The Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in an unfamiliar position at the moment, and that would be in the thick of the playoff race. The Leafs will have some interesting decisions to make as we approach the deadline. Do they buy heavily and make a push for the Cup? Or do they stand pat?
One third option they need to strongly consider is shedding some salary as they look towards next year. I know the Leafs are usually against anything that involves forward-thinking, but stay with me on this. Next season the cap is going down to $64M and Toronto will be paying almost $31M when you add up just the salaries of Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk, Dion Phaneuf, and John-Michael Liles. Not to mention they have to do something about Nazem Kadri’s restricted free agent status as well.
With that being said, the Leafs are going to need to free up some cap space and it wouldn’t make sense to re-sign someone like Clarke MacArthur in the off-season. MacArthur has just been average since the 2010-11 season and although he wouldn’t really be in line for a raise on his $3.25M salary, at 28-years-old he isn’t going to want to take a pay cut either. He’s one forward that doesn’t necessarily fit into the team’s young core and long-term plans, so therefore it’s an easy decision to part with him now. By dangling him in front of a contender, Toronto may be able to get a draft pick for him instead of just letting him walk in the summer.
MacArthur isn’t the only one that the Leafs really need to think about over the next few days. How important is Liles and his $3.8M salary to Toronto’s blueline? His contract lasts for another three seasons after this one and he has already been scratched several times in 2013. So if the Leafs have confidence that Jake Gardiner, Mike Kostka, and Korbinian Holzer can get the job done, then moving Liles is something they have to consider.
Tyler Bozak is a little trickier. He will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer and will want a substantial raise from his $1.5M salary. The problem with Bozak is he has slowly developed into an important player on this team. He provides offense, does a good job in the face-off circle, and is the only player on the squad that can seem to do anything in the shootout. Again, you don’t want to lose him for nothing, but he will be valuable for the playoff push and beyond.
Even though the excitement for Toronto about the prospect of finally returning to the playoffs is at an all-time high, they still need to leave themselves flexible for next year when it comes to the salary cap. And the next few days may just be the time to do it.