VANCOUVER – Alexander Kerfoot will never allow himself to feel entirely comfortable with his spot in the show.
But once the trade deadline o’clock ticked by without his name being mentioned in a press release, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ middle-class forward did concede a small measure of relief.
“Just because there’s maybe no pressure of being traded (now) doesn’t mean there’s no pressure,” Kerfoot said Friday afternoon. “The pressure ramps up at this time. The whole goal is going out there and performing. Right now, you need to perform more than at any point in the season.
“For me personally, I’ve been traded once in my career — and you’re never fully comfortable. You know that it’s a business, and you know that at any time you can get traded. You just have to tune that out as much as possible. If you were listening to every rumour that was floating around, then it would be a stressful life.”
Beloved by his teammates and trusted by his head coach, Toronto’s ultimate utility forward has jumped from lines one through four and skated in all three positions up front throughout his four-year run since 2019’s infamous Nazem Kadri blockbuster.
At various points in his Leafs tenure, Kerfoot has been at risk of being moved, largely because his $3.5-million cap hit has complicated matters for a contender so intent on maximizing every penny on the budget.
Many stories get written about what it’s like to get traded. Kerfoot’s story is about what it feels like to avoid a trade.
The 28-year-old is in the final months of an expiring contract, and unless he’s willing to re-sign for a significant discount, his Leafs days are likely numbered.
Faced with a decision to ship out Kerfoot or keep him as an “own rental,” GM Kyle Dubas spent draft capital to do the latter.
When acquiring Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues, Dubas could have balanced Toronto’s books by moving Kerfoot to Missouri, according to Elliotte Friedman’s reporting.
Instead, Dubas paid the Minnesota Wild a 2025 fourth-round pick to retain 50 per cent of O’Reilly’s salary and keep Kerfoot safe from six weeks of meaningless hockey.
When it did come time to move salaried bodies and further tweak his roster this week, Dubas chose Rasmus Sandin and Pierre Engvall (another pending UFA) instead.
“You never want to see guys you’ve been friends with and teammates with for a long time leave. I think it’s the same as when you work with someone for a long time and they move on. But it’s exciting in the sense that management is doing things to make our team better. That’s what the whole goal is here—to win the Stanley Cup,” Kerfoot said.
Armed with the Boston Bruins’ first-round pick, Dubas did keep his eye on the market for further improvements Friday. Were he to shed more salary, the contracts of Kerfoot and UFA defencemen Justin Holl and Erik Gustafsson could have come into play.
Once Tyler Bertuzzi got scooped by Boston, the GM looked around the remaining field and stood pat.
“It’s good to have things solidified for the most part,” Kerfoot said. “There’s obviously guys with the Marlies who will be up at some point, but we know who our group is now. It’s just about going out there and getting it done.”
Kerfoot has been candid about his disappointment with his role in the Maple Leafs’ seven-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last spring. And while his production (26 points through 62 games) has dipped from 2021-22’s career-best 51-point showing, the player now has a chance to end his Toronto days on a high note.
“This is what you dream about. You dream about playing for a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs and be in a position where expectations are high and you have the opportunity to go make a run. We know that the playoffs in Toronto are a special thing, and we want to extend that for as long as we can. And make it fun,” Kerfoot said.
And yet? Even though his roster spot is secure for the stretch run, Kerfoot knows he can’t assume the same applies to his lineup spot.
“If you have a bad game, does it mean you might not play? Or does it mean you might not play as much? Or does it mean you’re not helping the team?” he wonders.
“So, there’s always pressure in this business, regardless if it’s before the trade deadline, after the trade deadline, in the off-season, in the playoffs. It’s about coming in and doing your job every day and continuing to get better.”
To that end, when he looks at the Maple Leafs’ playoff-bound roster, does Kerfoot see a better group on paper? Is this the best version of the four Toronto teams he’s skated for?
That’s a tricky question.
“For us, the last few years we’ve felt like we’ve got a really good team. I think right now it feels like we’ve got a really good group,” Kerfoot replies.
“But if you asked me that last year, I probably would’ve said the same thing. The year before that, I might’ve said the same thing too.
“We’re really confident in our group. Management’s done a great job loading up. Our coaching staff has done a great job preparing us. Now it’s just about going out there and proving it. Because at the end of the day, if we don’t get results, it doesn’t really matter.”