signing.

But there is perhaps a good reason for that. The book on Sprong has always been a player who can put up surprisingly-good numbers in a depth role, but who severely struggles in his own end and is thus often not seen as capable of or trustworthy for a more dedicated deployment.

All of which raises some very natural questions about where Sprong is going to fit into the Canucks lineup, and whether there may now need to be some further trades made to accommodate a forward corps that is getting a little full.

With Sprong in the fold, Vancouver now has 15 forwards under contract who, by their contract status and playing history, are more-or-less expected to be full-time NHL forwards this year.

That includes core pieces like Elias Pettersson, JT Miller, and Brock Boeser. It includes the newly-signed Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, and Kiefer Sherwood. It also includes several established veterans in the forms of Conor Garland, Dakota Joshua, Teddy Blueger, and Pius Suter.

It includes Nils Höglander, who still hasn’t found a permanent fit for himself in the lineup despite scoring 24 goals.

The forward corps also include Phil di Giuseppe, who has made the team out of training camp for several years running and has earned coach Rick Tocchet’s trust in some key roles. And then joining him on the fringe are Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Åman, each no longer exempt from waivers and penciled in for full-time employment. If one wanted, Linus Karlsson could also be lumped into this group.

And now the Canucks have added Sprong on top of all that.

It’s probably helpful at this point to split this forward corps into a more traditional hockey depth breakdown. Top-sixes and bottom-sixes aren’t nearly as stringent or static as they once were, but they still exist in at least overarching fashion, and it’s a framework that can help us sort out the abundance of Canucks forwards.

Pettersson, Miller, Boeser, and DeBrusk, for example, are all pretty certain to be skating on one of the top two lines. There’s four of six ‘top-six’ jobs accounted for right there, ostensibly leaving two more on the table.

Candidates to fill those roles include Suter and Höglander, who each had varying degrees of success on those lines last season. There’s also always the possibility that one or both of the Garland/Joshua duo are moved up into a more dedicated top-six role. Or that Podkolzin finally starts delivering on his offensive potential by working his way into that spot.

The newly-acquired Heinen is considered one of the strongest contenders to join one of either Pettersson or Miller’s wings.

So where does that leave Sprong?

One might look at that player profile and deem Sprong one of those classic ‘top-six or bust’ forwards. It’s a common trope applied to players that fans and media deem as either ‘scoring or useless.’

And, sure, Sprong does appear to primarily deliver value via scoring, and through not much else. But that doesn’t necessarily equate with him being a ‘top-six or bust’ sort of player. He’s averaged fewer than 12 minutes of ice-time throughout his entire career. Sprong is the true definition of a ‘depth scorer,’ a rare commodity who is able to put up quasi-top-six numbers without needed to be handed a real top-six deployment. It’s a phenomenon we noticed out of Höglander last year, as he seemed at times to score more when skating in the bottom-six than when he was pasted on to Pettersson’s flank.

Sprong will get a shot at some top-six minutes in camp, no doubt. But what his general history indicates is that, even if he doesn’t land one of those jobs, he can still fit into a scoring role on a lower, ostensibly ‘bottom-six’ unit.

Of course, at that point, it’s a counting game. For the purposes of figuring out the roster size, let’s imagine that Sprong did not land a coveted top-six spot in training camp. Let’s say those jobs went to vets Heinen and Suter.

Sprong would no doubt find it difficult to displace any of Joshua, Garland, or Blueger off of what becomes the presumed third line.

Which leaves Sprong competing with a real array of some very diverse skills down at the bottom-end of the Canucks lineup.

We’ve got some classic fourth line presences in Sherwood, Di Giuseppe, and Åman (the only dedicated centre of the bunch, unless Suter or Blueger end up down here.) Some still-burgeoning talents like Podkolzin and Karlsson.

And then there is Höglander who, again, profiles very similarly to Sprong as a depth-based scorer. (And if it’s Höglander in the top-six, we could then say the same things about Heinen or Suter vis-à-vis Sprong.)

It’s all starting to look pretty tight, no? That’s 15 or 16 forwards competing for what will be 13 spots (four forward lines and an extra). And that’s not even taking into consideration the possibility of Jonathan Lekkerimäki bursting onto the scene and stealing a top-six role as a rookie, or another prospect like Aatu Raty or Arshdeep Bains or Max Sasson winning a depth job with a strong training camp performance.

All of which can draw us to two possible conclusions.

The first is that the Canucks are intentionally loading up for a competitive camp, in which no one’s spot is particularly safe, and everything is up for grabs. Under this scenario, we can expect some controversial and perhaps painful cuts.

To some extent, this seems inevitable, even with further trading. That list of 16-and-change is going to have to get whittled down somehow.

Does Di Giuseppe’s run of success meet its end? Does Podkolzin fail to make the team yet again? Does Sprong himself flame out on attempts to impress the coaching staff, and wind up on another team via waivers or starting down in Abbotsford?

All seem possible. And, to an extent, all seem perfectly acceptable. The Canucks aim to contend in 2024/25. That should start with a contentious training camp, and there’s nothing wrong with setting a high bar for inclusion on the club roster – and in cutting those players who fall short. Having too many NHL-capable players is, in general, a good problem to have, so long as a team doesn’t lose too much of its depth through the waiver process.

But a further trade is still very much a possibility. With the forwards stocked up so thoroughly, we’d expect any subsequent transaction to either involve the flipping of a forward for future assets – think picks and prospects – or in exchange for a defender, preferably of the puck-moving variety.

Certain depth pieces we’ve already mentioned would undoubtedly hold some trade value. Podkolzin, for example, was once a 10th overall selection in the draft. His development has waxed and waned since then, but there’s still got to be some untapped potential hidden within, or at least what an NHL GM could convince themselves was untapped potential hidden within. Maybe the Canucks look to sell off Podkolzin now and recoup a pick rather than risk someone snagging him on waivers.

But the name we should really be thinking most about in conjunction with the Sprong signing is Höglander. As we said, the two profile very similarly as players who can score in a depth role, but who have perhaps not developed the full array of two-way capabilities that would allow their coaches to trust them with more minutes.

We imagine both players will get a shot at top-six jobs in training camp. Either could win one, with Höglander probably having the edge on youth and established chemistry. But if neither lands one, are we really able to conceive of a Tocchet bottom-six that contains both Höglander and Sprong? It seems both a tad redundant and a recipe to make Tocchet’s head explode.

There’s probably room for one mercurial scorer who needs to be supported by more defensively-apt players on a Rick Tocchet energy line. There’s probably not room for two.

All of which leads to some very direct and genuine wondering. The Canucks have, perhaps, an opportunity to sell high on Höglander after that 24-goal campaign. They’ve got a clear-cut need for another puck-moving defender in their lineup. And they’ve just signed what looks like a fine Höglander replacement for the forward corps in the form of Daniel Sprong.

Is this all setup for a Höglander-for-PMD trade?

Or is it just the preamble for an ultra-competitive training camp that culminates in some difficult cuts?

The answers, of course, lie hidden in Chef Allvin’s private kitchen, and will only be unveiled as the multi-course meal that is the 2024 offseason continues.

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