Toronto Maple Leafs face tough challenge if salary cap doesn’t change

Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs handle the draft table during the 2018 NHL Draft. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs handle the draft table during the 2018 NHL Draft. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

With concern that the salary cap will not reach its projection because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Toronto Maple Leafs will have to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

It looks like Brandon Pridham has a tough task ahead of him and the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to need their assistant general manager to be prepared for various potential scenarios.

It wasn’t long ago that the NHL was projecting the salary cap to fall between $84 million and $88.2 million. While it would have been tough to expect the cap to go up from $81.5 million to $88.2 million, any type of increase would have been welcomed by the front office.

Here is the issue, with the NHL season on pause and no telling when players will be able to even return to practice facilities, it could mean a tough road ahead. Whether that means the salary cap remains the same or sees a decrease, the unknown is a dangerous road for players and management.

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Looking at the Leafs cap situation, they were already going into this off-season needing to make moves in order to improve crucial areas including the blue line. Now, they might have to consider more drastic measures just to make sure they are cap compliant going into next season.

The NHL has dealt with situations like this before as Luke Fox of Sportsnet pointed out that during the lockout-shortened season when the cap was increased to $70.2 but went back down to $64.3 million.

If there is any change where the cap goes down instead of up, the league might have to do the same thing that they did during that time allowing each team two compliance buyouts. This gave teams the opportunity to wipe out two contracts off the books, pretty much a mulligan but there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Let’s say the Leafs wanted to use a compliance buyout on one of their big contracts like Mitch Marner, under the terms from 2014, the player could not re-sign with the same club that bought him out until a full calendar year passes. So basically, that would make Marner a free agent, that doesn’t sound like a road the Leafs would want to go.

You will remember that the Leafs decided to use their compliance buyouts on Mikhail Grabovski and Mike Komisarek. They would go on to use the cap space from those buyouts to sign David Clarkson and re-sign Tyler Bozak.

There is no telling whether the league will go down this road but whether they do or don’t, you can bet the Leafs will have to think long and hard about how to fix the problems that have plagued the team from the start of the season.

An obvious one is on the backend where the team will look to try and find a more suitable option on the right side with Morgan Rielly. They have Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl signed to extensions, Travis Dermott will be a restricted free agent in the off-season but Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci are probably leaving as unrestricted free agents.

People will point to the fact that with Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner’s contracts, the Leafs will have a tough time making big changes with a cap crunch. We won’t put William Nylander in that category considering his contract doesn’t is pretty fair in relation to his production this season.

Toronto might have to consider making some a move involving either Alexander Kerfoot or Andreas Johnsson to find some savings. There is only so much a team can pay to its forwards while leaving the blue line to a smaller and less optimal budget.

This doesn’t mean the Leafs have to pay a defenceman $10 or $11 million but they can’t hope to find a player to play on the top pairing with Rielly on a budget. Unless they can trade for a defenceman or make room to add one in free agency, that won’t be easy if the league’s salary cap situation is in flux.

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What do you think about the current COVID-19 situation and the impact it’s having on the NHL? Are you worried about what it could do down the road? Let us know in the comments below.