Trading Johnsson and Kapanen to save money
Dubas has repeatedly said he is committed to keeping the core four forwards together. If he is going to do that, the Leafs will need to get creative to stay under the salary cap.
Moving them for similar contracts does not make much sense. So the Leafs would have to swallow hard and trade them for picks or prospects.
Using Cap Friendly’s Armchair GM tool, moving those two players out and re-signing some of their free agents while adding a veteran with the savings, would look something like this:
The team keeps their core forwards together and adds a little bit of sandpaper in Corey Perry. This gets them under the cap and gives reasonable raises for Travis Dermott and Ilya Mikheyev, as well as similar cap numbers for Frederik Gauthier, Kyle Clifford and Spezza.
Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci would be walking in free agency, which seems like the most likely outcome no matter what else the Maple Leafs do. Toronto would also have whatever draft picks or prospects they get from dealing Kapanen and Johnsson.
This does not address the biggest weakness of the team, which is the defence. This kind of strategy puts a ton of faith in the continued improvement of Dermott, as well as contributions from young defencemen like Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.