Wednesday’s announcement that the Kontinental Hockey League canceled the Gagarin Cup Playoffs could increase the number of players heading to North America in the near future. The cancellation that ends the KHL season frees up those in the final year of their contracts to sign elsewhere nearly two months earlier than expected, which could be good news for cap-strapped clubs looking for inexpensive talent like the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The KHL salary cap for 2020-21 was projected in December to be a floor of $4.3 Million and a ceiling of $14.4 Million (which could change based on the league losing revenue for canceling their postseason).
According to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, players who were drafted (such as Minnesota prospect Kirill Kaprizov, Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin or Montreal draft pick Alexander Romanov) may be eligible to sign contracts with the clubs that have their NHL rights and play when the 2019-20 season resumes, but those who are unrestricted free agents would not be eligible until the start of the 2020-21 regular season.
Leafs GM Kyle Dubas made a trip to Russia last October to scout some potential KHL additions in advance of this summer, including former NHLers Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Nesterov.
Grigorenko, 25, played 217 games with Buffalo and Colorado after being drafted 12th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, was part of the package sent to Colorado to acquire Ryan O’Reilly in 2015, but left the Avs to return home in 2017. The 6’3”, 209 lb. center led CSKA Moscow with 52 points in 55 games and scored 21 points (13 goals, 8 assists) on the way to winning the Gargarin Cup in 2019 and had 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) in 47 games last season.
Nesterov, 26, was a part-time player for Tampa and Montreal on the blueline over three seasons but scored 18 points (4 goals, 14 assists) in 41 games for CSKA Moscow in 2019 and a career-high 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) this season.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman also reported earlier this season that Toronto had interest in SKA St. Petersberg’s Alexander Barabanov that the Leafs at the top of the 25-year-old winger’s list.
After hitting a homerun with winger Ilya Mikheyev last summer and based on the attentive treatment that Dubas and the Leafs organization provided after the Russian winger’s injury last December, it is quite possible that Toronto will be a destination spot for players leaving the KHL. That could be beneficial for the Leafs based on the likelihood of the NHL salary cap staying flat at $81.5 Million next season or possibly even going down if the lost revenue due to the league shutdown is catastrophic.
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