After completing a respectable season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are preparing for an eventful summer. As they continue to grow, the Leafs have allowed themselves to maintain a cap-friendly roster. By doing so, the team is heading into the offseason with a lot of potential playing room. Lou Lamoriello and company will be determined to strengthen the roster before October. Fortunately, the Leafs cap situation will provide them with many opportunities to do so.
Toronto Maple Leafs Cap Situation Promises Roster Growth
Impressive Cap Overview
Here’s an overview of Toronto’s current cap situation. The Maple Leafs currently sit at 50/50 contracts and have a cap hit of $72.8 million out of the allowed $73 million set by the NHL. At this point, the Leafs hold 35 standard player contracts heading into next season and will have a projected cap hit of $60.1 million. This falls approximately $12 million under the projected cap hit in 2017-2018.
Amidst signing Nikita Zaitsev, the Leafs have managed to sign Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Zaitsev at $5 million or less per season. They only need to address two RFA’s on their active NHL roster; Connor Brown and Zach Hyman. Both players are well liked by Mike Babcock and are expected to return under new contracts.
Heading into the offseason, Lou Lamoriello and his staff have a couple paths available for them to take.
Testing the Free Agent Market
The Leafs’ greatest concern undoubtedly lies upon their defensemen. The NHL free agent market, despite being fickle in expense, will provide the Leafs with an immediate solution on the blue line.
When taking Karl Alzner into consideration, Toronto would inevitably demote Jake Gardiner to the third defensive pairing. Alzner finished third in scoring chances against per 60 (8.70) and second in on-ice goals against per 60 (1.67) among Capitals defensemen to play 900 minutes this season, and is a shut down defensemen that would fill a gap in the Maple Leafs defensive core.
Brendan Smith played 51 games this season, spread out between the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. He skated alongside Nick Holden and Brady Skjei in New York, and received high praise from head coach Alain Vigneault.
AV on Brendan Smith now in town: "Real competitive, can skate well, make a good 1st pass. Competes real hard & we're going to need that"
Alzner and Smith will not be acquired together, because they are both left handed defenseman. Stone is a possibility the could fit with either of the two. Since recovering from a knee surgery back in Arizona, Stone has performed in mediocre fashion. His arrival in Calgary was somewhat of a Dennis Wideman upgrade. On the other hand, Toronto is in need of a shut down defenceman, a role that Stone has not taken in Calgary.
Trading Offense for Defense
The Maple Leafs are expected to explore trade options involving a few of their top forwards. Lamoriello could use James van Riemsdyk as a main trade piece to capture a top-four defenseman. Keeping JVR is unlikely, as he could cost Toronto at least $6M per year for a new contract. A departure from Toronto seems likely if a logical offer arises.
Even Nazem Kadri‘s name has been thrown around. In retrospect, A 32-goal season may be enough to deter the Leafs from letting him go. Trading Kadri at this point doesn’t make much sense.
William Nylander will play right wing next season. This decision is likely to keep Tyler Bozak in Toronto and off of the trading block, with one year left on his contract. However, replacing Bozak and JVR has been brought up, especially with Ilya Kovalchuk‘s name possibly in the mix.
It will be exciting to see how Toronto’s cap space can be played with in the offseason. The Maple Leafs have set themselves up for success in many aspects, spurring them towards a place amongst the NHL’s cup contenders.