How The Toronto Maple Leafs Can Afford To Sign John Tavares

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John Tavares
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)

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)
Grundstrom ($1)
Rielly ($5) Zaitsev ($4.5)
Liljegren ($.9) Dermott ($.9)
de Haan ($4.5) Marlies D-man ($2.5)
Andersen ($5)
Sparks ($2)

 

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)

10 COMMENTS

  1. Sure, the Leafs may be able to afford Tavares right now, with JVR, Bozak and Komarov off the books. But it would handcuff the team against the cap after next season. Tavares is a great player, but they already have their top 2 centermen in Matthews and Kadri (possibly top 3 if they move Nylander to the middle). They need to keep that $11 million available for a high end defenseman or 2, and also for any trade where they can give another team some cap relief. Going all in on Tavares would be a huge mistake at this point.

  2. With Marleau off the book and a rising cap, it may not be the handcuff many think. If an 11 million dollar defenseman was available, I would agree signing him over Taraves would make sense. But there isn’t. An equivalent defenseman will cost 11 million and Nylander and maybe more. Sure signing Tavares is a gamble that offense can win championships, but with a one-two punch of Matthews and Tavares and enough money left over to improve the defense, they could be a contender for years.

    Do they need a stud defenseman? Or do they just need a more steady presence on the blueline? Guys like, and I’m going back pretty far here, Dmitry Yushkevich, who wouldn’t command anything close to 11 million if he were playing now. If Mats Sundin had Peter Forsberg behind him on the second line, the Maple Leafs may have won back in the early 90s, without a guy like Pronger. Maybe the Leafs can wait and see if Doughy is available next year, but that’s a risk too. And if he is available, that’s when you trade Nylander for futures to sign Doughty, if you have 11 million tied up in Tavares.

    Thanks for the comment, I definitely get where you’re coming from, and using that money for defensemen is far more likely. I just hope they don’t overspend on guys like Green and Carlson.

  3. Marleau has a no-movement clause, bud. You gotta check these things before you speculate like this. These things are easy to look up on CapFriendly.com.

    • Teams ask players to waive no-trades all the time. But I agree it’s not likely at least. That’s why I factored his contract in when doing the math.

  4. Why not bridge Nylander. Sign Tavares, go for it over the next year or so but if we need to, we can trade Nylander for a D man.

    • A bridge deal for Nylander may work. Depends on how impressed you are with him so far. I would rather bridge Nylander than Marner that’s for sure.

  5. Nylander, Marner. Brown play RW and Hyman, Marleau and Johnsson play LW. Not sure by you didn’t show the players in their correct positions in your 2019 roster.

    • You’re right, I didn’t pay attention to left wing vs right wing. I didn’t pay attention to the sides of the defensemen either, Dermott plays on the left side. The point was just to show the salaries and that there are ways to fit in Tavares. In two years there could be quite a few changes to the roster, so I didn’t focus too much on predicting an active roster.

      The Athletic made a similar argument today that they could sign Tavares without losing Marner, Matthews, or Nylander. They took a different path from me, including re-signing Gardiner, but also mentioned there is some expectation that Marleau would retire after next year and the team might trade him to a team that needed to get to the cap floor.

      https://theathletic.com/370615/2018/05/28/the-arguments-for-and-against-toronto-signing-john-tavares/

  6. It would be nice to have a guy like Tavares as a 1B center going forward but to do that you are betting that he is the one guy that puts you over the top and you can go after the Cup multiple times and if you can do that you may win a cup one or maybe even more times. There is no guarantee that that happens even with JT in the lineup. Let’s not forget that the Blackhawks still have Tawes, Kane, DeBricot, Saad and Keith and more and they didn’t even make the playoffs and then thers the Pens who were set to tripeat but that didn’t happen somehow the Caps who were maybe on the verge of maybe missing the playoffs according to some experts and they still have Crosby, Mallin, Kessel and Latang and in a better position to win this season then last yet the Caps finally got past them and win it all. Partly this happened because some players just played out of their minds even up and above Ovechkin and Carlson and held strong until Holtby found his game and when that happened it was all over, it just simply became their time and the Golden Knights just ran out of magic dust and their beautiful coach turned back into a pumpkin. That being said if Marc-André Fleury doesn’t turn back into just a mortal goalie and continues to play as he did up until that series the LVGK are the ones siping or gulping out of Lord Stanley. My point is this. In the way to the Prom anything can happen and more often than not it does and to put all your eggs in one basket especially the one that already holds many of the golden eggs could just be the thing that keeps you from getting to the dance at all. I wouldn’t cash strap myself in a way that the Leafs would do with Tavares. That only leaves one road to travel and it doesn’t make any sense to make your motor any more powerful if you don’t have the suspensions that can handle the power it already has. The Leafs are weaker in their D then most fans believe, Rielly is a great D man but alone he can not do his job properly, that is number one priority. The other problem is his supporting staff as in one Gardiner is not a true second in command and neither is Hainsey, Zaitsev and Dermott may not be ready to step that far up just yet. Therefore Gardiner needs to be moved for something at least close to his value. He is valuable just not on a team like the Leafs or more accurately their defensive core as it is. No they do not need a stud D man, they have one, but they need two good D man. Dermott is ready for a bit more responsibility but he needs a steady hand beside him and that isn’t Rielly he has a different job to do on the D than babysitting Dermott, he just needs an experienced enough but steady RHD and that’s your second D unit, Hainsey also has a job killing PK and he and Zaitsev can do that until Z gets his game back and is ready to play like he did in his first season. Once you take care of those two things on your back end it’s going to be a mess. The partner for Rielly is an absolute must, the Gardiner trade is just as important, he can not stay in this team any longer, his value is extremely high and trading him and a reasonable piece will bring in a partner for Rielly the other moves the Leafs can do one of two things decide to wait and see if Z has a bounce back season the D all of a sudden look so much better and harder to play against. The HVR loss may also be s blessing in disguise since you will inherit Kapanen and Johnsson and your attack will be so much better it will come in waves troughout the lineup. The C solution is even more simple to aliviate the problem there is Riley Nash or a player similar, but I would go and get Nash as my 3C and have either Johnsson or Kapanen and Grundstrom as his wingers. Also the first line does not need Hyman any longer this is where one if Kapanen or Johnsson should go. Now that’s a first line, and definately not Brown he can go on the 3rd line if Babcock doesn’t want Hyman there and Grundstrom isn’t ready. The 4th line will have a number of much better candidates than it had last season. Even if one of them is the same as last season, except this season he may be ready Aaltonen or Pär Lindholm who played in the Swedish top league and was just short of a point per game player which is quite good in that league, in the upper echelon of the league and apparently he’s a 200 ft player, also I understand that Babcock has seen him a number of times and likes him, so thers that. The Leafs are in a great position with 3 great home grown players who at least 2 would be paid far less then Tavares and I’m not a fan of that. The other thing is I don’t think that Tavares has 7 great years left in him at this stage possibly 4 at the very most, and I love JT and I think he is a great player but not the right fit for the Leafs. The Leafs have come a long, long way in a very short time doing the right thing, draft and develop. Also the couple small pieces that they need are not Carlson or JT at this point. With the addition of Dermott, Kapanen and Johnsson and eve a possibility of at least one C man graduating and Grundstrom being NHL ready the Leafs need a good RHD man to play with Rielly as I’ve mentioned and a trade being the second tweak on the back end, will put this team over the top for years to come with cash to spare under the cap, in case a trade for a Hanifin or a Trouba can be reached. THE LEAFS DON’T NEED A 1C. They have one his name is Matthews. Thanks much but we’ll stick with him no need for JT, Crosby, Tawes it any other overpriced C man. Cheers

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