The Toronto Maple Leafs will undoubtedly attempt to sign John Tavares this summer. They tried to sign Steven Stamkos two summers ago. He decided to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The incentive for Tavares to move on may be much greater than it was for Stamkos. But the Maple Leafs aren’t the only suitor. And he may not even want to play under the Toronto spotlight. But if he does, the Maple Leafs could afford him.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Can Sign John Tavares
What Tavares Will Cost
Some say the Maple Leafs laid it on too thick with Stamkos, although it seems more likely that he was only doing his due diligence in testing the free agent market. He may have even been using the Maple Leafs to drive up his price for the Lightning. He ended up with an eight-year $68 million dollar deal.
Tavares will sign for a cap hit greater than Stamkos’ $8.5 million a year. He can only sign for seven years with the Maple Leafs unless they do a sign and trade with the Islanders which would allow for an eight-year deal. The longer the deal, the smaller the cost against the cap. Tavares and Stamkos are roughly equal players when it comes to salary expectations. But with a salary cap that rises yearly, player salaries will rise just as quickly. Despite Stamkos signing just two years ago, and considering the Maple Leafs are more likely to sign him to seven years, Tavares will end up singing for considerably more that $8.5 a season.
Jack Eichel recently signed an eight-year deal with the Buffalo Sabers with a cap hit of $10 million per year. Tavares should sign for something along the lines of $11 million per year for seven years.
How Much Room Do The Maple Leafs Have
The Maple Leafs have to sign Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander in the next two seasons. They’ll eat up about $25 million in cap space if Kyle Dubas goes for long-term deals. According to Capfriendly.com, the Maple Leafs are committed to $34 million in the 2019-2020 season, after subtracting Nathan Horton‘s $5 million. Add the $25 million Matthews and friends will require and that puts them at $59 million with eight forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie signed, excluding current Toronto Marlies players. If Tavares signs for $11 million, that puts the Maple Leafs at 70 million still needing three forwards, four defensemen, and a backup goalie.
The 2019-2020 NHL Salary Cap
The Maple Leafs have plenty of room under the cap next season. Matthews and Marner will still be on entry-level contracts that will pay them for less than their next contracts will. It’s the 2019-2020 season that gets troublesome for the Maple Leafs.
The NHL Salary Cap was $75 million this season. It’s expected to rise to somewhere around $80 million next year. If that trend continues into the season after, the NHL salary cap could be near $85 million for the 2019 season. That gives the Maple Leafs $15 million in cap space for the remaining eight players if they sign Tavares.
Who Can Go
Matt Martin was on the outside looking in this post-season as a healthy scratch. The Leafs trended towards speed and skill with players like Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson in the latter half of the season and playoffs. Martin will get a $1.5 million signing bonus on July 1st, at that point is his remaining salary will be $750,000. Dubas should be able to move that contract to a team looking to add a little more grit. Maybe he’ll go back to the Islanders, who in this dream world will be short a forward. Moving Martin will give the Maple Leafs another $2.5 million in cap space.
The only other forward the Maple Leafs could potentially move is Patrick Marleau. Marleau had 27 goals and 47 points in the regular season this year. He had another four goals and five points in seven playoff games. Those are great numbers for a 38-year-old. If he keeps that pace up next year, the Maple Leafs may not want to let Marleau go. But if his play declines in the third year of his contract, as a 40-year-old, the Maple Leafs may look to move his contract. Or Dubas may take a page from Lou Lamerillo and Marleau will find himself with an upper-body injury and on the long-term injured reserved list. Moving the Marleau contract makes Tavares’ contract easier to manage, but it’s not necessary.
Nikita Zaitsev is another player the Maple Leafs could try to move next season, although they may have a difficult time of it. Zaitsev had a great rookie season, but his play dropped off considerably last season. Zaitsev is likely not going anyway. But with a $4.5 million cap hit, if his play doesn’t improve, his contract may be a thorn for the Maple Leafs.
Promote From Within
If Marleau and Zaitsev stay, the Maple Leafs will need to sign nine players to reach 20 roster players in 2019. It may be a long shot for Josh Leivo to stay after next season considering the Maple Leafs don’t play him, but if he does, he could sign for 1$ million.
Kapanen is the other RFA for the Maple Leafs. His salary will depend on his play this upcoming season. If he does well, the Maple Leafs could look to sign him to a bridge deal for something around $3 million a season. Andreas Johnsson will need a new contract this season, but with only nine regular-season NHL games under his belt he’ll be signed for less than $1 million.
Add either Par Lindholm or Carl Grundstrom for around $1 million each and the Maple Leafs could have their forward group set with $11 million left for four defensemen and a backup goalie.
On defense, the Maple Leafs already have Travis Dermott as a near lock for next season, and Timothy Liljegren may be on the roster soon as well. That’s two roster spots locked up for less than $2 million.
With Goaltending, Garret Sparks could sign for around $2 million after next season as a backup goalie. That might even be generous depending on how well he does next season as a back-up. That would leave the Maple Leafs with $7 million for two defense spots.
If any Marlies defensemen such as Igor Ozhiganov, Calle Rosen, or Andreas Borgman prove to be NHL capable, the Maple Leafs may be able to sign someone like Calvin de Haan this offseason and still afford Tavares as well. If de Haan, or someone comparable, signs for $4.5 million, and the Leafs can promote another defenseman from within for near $2.5 million, the Leafs will be just under $85 million with a full roster.
What’s The Downside
Teams like to have wiggle room under the cap. They won’t have any, and will only have one extra player on the roster. Injured players would need to be replaced with players of similar salaries. Since the Maple Leafs would be banking on using skilled players still on entry-level deals, using replacement players could cause a significant drop in talent. Or those players on entry-level deals may not succeed at an NHL level, meaning the Maple Leafs could have holes in their roster and no cap space available to plug them.
Another downside is there is no way the Maple Leafs could sign a big name defenseman. That’s something many believe they need to do. But there are no defensemen available right now that would take that top spot for the Maple Leafs.
Will They Do It
There are a few factors that need to play out for the Maple Leafs. The salary cap needs to rise. Unproven players need to be capable at an NHL level and of course, Tavares has to be interested in the team. But they can do it. New problems may arise after the 2019-2020 season. But by then Marleau’s $6.5 million will be off the books, and the cap may still be on the rise.
Many would prefer that top line right side defenseman. The facts are a player of that caliber will cost a lot. Much more than just a big salary, possibly a player like Nylander. If the Maple Leafs target easier assets like Tavares, they may not solve their defensive woes, but they may be even better at ‘scoring their way out of trouble’. The big question is would it be enough to contend for the Stanley Cup.
Potential 2019 Roster
|Nylander ($7)||Matthews ($11.5)||Hyman ($2.25)|
|Marner ($7.5)||Tavares ($11)||Marleau ($6.25)|
|Brown ($2.1)||Kadri ($4.5)||Kapanen ($3)|
|Leivo ($1)||Lindholm ($1.5)||Johnsson ($1)|
|Rielly ($5)||Zaitsev ($4.5)|
|Liljegren ($.9)||Dermott ($.9)|
|de Haan ($4.5)||Marlies D-man ($2.5)|
Main Photo: TAMPA, FL – NOVEMBER 18: New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) skates in the 1st period of the NHL game between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning on November 18, 2017 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)