We have already discussed Jack Campbell’s situation with the Toronto Maple Leafs. We now turn our attention to another high-profile UFA the Maple Leafs have to make a decision on.
Ilya Mikheyev is coming off his most productive season to date in the NHL. His 21 goals and 32 points were career highs for the winger in just 53 games played. He was a force on both special team’s units by scoring four goals each on the man advantage and while shorthanded. Beyond the scoresheet, his impact was felt even more.
On a team loaded with top-end talent, Mikheyev filled the depth role to perfection. He played the shutdown role on the Maple Leafs’ third line and was counted on in most every defensive situation. Besides scoring four shorthanded goals, he was a disruptive force killing penalties especially because of the speed he possesses.
In all, Mikheyev did the two things you want any player in the NHL to do. He scored goals at a good rate. He also prevented goals at a good rate. These are the kind of players teams would like to keep in a perfect world. Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, Mikheyev will be due a hefty raise thanks to his good play. The raise appears too costly for GM Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs to afford.
Unless something drastically changes between now and the start of free agency, Mikheyev appears to be heading to the market. There will be plenty of interest in the talented winger. Teams who want to sign him will have to consider both the cost to sign him and the role he would play with his new team.
Cost, Future Role & Caution
Mikheyev is coming off of his second contract that carried a cap hit of $1.645 million. His salary in 2021-22 was $2.19 million. That’s as team friendly as it gets for someone who was on a 32-goal pace over 82 games. Then factor in his defensive impacts and you had perhaps one of the best contracts on the Maple Leafs.
Because of his performance, Mikheyev will see a big raise in his salary. It’s not out of the question to think he will get double or more of his $2.19 million salary from last season. The range seems to be $3.5-$4.5 million over 3-4 years. While he deserves this, teams have to decide if they should make the investment. While he’s done a lot of good as outlined above, there is some caution that needs to be considered.
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Mikheyev’s shooting percentage last season was over 14%. That was by far a career high for him. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where this keeps up over the long run. Let’s say that dips to 10%. Over 150 shots, that’s 15 goals. Would a team sign a player like this to a longer-term contract if they weren’t guaranteed 20 goals in a season?
Ultimately, that will come down to the role Mikheyev plays on his new team. He played third-line minutes on the Maple Leafs. Depending on the team, he could be in the top-six should the opportunity present itself. But with only three partial seasons of data to base this on, there’s no way of knowing how he’d handle a full-time top-six role. The question teams will have to answer is can Mikheyev live up to the term and money he’s likely to get in the market?
Given his last two seasons of play on the Maple Leafs, someone is going to meet the asking price Mikheyev is looking for. The question now is who? In looking at various situations around the league, three teams stand out as being the most logical destination for him in our sight. But he alone will determine who his next team is. Which teams do we think make the most sense for him?
As we mentioned above, one of Mikheyev’s biggest strengths is his skating, something the Canucks would love to add. There’s no question he would add an important element to the team. Plus having Bruce Boudreau utilize him would be very interesting.
With that said, the question here will be the term and dollars. Mikheyev will get top-six dollars but there’s no guarantee he’d get a top-six role. That could change depending on what happens with the Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller situations. Would the Canucks be willing to shell out in the range of $4.5 million for this kind of player over multiple years?
Still from Mikheyev’s perspective, the Canucks have good, young talent and he would add elements the team is currently lacking overall. The Canucks are one of his most logical destinations, that is if he’s willing to accept a middle-six role.
Now we’re starting to see where the money, term and role could match up. The Ottawa Senators are trending upwards given their young talent. In addition, Mikheyev could slot into a potential top-six role on this team, something that would be desirable for him.
The Senators have the cap space to make this signing. If they believe he’s a consistent 20-goal scorer over 82 games, then they’d consider the term as well. Plus who wouldn’t love the revenge element of this every time the Senators and Maple Leafs play?
Mikheyev would add speed, defense and a goal scoring touch to a Senators’ team who believes they’re close to competing for the playoffs. He could also help create their own version of a shutdown line. Imagine him and Alex Formenton together creating chaos. There’s a lot to like about this situation which makes the Senators one of the most logical destinations.
And then we come to the team that has openings everywhere. They have the cap space. They have openings in key roles. The question for the Coyotes is do they believe Mikheyev would be part of their long-term solution?
From Mikheyev’s standpoint, a top-six role would be waiting for him. If the Coyotes believe in his upside, they can easily meet the market price for him. He would get a chance to prove what all he is capable of. While there would be a clearly defined role for him on most other teams, he would get his chance to show off his true potential here.
But as with anyone considering the Coyotes, they are rebuilding. Does Mikheyev want to join a contender or someone who is close to contending? Would he be scared off by where the Coyotes are at overall? On the good side, they have young talent and will be adding a significant piece at the draft. Plus they will eventually be in Tucson in a much better setup. This one comes down to what Mikheyev considers most important in his desires.
Mikheyev will have no shortage of suitors. He comes with tantalizing upside. But there are questions to him and his game. He knows he’s getting a raise. He wants a chance higher in the lineup. But who will step up to meet his asking price?
The Canucks have the need for him and a coach that could bring more out of him. The Senators are close and could add a significant piece to their team. The Coyotes would give him a chance to play a huge role on their team. It’s for these reasons that these three teams are the most logical destinations for Mikheyev come free agency.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.