Devils exploit Maple Leafs’ cap woes in Andreas Johnsson trade

In a Saturday trade featuring Andreas Johnsson, the Devils took advantage of a Maple Leafs team in desperate need of cap space.

Devils trade for: Andreas Johnsson ($3.4 million cap hit through 2022-23).

Maple Leafs receive: That corresponding salary cap room, plus prospect Joey Anderson. But mainly the cap space.

Maple Leafs trade Andreas Johnsson to Devils for cap space, prospect

Maybe you can ding Andreas Johnsson for setting expectations too high for himself early in his still-young career.

But, even so, Johnsson is useful, affordable, and only 25. He generated eight goals and 21 points in 43 games last season after 2018-19’s breakout (20 goals, 43 points in 73 games).

Remarkably, when people started squirming about the Maple Leafs’ salary cap future, they thought such squeezes would eventually cost them Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen. Such challenges ended up costing the Maple Leafs both, as Toronto traded Kapanen to the Penguins back in late August.

The Maple Leafs made a clever move in adding T.J. Brodie, and attempted to address toughness questions by signing Wayne Simmonds. But selling low on Kapanen and Johnsson has to sting a bit for GM Kyle Dubas.

While the Devils are a long way from the hype they generated entering 2019-20, this is another solid addition by GM Tom Fitzgerald. They already reaped the benefits of cap struggles by signing Corey Crawford to a pretty team-friendly deal on Friday. If Jack Hughes can look more like a No. 1 overall pick next season, this team could be at least feisty.

Quick look at Joey Anderson, Leafs’ situation

Back in February, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked Anderson as the third-best prospect in the Devils’ then-17th ranked prospect pool (sub required).

Wheeler wrote:

” … Do I think Anderson’s going to be an impact guy offensively at the NHL level, the kind of player who can drive a second line or complement a first line? No, I don’t. But does he have the tools needed to project safely as a decent third-line winger? Yes, he does.”

So, faint praise, but maybe he can be a tweener for the Maple Leafs? Anderson, 22, was selected in the third round (73rd overall) back in 2016.

Naturally, the Maple Leafs’ overriding focus was on saving money.

With Ilya Mikheyev and Travis Dermott joining Anderson as RFAs, the Maple Leafs aren’t out of the woods yet. Even so, they’re making their way through all of this, it’s just not always pretty.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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