The Toronto Maple Leafs employ a studs and duds approach to the salary cap.
Perhaps the only NHL team that correctly uses the money allotted to them under the NHL’s salary cap, the Toronto Maple Leafs have spent most of their money on star players, while filling out the roster with cheaper deals.
In the NHL, if you measure by WAR / 60 (Wins Above Replacement per 60 minutes of ice time) you can see that roughly 90% of the league has a smaller range of impact than the top 10%.
This means that star players drive team success, but it also means that mid-range players don’t have enough of an impact over replacement players to warrant their salaries.
In real world terms, this means that outside of players who still have upside on their second contracts, there is no utility in paying anyone but star players over a million dollars.
The media may question the Toronto Maple Leafs for spending so much money on so few players, but the Leafs are essentially gaming the system and the fewer people who realize this, the bigger advantage they have.
Adding to the Leafs already advantageous salary cap situation (they literally have no bad contracts) is the fact that they have several up-and-coming player on entry-level deals, who will likely vastly outperform their contracts.
ELCs and the Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs will continue to work the NHL salary cap to their advantage next season, and one way they can do that is by bringing three players who won’t cost them a thing above the league minimum.
I used to constantly write about how the Leafs should have been going all-in during the last two years of Auston Matthews ELC contract, which they failed to do. Luckily for them, strong drafting has given them a chance to do something similar.
First, Rasmus Sandin is all but guaranteed to make the team next year. As a rookie he’s been solid this year, often having to play higher in the lineup than you’d like because of injuries.
Sandin has a bright future as a top pairing star NHL defenseman, but next year he’ll easily be one of the better third pairing players in the league, and he’ll be dirt heap.
Next up is Timothy Liljegren. He had a rough go of it this year, and wasn’t very good in the NHL. That said, it’s not exactly his fault as the only reason he even played was because of the decimated blue line.
He should become a permanent fixture next season, and has very high potential. It might not be a guarantee, but there’s an excellent chance he can make the Leafs and outperform his contract.
Finally, there is potential superstar Nick Robertson. He scored 50 goals in under 50 games while dominating the OHL this year. He was a second round pick last year as the youngest player in the draft and would likely go in the top 10 this year had he been four days younger.
There is no reason for him to go back to the OHL, and he won’t be old enough to play in the AHL. Some sheltered NHL minutes might just be in order.
This isn’t exactly Nylander, Matthews and Marner on their entry-level deals, but with three potential star players set to be cheap for the next 2-3 years, the Leafs studs and duds roster construction will be even more effective.
There is no bigger advantage in the NHL than having star players on entry-level deals. The next wave will push the Leafs to great heights.