The Andreas Johnsson contract looks good at first glance. He’s cheap and after winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy for AHL playoffs MVP, Johnsson is poised for a big year with the Toronto Maple Leafs. But it’s only a one-year deal, and if Johnsson has the type of year in 2018-2019 he’s hoping for, it could put the Maple Leafs in a tight spot the year after.
Andreas Johnsson Contract Won’t Help Maple Leafs Salary Cap Woes
This year, the Maple Leafs aren’t in trouble with the salary cap. Even after signing John Tavares to an $11 million contract. They have a little over $14 million left with only one free agent, William Nylander, left to sign.
2018-2019 Salary Cap Space
That $14 million is a little deceiving. It doesn’t include the $3.7 million in potential performance bonuses for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The Maple Leafs need to leave room for that $3.7 million or it will carry over against their cap hit next year. And they’re going to need all the space they can get next year.
The Maple Leafs also can’t count on Nathan Horton‘s $5.3 million injury buffer this season. Normally, the Maple Leafs could go over the $79.5 million cap by that $5.3 million, but if they take advantage of that, all the performance bonuses would carry over to next season. You can’t use injury cap relief to pay performance bonuses.
If the Maple Leafs sign Nylander to something around $8 million, that will leave about $3 million in cap space after bonuses. If they want to carry an extra player on top of the 20 that can ice on any given night, and they will, that will eat another million or so. The remaining $2 million will be reserved for midseason needs.
That means don’t expect a top-four defenseman to come in for this season without sending salary the other way.
Andreas Johnsson’s Next Contract
Johnsson may have a pedestrian year, or he may struggle. If he does, next year’s contract won’t be a concern. But if he excels as a winger with Nazem Kadri, Matthews, or Tavares as his centre, next year’s contract will make it a little tougher for the Maple Leafs to stay under the cap. By signing his qualifying offer for $787,500, Johnsson is betting on himself having a big year.
He could have signed a two-year in the ballpark of $1 million a season. The Maple Leafs would have preferred that. A two-year deal for a little more to get them over next year’s difficult year with the cap. Instead, he left over a quarter million on the table, hoping to earn an even bigger contract next year.
Johnsson played only nine games for the Maple Leafs last year. He had only three points in those games, but he didn’t look out of place. He had another two points in six playoff games. When the Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the first round, Johnsson joined the Toronto Marlies for their Calder Cup championship run. He scored 24 points in 16 games for the Marlies.
His impressive performance for the Marlies, coupled with his 15 games of NHL experienced has given Johnsson the confidence that he belongs in the NHL. That he can excel in the NHL. If he does and scores 20 or more goals, he’ll be asking for something north of $2 million next season.
2019-2020 Salary Cap Space
The difference between $2 million and $1 million dollars may not seem like a lot. Unless you’re Dr. Evil. But every dollar is going to count for the Maple Leafs next year when Matthews and Marner reach the end of their entry-level contracts. Neither appears to be signing early, expecting to outperform themselves next year and demand massive raises next season.
Kasperi Kapanen and Garret Sparks, assuming Sparks is the backup next year, are another RFAs next season. Both could be asking for over $2 million a season. There’s also Jake Gardiner. He’s a UFA after next season. He’s making $4 million now and will be looking for a sizeable raise next season. Or he’ll need to be replaced.
The cap may go up to $85 million next season, but if Johnsson, Sparks, Kapanen, and Par Lindholm all sign for $2.5 million a year on average. Marner, Nylander, and Gardiner all sign for $8 million a season on average. And Matthews signs for $11 million. The Maple Leafs will be pushing $90 million in salary. That’s well over $85 million, and the cap may not even be that high.
Some of those estimates are higher than the players will sign for, but even if you can squeeze a few million out of those players, the Leafs will have a difficult time staying under $85 million in the 2019-2020 season. They will be able to use Horton’s space in 2019, but it’s still going to be tight. That’s why every million counts. Having Johnsson under contract for $1 million wouldn’t solve all their woes, but it would help.
2020-2021 Salary Cap Space
Things will immediately get much better in 2020. Partick Marleau’s 6.25 million will come off the books. And presumably, the cap will raise yet again. The Maple Leafs won’t have many RFAs and will be able to manage the ones they do. They may even have room to upgrade their defence. That might not be what most Maple Leaf fans want to hear. The cry for an improved defence is happening now. Waiting another two seasons for a solution will be tough for fans.
There are a couple quick fixes for the 2019 season. The Maple Leafs could trade Gardiner, or let him walk, and look for a cheaper defenseman to replace him. But it won’t be easy to replace a 50 point defenseman.
They could find a way to get Marleau off the books early. He may waive his non-trade to reunite with the San Jose Sharks for a farewell season. Or he may retire to Robidas Island.
The most likely solution is that the Maple Leafs are trying to bridge Nylander. If they can sign him to a two-year deal at $5 or $6 million, that could be enough to get past the 2019 season without losing a significant player. They may have to re-sign him to $9 million or more after that deal, but by then the Maple Leafs will have plenty of cap room.
This is all assuming all the players do well and earn raises. That may not happen. But confidence has never been so high in Leaf Nation, and that includes fans and players. Confidence breeds success and success costs money. How the Leafs keep this team together, if they can at all, will be interesting. The Johnsson contract is just one piece of many.
Main Photo: TORONTO, ON – MAY 10: Toronto Marlies left wing Andreas Johnsson (11) makes himself known to the ref on a no call. Toronto Marlies V Syracuse Crunch during 2nd period action 2nd round of AHL playoffs at Ricoh Coliseum. Toronto Star/Rick Madonik (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)