The Maple Leafs came to terms Friday with wingers Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen on multi-year contracts, firming up a significant part of the team's future.
Kapanen agreed to a three-year deal that carries an annual salary cap hit of $3.2 million, while Johnsson signed to remain with the organization for four years and a cap hit of $3.4 million. It was a key pair of signings prior to the unrestricted free agency period that begins July 1, and Leafs GM Kyle Dubas was pleased to clear up business with two young wingers who blossomed at the NHL level last year.
"We're obviously thrilled to be keeping both, and excited for the potential that lies ahead," Dubas told media Friday. "Andreas, as he said, bet on himself last season and took his qualifying offer - and despite a slow start, had a great season. And we love the competitiveness and the joy he brings to the rink every day and the way that he plays. He's been a big part of things in the organization for a number of years, and it was great to see him establish himself as an NHLer last year full-time, and produce at a high level as he went up the lineup."
Indeed, Johnsson's game flourished as the season went on, and he finished the year with 23 goals and 43 points in 73 games. Prior to sticking with the NHL team, Johnsson was named to the American League's Second All-Star Team and captured the Calder Cup with the Marlies in 2018, earning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the 2018 Calder Cup playoffs MVP along the way.
Video: PHI@TOR: Johnsson completes first-period hatty
And for Kapanen, it's been a process of development since he was dealt from the Pittsburgh Penguins to Toronto in 2014. He spent much of the time since then honing his craft with the Marlies, with last season as his first full-time NHL campaign.Tthe now-22-year-old skated in 78 games and generated a career-best 20 goals and 44 points.
"Kasperi, he's been with us now almost exactly four years ago today," Dubas said. "To watch him grow as a person and a player in his time here, to where last year he finally cracked the team out of training camp and played full-time for us and continued to be outstanding on the penalty kill, use his speed, move up and down the lineup - really, whatever we asked of him - was great."
In 133 career NHL regular season games, Kapanen has amassed 28 goals and 54 points. In 82 career NHL regular season games, Johnsson has scored 22 goals and 46 points. But both the players and Leafs management believe those numbers are mere starting points in terms of how much each player can contribute. And, when asked Friday about his new deal, Kapanen was grateful to be returning to a team he believes can do great things, including bringing the Stanley Cup back to Toronto.
Video: BUF@TOR: Kapanen pads lead with shorthanded goal
"It feels amazing," Kapanen said. "Now I can just kind of relax and focus on the upcoming season…it's a weight lifted off my shoulders."
For Kapanen, moving back and forth from the Marlies to the Leafs wasn't ideal. But he understands now what the Leafs' drafting and development team wanted him to do to improve his impact on the ice, and he's thankful he followed their direction, as he now has the opportunity to be a key forward and penalty-killer on a still-young Buds squad.
"It wasn't the easiest road, but it was the right one for me," Kapanen said of his journey to full-time NHLer status. "As a person, I felt like I grew, and as a player especially. It (was) frustrating at times, but it means everything to me to play for the Leafs and be here for another three years."
Dubas still has other salary-cap-related work to do this summer, but on this day, knowing he'd secured the services of a pair of dynamic wingers with time on their side was an accomplishment worth celebrating - for the Leafs and their players.
"To know that we have both those guys locked in for even more than just the one or two years, it's a nice relief for us, and we hope, for them," Dubas said. "This gives them the ability to relax and just continue to develop and reach their potential, which we don't think either one is close to yet."