The Toronto Maple Leafs fans, media and the rest of the league constantly fret about their cap space.
But you know who doesn’t lose any sleep over the salary cap ? The actual Toronto Maple Leafs.
For years now, the Leafs have defied convention and operated under the cap like a lone wolf, constantly ignoring ignorant criticism from all quarters.
And they’ve been proven right beyond a shadow of a doubt.
QED: They just finished 4th overall, despite the 27th best goaltending in the league, in the second straight season where the salary cap did not go up, even though they made their bet (i.e the Core Four at half the cap) the TV, Gambling and Expansion money was on the horizon.
If not for Covid, the Leafs would have looked like geniuses with about $20 million to spend in each of the last two off-seasons. The fact they are competitive at all, let alone still a top team, is irrefutable proof of their vision.
This summer, they will need to trim some money from their roster in order to improve, but it actually won’t be as hard as people are making it out to be.
Toronto Maple Leafs Finding Cap Room
Two things will really help the Leafs in their quest for cap space:
- They are confident their skill-first approach to drafting will allow them to stock the cupboards with lower picks, so if they have to trade their first for cap space (a la Patrick Marleau) it won’t be a huge deal (they pick like 26th anyways).
- Their philosophy that non-star players and any random NHL players aren’t far enough apart in terms of skill and ability to warrant paying them much beyond the league minimum.
So that is why you will see them package a draft pick along with Peter Mrazek to clear up $3.8 million.
Next they will trade Alex Kerfoot for picks or prospects.
Now you have $7.3 in newly created cap space. (capfriendly.com).
Next up: Muzzin and Brodie.
Conventional wisdom says they both stay, but the Leafs are not a team who follows such wisdom. Lyubushkin, Liljegren, Sandin and Giordano will combine to make – at the most – $5 million next year.
Add in Rielly, and you only need one more defenseman.
Add in the fact that Muzzin and Brodie combine to make $10 million and that neither one of them figures to be a star player anymore, and the math is overwhelming: you have to try and at least get out of their no-trade clauses.
Muzzin – whether through trade or a mysterious injury – is unlikely to be back.
Sandin and Liljegren represent the kind of high-end players on cheap-contracts this team desperately needs, and it’s hard to argue with an elite defender who hits and will be basically free due to having zero offense in his game, so there is just no way a team this close to being up against the cap will ignore having three useful cheap defenseman with high ceilings.
Let’s say $5.6 million is coming off for sure, though I might end up being the only person not surprised when they move all $10.
Still, even if they keep Brodie, they are up to $12.9 in space.
Oh and Justin Holl is gone, so add in $2 million.
Wayne Simmonds makes $900 Thousand, and is also gone. So that is now $15.8 million in cap space.
Add in an additional $7.8 which they currently have due to expiring contracts.
$23.6 million, minus Liljegren, Sandin, Lyubushkin and Engvall for let’s say $5.6 (I predict Engvall gets $2 million and is worth bringing back for his upside).
That leaves the Toronto Maple Leafs with $18 million to get the following:
Two Goalies, One depth defenseman and about six forwards.
Let’s assume that one of those Goalies is Erik Kallgren, and two of the forwards are Nick Robertson and Alex Steeves (could be any rookie, but just for fun let’s say it’s Steeves), and that one of the defenseman is Topi Niemela (again, could be any rookie) in a depth role.
Those players would cost $3.2 million. Add in Jason Spezza at 1 Million, and one more depth forward at $900 K.
The Toronto Maple Leafs would then have $12.9 million left to get a Starting Goalie, two forwards.
The lineup currently looks like this:
"Bunting – Matthews – NylanderTavares – Marner – RobertsonSteeves – Kampf – EngvallSpezza – x – xAnonymous 13th ForwardSandin – LiljegrenRielly – BrodieGiordano – LyubushkinNiemela (7th)XKallgren"
I am not saying the Leafs lineup will for sure look like this, or that this exactly what they will do (how could I know?) I am only demonstrating that it really isn’t that hard to clear up cap space if you’re creative.
The loss of Muzzin, Mikheyev, Campbell, and Kerfoot is obviously nothing to sneeze at, but the fact is that none of them qualify as star players at this time, and so replacing them with players who have more upside and cheaper salaries won’t hurt the Leafs as much as it would seem, especially if they use the left over money to get at least one star player.
It is looking like it’s going to be a very interesting summer.