2023 NHL Free Agency, Alex Kerfoot, Brad Treliving, Connor Brown, Free Agents, Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs Should Consider Connor Brown to Replace Kerfoot

It feels like a massive understatement to say that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ new general manager (GM) Brad Treliving has a lot of work ahead of him. There is almost nothing set in stone with this team, and it feels like we could see a revolving door of players coming and going in the offseason. Between unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and restricted free agents (RFAs), the team has a total of 21 unsigned free agents in their system.

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Some players who have played substantial roles with the team over the past few seasons are on their way out. Reports abound that Michael Bunting, Alex Kerfoot, and Justin Holl haven’t even had serious contract talks with the Maple Leafs. It will be Treliving’s job to not only replace these players but try to find better ones to fill their roles if this team wants to improve.

The Maple Leafs Do Have Internal Options

The Maple Leafs have some internal options to do that. In the games played in both the regular season and playoffs, rookie Matthew Knies showed he could fill Bunting’s role. Calle Janrkrok, who was signed to a four-year deal this past season by departed GM Kyle Dubas not only showed he was capable of filling Kerfoot’s skates, he might have been a step up from him. Last, Dubas also signed righthanded defenseman Conor Timmins to a two-year deal for half the money Holl made. All three of those players could step in for the ones leaving.

2023 NHL Entry Draft Guide Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli Banner

The big word there is “could.” There are no guarantees. Janrkrok had a career year last season. Can he repeat that? Knies looked great, but he only played 10 games before he was lost to a concussion. That is the smallest of sample sizes. In a position that supposedly takes 200-plus games to become proficient at, Timmins has but 78 games played. 

Conor Timmins Toronto Maple Leafs
Conor Timmins, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

All three players come with a ton of question marks. Depending solely on these players being able to fill those roles is a huge gamble that could go either way. Ideally, you would like to have options.  

Replacing Kerfoot With Ex-Maple Leaf Connor Brown

When it comes to Kerfoot, one such option might be to bring a hometown boy, and former Maple Leafs’ draft pick, back into the fold. It just so happens that Connor Brown is a UFA this summer. He could be a perfect replacement for Kerfoot.

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs’ Connor Brown: Former Gamble, Now Top-Six

Looking over their career stats, it’s amazing how close together the two players are. 

Statistic Kerfoot Brown

Age 28 years, 310 days 29 years, 154 days

Size 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds 6-foot-0 and 181 pounds

Drafted 2012, 150th 2012, 156th 

Games Played 448 442

Goals 74 90

Assists 145 126

Points 219 216

It doesn’t get much closer than that.

Both Kerfoot and Brown Are Defensively Sound

Both players are regarded as being defensively sound, and both kill penalties. In their last full three seasons, Brown had actually played 150 more minutes on the penalty kill than Kerfoot (Brown 513 minutes, Kerfoot 357 minutes). The reason we wrote “the last three seasons” is because Brown missed all but four games of the 2022-23 season following surgery to repair a torn ACL. 

Connor Brown Maple Leafs
Connor Brown, when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dec. 12, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

By the eye test, both players play a similar style of game. Brown is a little more tenacious on the forecheck than Kerfoot despite the fact that Kerfoot has more hits in his career (282 hits Kerfoot, 190 hits Brown). 

Related: Was Lou Lamoriello as Good as Maple Leafs Fans Remember?

Brown was a fan favourite in his first go-round with the Maple Leafs. As a rookie, he scored 20 goals in Toronto and had another 20-goal season in 2020-21 for the Ottawa Senators when he tallied 21. Kerfoot’s best goal-scoring season was his rookie year with the Colorado Avalanche when he netted 19 goals. With the Maple Leafs, Kerfoot has never scored more than 13 goals. 

The Biggest Hurdle Is the Size of Brown’s Contract

The biggest hurdle to the Maple Leafs being able to sign Brown is his cap hit. His last contract saw him earn $100,000 more a season than Kerfoot’s $3.5 million. He could potentially see a similar deal to whatever Kerfoot signs. The only thing that might adversely affect his next contract is that he missed all of last season.

Alex Kerfoot Matthew Knies Toronto Maple Leafs
Alexander Kerfoot of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates the game-winning goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during overtime in Game 4 of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Mike Carlson/NHLI via Getty Images)

The deciding factor in whether or not Brown signs with the Maple Leafs might be Brown himself. If he would like to return to his hometown, he might be able to work out a deal with them. He might also relish a chance to play alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. However, at the same time, after experiencing what it’s like to play in Toronto, and the pressure cooker that it is, Brown could decide he would rather play elsewhere.

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We are sure that there are a lot of fans that would love to see Brown back in a Maple Leafs’ uniform.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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