The Toronto Maple Leafs cap concerns for next season are real. They’re just not as much trouble as some believe them to be. Even if they sign Mitch Marner to a hefty contract, they’ll still be able to keep the players most important to the team.
Toronto Maple Leafs Cap Issues Aren’t Significant
Mitch Marner at $10 Million per Season
Auston Matthews signed a five-year deal at an AAV of $11.5 million earlier this month. Marner isn’t going to get much less than that. A similar length deal for $10 million per year is a real option for both sides. Marner’s camp will argue that he led the Maple Leafs in points last season and he may again this season. That’s likely a big reason they want to negotiate Marner’s next contract in the off-season. If he can lead the team in points for two consecutive years, it will help the argument that he should be paid close to Matthews type money. Kyle Dubas will argue that Marner only led the team in points because Matthews spent time injured. He’ll also argue that Marner is a winger. Wingers historically get paid less than centres.
It’s reasonable that Marner will fall in around $10 million a season. It may even end up being less, but at $10 million, Toronto will have little difficulty with next season’s cap.
Kasperi Kapanen at $4 Million per Season
The first potential concern the team will have after signing Marner will be how to sign their two other talented RFAs: Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson. Kapanen is the bigger concern. If another team, say the New York Islanders who are doing well without John Tavares and may have a bone to pick with Toronto, signed Kapanen to an offer sheet, it would have to be over $4 million per season, which would make the compensation reasonable.
The compensation a team needs to provide on an offer sheet of $4 million per season, assuming the term is five years or less, is one second round pick. Kapanen is clearly worth more than that and the Maple Leafs would match without hesitation. The compensation jumps to a first-round pick and a third-round pick if the average yearly salary climbs above $4 million. There’s a good chance the Maple Leafs push hard to get Kapanen signed for $4 million or less on a short term deal. That’s a good price for a potential 30 goal scorer. He has 15 goals in 53 games so far this season. If a team signs him to more than $4 million, the return would be acceptable and the Maple Leafs would have room to sign Johnsson and perhaps even add to the defensive core
Andreas Johnsson at $2 Million per Season
Johnsson is the RFA most likely to be signed to an offer sheet when looking at the dollars alone. If someone is willing to pay Johnsson $4 million per season, which isn’t likely, the Maple Leafs will probably have to let him walk, even for the paltry compensation of a second round pick.
The Maple Leafs could try to sign Johnsson at $2 million per season. Johnsson has also shown a willingness to sign for fewer dollars on a short term deal with the hopes that he’ll cash in later. His current contract is a one-year deal at just under $800,000. That’s coming off a season in which he won the Jack A. Butterfield trophy for MVP of the Calder Cup playoffs. Johnsson could have dug in for a bigger deal, but decided to accept his qualifying offer.
“I have faith in myself and hope that will show this winter,” Johnsson told Hockey Sverige. “(Accepting) is a challenge for me, a chance to chase a bigger contract. I have a good shot at that now.”
Johnsson may be willing to bet on himself again by taking another lesser, albeit greater, contract and trying for bigger money next season when the Maple Leafs have much more cap room. If so, $2 million per year on a one or two-year deal will work for both sides.
Other Roser Spots
If the Maple Leafs do manage to sign Kapanen and Johnsson to $4 and $2 million respectively, they can fill out the remaining roster spots with Trevor Moore and Calle Rosen. That leaves the back-up goalie spot open for Garret Sparks to return at $700,000, or the Maple Leafs could find another backup willing to play for that price.
All these signings would put the Maple Leafs at about $2 million over next season’s projected $83 million salary cap. Here is where the Maple Leafs will have to find something to sacrifice. Many have mentioned the Maple Leafs could look to trade Connor Brown to make some room, but even if Brown is replaced by a player making the minimum, the Maple Leafs will still be over the cap ceiling by about $1 million. This is already assuming Jake Gardiner doesn’t re-sign. So where are the Maple Leafs going to find that last bit of cap room? It’s certainly a concern for Dubas, but considering how close this roster would be to fitting under the salary cap, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle.
Something’s Gotta Give
The two prime candidates to give the Maple Leafs some cap relief are Patrick Marleau, who has a no-movement clause, and Nikita Zaitsev. Both are hard to move. Zaitsev is more likely, but Toronto will be hard pressed to find a taker for him without sweetening the pot with prospects or draft picks. His contract has five more years after this one. That’s just too long for most teams to be interested. Moving either of these players would allow the Maple Leafs to retain everyone else relatively easily.
If the Maple Leafs can’t get out from under the Marleau or Zaitsev contracts, Dubas could try to squeeze everyone a little bit. If Kapanen, Marner, and Johnsson all took a little less than what I’ve suggested here, and Brown is traded, it would work out for next season. The Maple Leafs could also end up trading the rights of Kapanen or Johnsson to another team. When all is said and done, the Maple Leafs actually have quite a few options available to get themselves under the cap. They may lose Kapanen or Johnsson in the end, but it will not be for nothing, and it will be well worth it to keep Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and William Nylander.
A Better Defence
What the Maple Leafs won’t be able to do next season is significantly add to their defence. They added Jake Muzzin this season. With him and Gardiner on the roster, the Maple Leafs defence is better than it has been in a while. Once they lose Gardiner next season, the talk will revert back to the need to improve the blue line. They won’t have the cap space to do that. Perhaps Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren surprise and make the team next season, but that’s probably not going to happen. It won’t be until the 2020-2021 season that the Maple Leafs will have the cap space to add something significant to their blue line, and by then, Sandin and Liljegren may very well be ready to contribute.
The Bigger Picture
Dubas has made it much easier on himself by signing Matthews to a shorter deal. He’ll do the same with Marner. With those two on shorter, cheaper deals, it gives Dubas a good chance to keep Kapanen and Johnsson as well. The Maple Leafs may lose someone when all is said and done, but it won’t be without proper compensation and it won’t be one of Marner, Matthews, Tavares, or Nylander. Just like he said.
TORONTO, ON – FEBRUARY 10: Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 10, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Senators 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)