Toronto Maple Leafs: Analyzing the Team’s Salary Cap Situation


Toronto Maple Leafs: Analyzing the Team’s Salary Cap Situation

Apr 13, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan enters the media room before talking to the press during a press conference at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

With the NHL salary cap expected to go up to $71 million next season a lot of teams will have to make some tough decisions with player contracts. While the Toronto Maple Leafs are not geniuses when it comes to managing their salary cap, their cap situation going into the 2015-16 season is not as bad as it has been in years past.

Going into next season they have eight forwards. five defencemen,  and one goalie under contract. The Leafs will probably not be in on any big free agents with the team being committed to building through the draft. However, there will be opportunities via the trade market which may involve acquiring players that teams have to trade away because of the cap. This is something the Leafs can try to take advantage of.

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Management will have to take  care of a couple of housekeeping issues with their restricted free agents (RFA), luckily they only have two important ones in Jonathan Bernier and Nazem Kadri.

There has been a lot of debate as to what the team should do with Bernier and Kadri because neither have shown their top potential consistently. Bernier has shown at times that he can be a starting goaltender but not on a consistent basis. Kadri has shown growth the last few season but he still has work to do if he wants to be considered an elite centerman because he has the talent to be one. Having Mike Babcock in the fold makes the decision regarding the future of these two players easier because he will tell management whether it is worth investing in both players going forward.

Dec 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) celebrates his shorthanded goal in the second period against the New Jersey Devils at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Kadri has already taken a bridge deal in hopes of proving that he is worthy of a four to five-year deal. Since the Leafs only have roughly $15 million in cap space, unless they make some trades to shed some salary there will be a lot of debate whether they should spend around a third of their remaining cap space on Kadri.

The same applies for Bernier because he also took a short bridge contract so that he can work his way to a longer deal. One thing that the Leafs need to be careful with in this situation is that in today’s NHL many teams are not investing a lot in their goaltending unless they are proven elite talent. Here is a list of goaltenders and their salary cap and notice a common trend between them.

Henrik Lundqvist $8,500,000 million cap hit — won the Vezina trophy in 2011-12
Sergei Bobrovsky $7,425,000 cap hit — won the Vezina in 2012-13
Pekka Rinne $ 7,000,000 cap hit — nominated for the Vezina three times
Tuukka Rask $ 7,000,000 cap hit — won the Vezina in 2013-14
Carey Price $ 6,500,000 cap hit — basically a guarantee to win the Vezina and Hart Trophy this season
Cam Ward $6,300,000 cap hit — won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy
Corey Crawford $ 6,000,000 cap hit — won the Stanley Cup in 2013-14
Jonathan Quick $5,800,000 million cap hit — won two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe trophy

Mar 26, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) looks on prior to the game against the Florida Panthers at Air Canada Centre. The Panthers won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It will be hard for Bernier to command top dollar in a new deal because he does not have a lot to bargain, that is why many have suggested that Bernier should gamble on himself with a short-term deal. That deal could cost the Leafs around three and a half or four million dollars on the cap, which is not a lot for a short-term deal.

The same goes for Kadri, who is coming off a deal that had a $2,900,000 cap hit. Is he deserving of a long-term deal or a short term deal? Should he get a significant pay raise or will the Leafs trade him? This is something Shanahan is going to have to decide, however it is unlikely that Kadri gets traded because looking at the Leafs depth at center, it is not filled with enough top end talent to part with Kadri.

The Leafs took a gamble not giving Jake Gardiner a bridge deal, instead they hoped that they could get him on a bargain deal. Kadri took the bridge deal because the Leafs were not willing to commit long-term especially with the limited salary cap space they had. How much does Kadri’s disciplinary issues factor into his contract talks? It will play a factor but the important thing is to see what the expectations are for Kadri and Babcock. At this point they can afford to be patient with Kadri while the team tries to develop more high-end talent to play with him.

Oct 22, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) congratulates forward Phil Kessel (81) on his second goal of the second period against the Anaheim Ducks at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The real question that needs to be answered is what trades will be made, whether at the draft or in the offseason. There has been much debate about the future of Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf especially with Babcock in the fold. They both signed long-term extensions which carry a combined $15 million cap hit in hopes that they would be the key players moving forward. With another miserable season many are expecting the Leafs to move on from the key players that Dave Nonis made long-term commitments to.

Phil Kessel is signed until 2022 at $8,000,000
Dion Phaneuf is signed until 2021 at 7,000,000
Jake Gardiner is signed until 2019 at $4,050,000
Joffrey Lupul is signed until 2018 at $5,250,000
Tyler Bozak is signed until 2018 at $4,200,000
James van Riemsdyk is signed until 2018 but he was not signed by Nonis, and his cap hit is at a reasonable $4,200,000 so the Leafs would be better off keeping him.

That is $28,500,000 (not including JVR’s cap hit) then add $1,833,333 from Tim Gleason’s buyout (1,333,333 after next season) and $200,000 from the Carl Gunnarsson trade, that is $30,533,333 on the cap next season. Include around $8m-$10m with the contract extensions to Kadri and Bernier then add another $17,781,666 with the other players under contract that is $56,314,999-$58,314,999. This also does not include Nathan Horton‘s $5,300,000 cap hit, which comes off the books once the Leafs put him on long-term injured reserves (LTIR), but with it the Leafs cap would be at either $61,614,999-$63,614,999.

If the Leafs do not make any trades going into next season that would leave around $12 million (taking Horton’s cap hit out) to add a couple of defenceman and around six forwards. That will be tough to do but not impossible because there are players like Matt Frattin, Sam Carrick who can come up from the Marlies then there are RFAs Richard Panik, and Tim Erixon who are cheaper options. Brandon Kozun may come back as well and Stuart Percy could crack the lineup like he did last season.

Oct 12, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Joffrey Lupul (19) celebrates scoring a goal with center Tyler Bozak (42) during the third period in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Maple Leafs won 6-5 in overtime.

Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The likelihood of no trades coming this summer is highly unlikely and if I had to take my pick on who the Leafs will try to trade out first it would be Bozak and Lupul (if a team will take Lupul). The reason is because the Leafs are not expecting a high return for either and they can be traded at the draft for draft picks and prospects. Kessel and Phaneuf will be harder deals and maybe the new GM will have a say in what happens to them. Gardiner will probably get more time to develop because he is young and has potential.

This is what the new management team will have to work because the team will need cap space to sign their future draft picks while having a chance to add players through trades and free agency like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have done over the years. If the bigger contracts can be moved out, the Leafs could use the extra cap space to make trades with other teams that need cap relief and are willing to part with prospects and draft picks.

Next: Are the Leafs Waiting to Offer Yzerman or Verbeek?