Toronto Maple Leafs Salary Cap Situation Mystifies Media – It Shouldn’t

TORONTO, ON- Kyle Dubas file photos from the Nylander signing press meeting.(Rene Johnston/Toronto Star) (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON- Kyle Dubas file photos from the Nylander signing press meeting.(Rene Johnston/Toronto Star) (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are capped out.

The Toronto Maple Leafs spent half their cap on four players.

Whatever shall we do?

What were they thinking?

Can we get another couple guys on the radio complaining about what they don’t understand?

The Toronto Maple Leafs locked up four superstar players to long term contracts that will keep the team in contention for (minimum) the next six years.

It’s a good thing, so stop complaining about it.

The Marner contract is unique – he’s a homegrown, fan favorite, there were rumours of ownership interference, and the Leafs probably have a pretty good idea of where the cap is going – and maybe they overpaid him a bit, but so what? They have the prime years of one of the best players in the NHL.  Live a little.

Since being hired, Kyle Dubas locked in his core, signed the best UFA of all-time, and acquired two legitimate #1 defenseman, and one of the league’s best defensive forwards.

I’ve never seen a person accomplish so much and get so little credit. I mean, I get that results matter, but the Toronto market should be sophisticated enough to understand that even if you put the best team possible on the ice, winning is never guaranteed.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have more elite players than any team in hockey.  They’ve got the NHL’s best roster, and if Tampa wasn’t coming off the luckiest season of all-time, the Leafs would be the Stanley Cup favorites.

Toronto Maple Leafs Cap

If you want to understand the Leafs cap situation, you’ve got to understand how NHL games are won.

Elite players win games.  Elite players have massive effects on a game, whereas most players in the league offer  a very small difference between the best and worst contributions.

The difference between the worst player in the league and the best non-elite player is very, very small. It exists, it just doesn’t tend to cover the gap between a normal $4-5 million dollar player and a league minimum replacement.

Because of this, the only time you should pay a player more than the league minimum is when they are elite (Matthews, Nylander, Marner) or could be (Kerfoot, Johnson, Kapanen).

For example, if you got rid of three $4 million dollar players, and replaced them with one $10 million dollar player and two $1 million dollar players, you are going to be a significantly better team.   The Leafs entire salary structure is based on this premise.

Sure, Ryan McDonag ($6.5 million AAV) is a decent player, but he’s not worth $5 million more than a player on an ELC like Dermott or Sandin.  The fact that the Bolts are paying McDonag and Palat about $11 million negates the sweetheart deals they got from Kucherov and Point.

The Leafs have no such contracts. (Other than the movable, pending UFA Cody Ceci).

Because of the terrible contract value mid-range players provide in the cap system, the Leafs have made the proper choice in devoting their resources to elite players.

Besides stupidly breaking up their team (as analysts who should be eating their words assumed the Leafs would do) the only other option they had was  targeting a one-season window in which they cheaply gave small extensions or bridge deals to their stars, and stacked their team using the savings.  But since the best team in the league will always have at least a 30% chance of losing to any random playoff team, that is a bad bet.

Better that they sacrificed a one-time run for a six year window, given the relative ages of their players.

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And as the cap goes up, the Leafs should be able to re-sign players like Morgan Rielly and Freddie Andersen, if they want to.

But the bottom line is this: the Studs and Duds approach to team building in the salary cap era is the correct move.