You could say it for all teams, but the Toronto Maple Leafs future is probably a bit muddier than most. Much of that is due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 and the waterfall effect it may have. Some of it is due to the Maple Leafs crazy 2019-2020 season. The good news is that while the future is a little blurry for the Maple Leafs, not every scenario is a bad one.
Toronto Maple Leafs Future Is Clouded
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in many areas other than the world of sports. More important areas than sports, but that doesn’t mean we all have to completely ignore our favourite pastime and how the pandemic is affecting it. There are going to be many stories that come out of this by the time things are back to normal.
The Here And Now
Toronto Maple Leafs Playoffs
As the pandemic drags on, and it may be a while yet, the hope of the NHL finishing the regular season dwindles. There is still a chance the NHL will be able to have some sort of playoffs. If they do, the easiest format will be to use the teams’ win percentage and keep the Stanley Cup Playoffs themselves as they are. Shortening the first series or two to five games is a good way to shorten the playoffs if they aren’t able to start any time soon.
If the NHL uses this method, the Maple Leafs would face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. That’s a matchup most fans aren’t going to be too afraid of. The two teams play similar styles, and Toronto has played well against Tampa Bay this season. That includes what may end up being the last game of the regular season. A 2-1 Maple Leafs victory.
Wrong Side Of The Cut
Some teams, like the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers, could argue they weren’t given a fair chance. With no regular-season games left to be played, both the Panthers and Rangers would miss the playoffs due to win percentage.
If the NHL does feel the plight of these bubble teams, the playoff format could be expanded for this season. There is talk of a wild card scenario similar to what Major League Baseball does. A win and you’re in format. If the league did that, they would likely focus on the wild card teams and the two teams below them. That would make the Maple Leafs safe. Although it would also be possible for something like a Toronto/Florida a one-game playoff for third spot in the Atlantic.
Another idea that’s been pitched around is expanding the playoffs to 24 teams. This format does the opposite of what a shortened season would do though. It rewards teams that were not very likely to make the playoffs at all. Had the regular season been cut at the mid-way point, this format would make more sense. There were only 12 or so games left per club when the season was put on hold.
We’ll have to wait and see, but no matter what ends up happening, it likely the Maple Leafs will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Again, assuming there are playoffs at all. If they do happen, that win against Tampa will have been the biggest win of the season for Toronto.
The break will help the Maple Leafs on the injury front. Morgan Rielly returned to action against the Lightning, but there’s no doubt he could use the extended break to get all the way back to full strength. Ilya Mikheyev has been a welcome surprise for Toronto this season. He may be back in the line up when play resumes. Along with Mikheyev, Jake Muzzin may also be ready to return. The only player that won’t be back is Andreas Johnsson.
With Mikheyev, Muzzin, and Rielly back, the Maple Leafs will be as healthy as they have been all season.
The Salary Cap
The salary cap is where the Toronto Maple Leafs future really gets muddy. Earlier this month there was talk the cap could rise to as much as $88 million next season. That’s nearly $7 million more than this season. With that extra space and the $4.5 being paid to Cody Ceci off the books, there’s a lot of room for Toronto to add the players they need. Those needs include forward depth, both at center and on the wings, as well as a top-four defenseman.
With the league’s shutdown, the cap is not likely to reach anywhere close to $88 million. If the playoffs are missed this season, revenue will stall even further than it already has. It’s possible the salary cap actually goes down next season. The NHL would have to add leniencies for teams suddenly over the cap. Perhaps creating some sort of soft cap buffer. Of course, preventing teams from abusing something like that would be a challenge.
No matter what happens, there is considerable work to be done for the NHL and the teams regarding the salary cap.
Health And Safety
The most important thing is the health and safety of the players, fans, and employees who work the games. The Toronto Maple Leafs future may or may not include a 2019-2020 playoff game. If there are games to come, they may still be played in front of an empty arena. The good news on this front is that much of the revenue comes from television. That revenue will help the salary cap.
It’s tremendously difficult to predict how things will play out over the next few weeks. Things could slowly start to return to normal, or this could be the beginning of a new way of life for many of us for the foreseeable future. Life isn’t going to just stop. Things like sports will start up again. When will depend on what’s in the best interest of everyone involved. The water is muddy right now and it’s not going to settle for a while. When it does, it will be fast and furious. Until then, stay healthy!