In the matter of 14 1/2 months, the Toronto Maple Leafs handed out approximately $40.5 Million worth of cap space to four players starting on July 1, 2018.
The first signing came on July 1, 2018 when the Toronto Maple Leafs enticed the biggest free agent to ever hit the open market to take a discount to come home when John Tavares signed a seven-year deal worth $11 Million per season.
Five months after Tavares, after a long and drawn out contract dispute, William Nylander agreed on a six-year deal worth just under $7 Million per season.
Just over two months later, the organization and Auston Matthews worked out a five-year deal worth $11.6 Million that was signed on February 5, 2019. The last deal of the “Core Four” was completed when Mitch Marner signed early into training camp on September 13, 2019 for just over $10.9 Million on a six-year deal.
Since the contracts had been signed there have been many to critique the contract because of how much of the cap space was allocated to four players as it has caused the club to move on from other players.
To be fair to general manager Kyle Dubas, who signed each of those deals there was no expectation that salary cap would go flat throughout the duration of these contracts that would cause the team to have to say goodbye to the some of their top players because of the lack of space to retain them.
The Leafs made this bets with a new TV deal, expansion, and legalized gambling on the horizon. The pandemic forced the cap to freeze, but any reasonable person would have foreseen the NHL salary cap raising exponentially after the 2019 season.
Furthermore, the Leafs were the 3rd best team in the NHL since signing those contracts and have won approximately 65% of their games, which, in any given year, is good enough to compete for the President’s Trophy, and were among the NHL’s deepest teams each year they entered the playoffs.
You can therefore argue that signing the “core four” was the correct strategy because, even with the flat-cap, the Leafs have been a top team ever since.
Regardless, the team has either had to let some of their long serving players walk in free agency or make trades to find room to dress a full line-up (and at times less than a full roster).
Here is a look at some of the players that had to leave and how their careers turned out once they left Toronto.