Is four games into the season too early to have an opinion on the performance of a player? Most definitely.
Am I going to complain about Kapanen anyway? You betcha.
So first let’s take a look at what Kapanen’s first four games have looked like…
|Game #||GF||GA||GF%||CF||CA||CF%||CF Rel||xGF||xGA||xGF%||xGF Rel||TOI|
I think it’s worth noting that Kapanen is also on the ice with Tavares and Marner and these numbers are as much theirs as they are his, with the exception of the fact that both Marner and Tavares have seen substantial improvement in special teams situations and Kapanen has not.
So far this year, only 11 of those Corsi For events belong to Kasperi Kapanen, so he’s not even individually responsible for 20% of the shots directed at the net when he’s on the ice. Again those numbers may be skewed by the fact that Tavares and Marner are going to rule the roost, and be responsible for the majority of the opportunities, but given Kapanen’s past output, he’s slid into oblivion on this.
Add in the broken stick incident which largely contributed to the Leafs lose against the Habs, and it’s easy to throw Kapanen under the bus to start the year. To his credit, he seems to know he’s been bad.
I’m not big on offering criticism without offering solutions, so let’s look at what might make sense for the Leafs at this point…
Is it time to trade Kapanen?
LOL. No. That time was in June. Trading a highly regarded young winger would have made a ton of sense, and the Leafs still have enough depth to make it something worth considering, but at this point when he’s having a rough start it’s not ideal.
Kapanen is a piece that might be worth moving at the trade deadline or next summer, because whatever the Leafs bring in for salary, they’ll have to send some out, and Kapanen is coincidentally around the same price as a solid middle pairing defender. And he’s not a bad option over the summer for attempting to re-coup late 1st or 2nd round draft pick depending on how the rest of the season plays out for him. Right now, he’s on the fast track to being the next Matthew Lombardi. Great set of wheels, but not sure what to do with him, but he will extend his NHL stay by being a good penalty kill option.
More reasonably, maybe change the lines that aren’t working
The problem with suggesting changing up the lines is that it means breaking up the third line that does seem to be working. Of course, you absolutely should be sacrificing the third line to improve the top to lines, and right now it looks rebooting the left side on both the Matthews and Tavares lines wouldn’t be a bad thing. Johnsson hasn’t struggled on the same level as Kapanen, but you could argue that Mikheyev has played his way past him for now, and I’d suggest that Trevor Moore is much more capable of replacing Zach Hyman than Kapanen was, even if Kapanen may be the more skilled player. Swapping Moore for Kapanen also gets Kapanen back to playing on the right side, where he’s been more comfortable. And would likely turn the third line into more of a threat than it has been. Basically I want this…
We’ll leave the 4th line out of it, and that will really only become a point of discussion one we get closer to Zach Hyman’s return, which may spark some incentive to revisit the trade option if everything else is going well and Kapanen hasn’t fully point his game together by the end of the month.
For now, patience makes sense, but also some line adjustment. Kapanen is going to get bumped for Hyman soon enough, why not make the change now to get him with Kerfoot early and let Moore, who was likely going to be bumped from the Kerfoot line soon, take on the role of Hyman’s understudy. There really isn’t any incentive to wait and see if things get better when there’s an expiration date on this plan anyway.
Kapanen will get better, even if he’s not taking a step forward from where he was last season, he’s not suddenly a bad hockey player, and getting him away from top pairing matchups might allow him to exploit bottom pairing defense more frequently. That seems plausible, right?