The Toronto Maple Leafs have approached the salary cap differently than any other team in the cap era.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have decided to spend the majority of their cap money on elite players, while filling out the roster with cheaper players.
Since no one has ever done this before, people are skeptical, but there is a method to their madness.
In the NHL, a player worth one Win (using the one-number stat Wins Above Replacement) is better than 56% of the players in the NHL, and a player worth half a win is better than 40% of the players, while 4 wins will get you into talks for end of the season awards. (Stats from @jfresh).
Because of the marginal differences between players at the pro level, and further parity caused by the salary cap, any player who can’t at deliver the promise of an elite season isn’t worth much more than the league minimum.
This works in part because the Leafs have been super successful in the avenues available to them to acquire cheap roster depth: their skill heavy approach at the draft (Sandin, Robertson), their deftness at scoring KHL free-agents (Mikheyev, Barabanov, Lehtonen) and finding usable gems in free agency at the league minimum (Spezza, Agostino, Moore) .
Knowing this, the Toronto Maple Leafs have allocated the majority of their salary cap towards a small core of player.
With the NHL announcing that the salary cap will remain static for the next three seasons, a lot of people seem to think the Leafs are trouble, but I think just the opposite.
Their core is locked in, and they have re-enforcements coming on entry-level deals. They’ve also got a ton of flexibility with three third line players combining for $11 million they could easily move if they needed to, and they’ve already go one of the league’s best rosters, so things are looking pretty good for them, actually.
As I pointed out yesterday, with no bad contracts on the books, the Toronto Maple Leafs get an obvious and indisputable competitive advantage if, as rumoured, the NHL does not allow any buy-out mulligans for teams going into next season.
Since every team is stuck with their bad contracts, and the Leafs don’t have any, that is a significant advantage.
There is one more way in which the Leafs can look to take advantage of this situation: Other teams are likely to be cutting costs due to lost revenue, but the Leafs have no such concerns.
This will almost certainly force upcoming free-agents to take short-term deals at prices vastly lower than they were previously expecting.
Should this prove to be the case, players the Leafs were probably not even considering before, players like Alex Pietrangelo, or even Tyson Barrie, could be back on the table.
Pietrangelo is probably not going to get anywhere close to the $10 million or so he was likely to get on a sure-to-be-stupid-the-day-it’s-signed July 1st special.
But if he thinks that he can get that next summer, why not check out the Leafs, his home town team, on a discount for a year with a chance to win a Cup?
It’s still not likely, but a lot of other similar situations could play out like this, and that would definitely be in the Toronto Maple Leafs favor.