Mo’ Money, No Problems for the Leafs?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs print money. Even if they didn’t, both Rogers and Bell print money. If there’s a team in the NHL that can maintain a business as usual attitude through the COVID pandemic, it’s probably the Maple Leafs.

The rest of the league is certainly feeling it…

And from Seravalli’s article we gain even more insight:

Meetings to slash expenditures, reduce payroll and set internal hockey operations budgets below the salary cap limit have been ongoing for most of the 27 teams in off-season mode.

That doesn’t sound good. FOR THE OTHER GUYS!!!

What is clear is that there is more carnage to come. Two Canadian clubs – Calgary and Winnipeg – just cut employee pay, effective Sept. 1. Other teams are considering outright furloughing employees. There is a trickle-down effect that will eventually drip to players and roster construction in free agency and beyond.

Sources say the Sabres are considering an internal salary cap in the low $70 million range; the Arizona Coyotes, who recently failed to make on-time signing bonus payments to a number of players, may be operating just south of $70 million under their next GM; the Pittsburgh Penguins are reportedly planning to budget in the low-to-mid $70 million range on an $81.5 million limit.

Around the league, from Florida to Vancouver, GMs are in discussion with ownership seeking spending latitude. There will be opportunities to acquire talented players from teams who can no longer afford them – either on an internal budget or with a frozen salary cap.

I certainly don’t feel good about celebrating the Leafs situation while other teams are cutting wages, laying off employees, and generally putting their staff in a bad situation, but harsh reality of this situation is that the Leafs are in an unique situation due to their finances to take a leap forward in team personnel this offseason.

The Leafs salary situation

PLAYER Salary minus Signing Bonus
Jake Muzzin $700,000
Mitch Marner $700,000
Auston Matthews $700,000
John Tavares $910,000
Justin Holl $1,000,000
Frederik Andersen $1,000,000
Pierre Engvall $1,250,000
Jack Campbell $1,500,000
Zach Hyman $2,500,000
William Nylander $2,500,000
Andreas Johnsson $2,600,000
Alexander Kerfoot $2,600,000
Morgan Rielly $5,000,000

Using the data on PuckPedia It’s interesting to see that after signing bonuses have been paid the Leafs have a bunch of players who will be very affordable to pay this season. I’m going out on a limb here and saying that Auston Matthews and John Tavares should remain put, as should one of Marner or Nylander, but the Leafs have an opportunity to sell players like Andersen, Johnsson, and Kerfoot at inflated value, and arguably usable players like Holl and Campbell might be trade targets as well given those manageable paycheques.

In contrast, here are the 25 highest post signing bonus salaries remaining around the league this season…

PLAYER TEAM AGE POS HANDED Salary-Bonus
Mikko Rantanen Colorado 23 RW Left $12,000,000
Alex Ovechkin Washington 34 LW Right $10,000,000
Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh 32 C Left $9,600,000
Justin Faulk St. Louis 28 RD Right $9,000,000
Charlie Coyle Boston 28 RW Right $8,000,000
Josh Morrissey Winnipeg 25 LD Left $8,000,000
Brayden Schenn St. Louis 28 C Left $8,000,000
Kyle Connor Winnipeg 23 LW Left $8,000,000
Zach Parise Minnesota 35 LW Left $8,000,000
Ryan Suter Minnesota 35 LD Left $8,000,000
Ryan Johansen Nashville 27 C Right $8,000,000
Anze Kopitar Los Angeles 32 C Left $8,000,000
Drew Doughty Los Angeles 30 RD Right $8,000,000
Patrik Laine Winnipeg 22 RW Right $7,500,000
Kris Letang Pittsburgh 33 RD Right $7,250,000
Claude Giroux Philadelphia 32 C Right $7,200,000
Max Pacioretty Vegas 31 LW Left $7,000,000
David Krejci Boston 34 C Right $7,000,000
Thomas Chabot Ottawa 23 LD Left $7,000,000
Mark Giordano Calgary 36 LD Left $6,750,000
Ryan Kesler Anaheim 35 C Right $6,675,000
Nick Leddy NY Islanders 29 LD Left $6,500,000
Gabriel Landeskog Colorado 27 LW Left $6,500,000
Brandon Saad Chicago 27 LW Left $6,500,000
Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas 35 G Left $6,500,000

I share this list not give you a list of trade targets for the Leafs, but rather a list of players that GMs might be looking to unload if they have an internal cap. Even that isn’t going to apply to most of the names on the list, but players like Leddy, Saad, Fleury, Schenn, Faulk, etc. might be guys who can be had for cheap or possibly in cases like Fleury you might have teams paying a team like the Leafs to take them away.

There are also interesting possibilities of teams looking to save money on close cap hits, but wider actual dollars savings. Not to be too specific about it, but looking at something like the Golden Knights having Alec Martinez with a cap hit and actual salary of $4M and trading him for someone like Andreas Johnsson who has a cap hit $3.4M but is only owed $2.6M of pay this season might be something possible for the Leafs to get away with this year if the Kings wanted to save $1.4M in real money.

A better example might be with the Oilers and right handed defenseman Adam Larsson. Larsson is owed $5.1M in salary this season on a cap hit of $4.16M. Trading Larsson for Johnsson represents a savings of $2.5M and could be owner directed move we see if teams are in fact implementing internal caps.

Selling to clear room for free agency

The other side of this is that the Leafs are in a situation where they might have few competitors in free agency this year if they create enough cap space. The Leafs will have the ability to front load deals and still offer the signing bonuses that players want, and if teams have spent their money on day one of free agency, the Leafs could have the opportunity get a few decent players later in the process by still having money left to hand out.

Clearing out affordable to the opposition contracts like Holl, Engvall, Kerfoot, Johnsson, and Andersen might give the Leafs an opportunity to pick up some usable futures and draft picks for this year, while having the cap space to upgrade their blueline, backfill their goaltending position, and make other tweaks as needed without entering cap hell.

As much as it means potentially creating a lot of unknowns by moving on from existing players for futures, the Leafs with money to spend when other teams don’t is an advantage Toronto hasn’t truly enjoyed since the pre salary cap days. Or you know, every time they take on an LTIR contract or pay out an entire salary in signing bonuses. I guess what I’m saying is keep on using those deep pockets as an asset, and the Leafs might be able to take a giant leap forward next season.