The Edmonton Oilers recently signed captain Connor McDavid to an 8 year, $100 million dollar contract extension that will kick in next season. McDavid completed his second season with the Oilers and will play this coming year at a very cap friendly $925,000 excluding bonuses.
The cap hit, when his new deal is in effect, will be $12.5 million per season. He will have the highest cap hit ever (at least for now) and becomes the fourth player to reach an eight digit per year AAV (Average Annual Value) following Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar.
McDavid is only the third player, behind Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby to receive at least a $100 million dollar contract.
The deal McDavid signed prompted plenty of discussion in regards to Auston Matthews and his next contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Matthews, who scored 40 goals as a rookie, still has two years left on his Entry Level Contract. So, there’s still a year before negotiations on a new contract can officially begin. But, the discussion has become a hot topic.
Signing a top player isn’t usually the problem for teams. They know that player should be paid.
The problem is, signing this player, and then building a competitive, deep and talented team around him.
The Leafs are in a unique situation. They also have two other high end young stars to also sign along with Matthews. William Nylander, who’s rookie contract expires after this season, and Mitch Marner, who is going to need a new deal the same time as Matthews, are both likely going to ask for pretty big contracts themselves, especially if they continue to grow and have excellent point production.
So, what are the Leafs to do? How can they fit everyone in, and yet still have money to fill other important needs as they arise? How can they keep, a currently deep and talented group, together while having to adhere to a salary cap?
Well here are some keys that teams should follow:
1. Find a Number to Pay Your Stars.
Last year’s salary cap maximum was $73 million.
The Penguins paid Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel a combined $25 million. That worked out to be 34 percent of the team’s cap.
The Blackhawks paid Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane over $26 million. That worked out to be roughly 36 percent of the cap. Very comparable to the Pens, but they also had 3 other players making at least $6 million. Their cap space evaporated quickly.
Paying your big guns around the 35 per cent mark is probably as far as you should go. While rules state you can pay a player a maximum of 20 per cent of the cap, doing so will severely hinder the chances of paying someone else.
McDavid at $12.5 million will be a large percentage of the Oiler’s cap on his own. If the $12.5 million counted this year, the percentage of cap would have been roughly 16.7 percent.
There still would be Leon Draisaitl to sign and the $6 million per going to Milan Lucia until 2023. If say Draisaitl gets to a $10 million dollar number, the Oilers big 3 would be at 38 percent of the cap if the max was $75 million. Let’s not forget that McDavid left money on the table too.
Now next year and likely future years the Oilers, Leafs and everyone else will get some relief if the cap maximum goes up, but it will be interesting to see by how much.
But one thing is certain, it’s unlikely there will be any one player who will reach that 20 percent, at least not in the near future.
If Toronto manages to set their big 3 around that 35 percent number, that will give them the chance to field a team with depth. The higher they go, the riskier it will become to have anyone around them.
2. To Bridge or Not To Bridge
This will be the big decision by the Leafs. To decide whether or not to sign one or even all of Matthews, Marner and Nylander to the maximum eight- year deals or to bridge them with a shorter term contract.
Now, the bridge can mean many different things. For example, a player like Nazem Kadri got a short term, 1 to 2 year contract to prove himself that he was worthy of something more.
It can also mean a longer term, but non-max deal. Most likely those deals run around 5 years to bring the player to unrestricted free agency.
There are plenty of examples of this phenomenon.
Evander Kane – Signed a six- year $5.25 million dollar per season deal after his entry level contract expired. In the final year of his rookie deal, he scored 30 goals which was likely the reason why he got such a lucrative long term deal rather than a bridge contract.
Jonathan Huberdeau – Signed a two- year bridge deal for $3.25 million per after his rookie deal expired. During his rookie contract he topped out in his third season with 15 goals and 54 points. The prove it contract proved to be worthwhile as he improved his point per game average over those 2 seasons and managed to land a six- year deal worth $5.9 million per season.
Alexander Barkov – Unlike Huberdeau, he got his big contract right after his rookie deal expired. He got the same six- year deal worth $5.9 million per season after scoring 28 goals and 59 points in the final year of his rookie deal.
Aaron Ekblad – Though he plays a different position, which has a different value, Ekblad did sign an eight- year deal worth $7.5 million per season which was one of the first eight- year deals for a player coming off his entry level contract.
Jonathan Drouin – After being traded to Montreal, he immediately signed a six- year contract at $5.5 million per season. This was after a 21 goal, 54 point campaign with Tampa, his only notable season during his entry level deal.
Carey Price – Again, its a different position, but its worth noting Price’s salary progression. After his rookie deal expired, Price signed a bridge two- year contract. After excelling, he signed a six- year, $6.5 million per season deal. With this expiring after this coming season, the Habs extended Price to a eight- year deal with a cap hit of $10.5 million through the lifetime of that contract. That was the biggest deal for a goaltender.
Bobby Ryan – After his entry level deal expired with the Ducks, he re-signed to a price of $5.1 million per year for five- years. That took him to unrestricted free agency. To avoid that, the Sens, who later traded for Ryan, re-signed him to a seven- year extension at $7.25 million per. This was a mild surprise considering Ryan has not scored 30+ goals since 2012.
Erik Karlsson – After his rookie deal ended, Karlsson signed a seven- year deal at $6.5 million per season. After this coming year, the Sens will almost certainly begin talks on an extension that could make Karlsson one of the league’s highest paid. Being one of the best players in the league right now and arguably the best defenceman, Karlsson is underpaid right now.
Steve Stamkos – After back to back seasons of 90+ points in his second and third seasons, Stamkos signed a five- year, $7.5 million per season contract that took him to unrestricted free agency. While there were many offers, some more lucrative, Stamkos decided to stay in Tampa at a cap friendlier $8.5 million cap hit for eight years. Perhaps the injuries hurt his take home pay, but he still managed to get paid and yet still help Tampa keep their team relatively together.
Victor Hedman – His salary progression was similar to Stamkos. After his ELC contract expired, he re-signed for five years at $4 million per season. Then, before he could become an unrestricted free agent, Hedman re-signed with Tampa at $7.8 million per season for eight years.
The Triplets Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat – All three Tampa forwards signed three- year bridge contracts after their rookie contracts expired. Johnson and Palat’s deals expired this year, Kucherov is next season. Johnson has cashed in so far re-signing for seven years at $5 million per. Palat is a RFA and should have a deal in place before the season. Kucherov though will likely get the biggest payday if he has another 40 goal, 85 point season this year. This will be interesting to watch to see if Tampa can fit everyone under the cap.
Jordan Staal – Staal, while with the Pens, signed a bridge four- year deal worth $4 million per season. Knowing they would not be able to re-sign him, and pay Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Pens traded Staal to Carolina. With one year remaining on his deal, he signed a then allowed 10- year contract at $6 million per season.
Artemi Panarin – Panarin is a unique case in that he was an undrafted free agent who signed a two- year entry level deal. In those two seasons he has averaged over 75 points. Now he starts a two- year bridge contract he signed with the Blackhawks. If he can maintain that scoring pace with his new team, the Blue Jackets, he will be looking for a large pay day.
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Hall was one of three Oilers who got a big $6 million per year, multi year deal coming off their rookie contract. Hall got seven years from Edmonton. Nugent-Hopkins also got seven years while Eberle got six years from Edmonton. These were to be the big building blocks to righten the ship in Edmonton. Since then two of these players have been traded and their new face is Connor McDavid. These three were the benchmark for players to ask for the long term contract rather than the bridge deal. These signings were no doubt controversial.
John Tavares – After an 81 point campaign in his third season, it was a surprise that Tavares signed for only $5.5 million per year on a six- year contract. Considering he gave up one season of unrestricted free agency and had such a great year, it was a big bargain for the Isles that contract. The next one may not be so much. Tavares is unrestricted after this season and will likely be looking for a monster eight- year contract, possibly into the eight figures.
Claude Giroux – The Flyers captain signed a three year bridge contract for $3.75 million per before getting an eight- year, $66.2 million dollar deal. He cashed in on his bridge years as he had seasons of 93 and 86 points. But, since his eight- year contract kicked in, he has not fared as well and as he heads into his 30s, the deal will depreciate in value for the Flyers.
Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby – Both signed identical five- year contracts after their entry deals expired. The deals were worth $8.7 million per season. After those expired, Crosby signed a 12- year deal worth the same $8.7 million per season. This was before the new CBA kicked in that limited the term to be eight years. Malkin signed a year later for $9.5 million and eight years. At the time, they also had Jordan Staal who they traded away. This will probably be the same dilemma the Leafs will face with their big three.
Phil Kessel – The Bruins did not want to sign Kessel to the deal he wanted so they traded him to Toronto. It was the Leafs who first signed Kessel to five years at $5.4 million per year and then re-signed him to his current contract, eight years at $8 million per season. The Leafs got out of that deal by trading him to Pittsburgh but still carry over $2 million of that contract per season.
Alex Ovechkin – After his rookie contract expired, OV had already scored 163 goals in three years. So, he was rewarded with the biggest contract at the time, 13 years, $124 million. While he has started to show signed of slowing down, OV still has had five 50 goal seasons since then and is still one of the most well known star players around the world.
Evgeny Kuznetsov – Kuznetsov did not immediately come over to North America after he was drafted. He spent time in the KHL, then signed a two- year entry level deal. After that, he signed a two- year bridge contract. He was set to become a restricted free agent this summer, but instead re-signed for $7.8 million per season over the next eight years.
Niklas Backstrom – Backstrom signed a pre-term restriction 10- year deal worth $6.7 million per season after his rookie contract. The Capitals, unlike the Pens, decided to spend big immediately on their two best players with long term contracts right off their rookie deals.
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews – Both signed bridge deals after their rookie contracts expired. They both signed identical five year contracts worth $6.3 million per season. Before those expired, they both signed identical eight year, $10.5 million per season deals that will keep them as Hawks for life.
Nathan MacKinnon – After his rookie contract expired, MacKinnon re-signed for seven years at $6.3 million per season. He will not be an unrestricted free agent until 2023. One year into his new contract, MacKinnon only scored 16 goals for a bad Avalanche team. They will need more bang for their buck if they are going to ever get out of the basement.
Tyler Seguin – After his rookie contract, Seguin signed for six years with Boston at $5.75 million per season. The extension was signed prior to his last year of his three- year rookie deal. However, before he was paid by the Bruins, he was traded to Dallas. With the Stars he has scored at least 70 points in each of his four seasons there. At that pace he will likely get a similar contract as teammate Jamie Benn.
Jamie Benn – Benn was not a heralded 1st round pick, but emerged as a top talent. In his first three seasons he scored at least 20 goals. He was rewarded with a five- year contract at $5.25 million per season. He scored at least 69 points in each of his last four years and was rewarded with a eight- year $76 million dollar contract which commences this year.
Ryan Johansen – Johansen signed last week a new deal that will pay him $64 million over the next eight years. Prior to this, he was on a three- year contract at $4 million per season. This was a bridge deal after his rookie contract. He has had four straight seasons of at least 60 points. He had 13 points in 14 playoff games before he got injured and missed the Stanley Cup final.
Filip Forsberg – Forsberg is in his second year of a six- year contract that pays him $6 million per season. The Preds burned one year of his rookie contract playing him in 13 games in 2014. In the last three years he has scored at least 26 goals including back to back 30 goal seasons.
Vladimir Tarasenko – Tarasenko got the max eight- year term deal on his second contract which has six years remaining. He had 37 goals and 73 points in his third season and in that summer, he signed the big contract. He has been very consistent scoring 40 and 39 goals and registering 74 and 75 points in his last two years. He is making $7.5 million per season.
Mark Schiefele – Schiefele signed for eight years and $49 million dollars after his rookie contract expired. He is currently in the second year of his new deal. In his first three years his point totals increased from 34, to 49, to 61. He had a monster season after signing his monster contract registering 82 points. At $6.1 million per year, he is a bargain if he can maintain that kind of production.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry – Their contracts are mirror images. They both signed for five years at $5.325 million per season after their entry deals expired. Before they could become unrestricted free agents, they re-signed with the Ducks for eight years each. Perry signed for $8.625 million per season, Getzlaf signed for $8.25 million per. In their 30s now, with four years left on their deals, their production may not meet the dollars they are getting, but for now, they are still producing and keeping the Ducks competitive.
Sean Monahan – The Flames went with a seven- year pact for over $44 million dollars with Monahan. At $6.3 million per season, in the first year of the deal, Monahan rewarded the Flames with 27 goals and a trip to the playoffs. Monahan has been consistent being around 27 goals and 60 points in his last three seasons.
Johnny Gaudreau – Gaudreau got less term than Monahan, six years, but over $40 million on his new deal. At $6.7 million per year, he sort of struggled with 61 points, down from the 78 he scored in the previous year, and only 18 goals. He was hurt as well. The Flames are hopeful that at full health, and an overall stronger squad, those numbers improve.
Anze Kopitar – Kopitar signed for $6.8 million per season for seven years after his entry level deal expired. During that time he helped the Kings to two cups and was part of one of the league’s most dominant teams during that span. Before hitting unrestricted free agency, the Kings re-signed Kopitar to a whopping eight- year, $80 million dollar deal. His first year on that deal he struggled badly to the tune of just 12 goals and the team missing the playoffs.
Logan Couture – Couture signed a two- year bridge contract after his entry level deal ended. That is interesting considering he was coming off back to back 30 goal seasons playing out his rookie deal. He only managed to get $2.875 per year when we’ve seen many others paid much more for producing much less. Couture is currently in the fourth year of a five year deal paying him $6 million per. His production has actually been less than what it was in his first three seasons. Will be interesting to see what he receives in the summer of 2019.
Ekblad and McDavid are the most recent ones to get the big eight- year max. That seems to be what Matthews is destined to get. If Marner and/or Nylander put up all world numbers too in the next year or two, they’ll be in a position to demand that as well.
Lamoriello though is a patient man. He won’t rush into a decision. He’s already pushed aside any speculative talk about this since Matthews still has two years left on his deal.
Indeed, you don’t want to wait to the end to alienate your star player, but its true, there is time. However Nylander will need his deal next summer, and a big season could make contract talks very interesting.
And what of some of their other players? What about Brown this summer? Is it about clearing cap space to get him signed or is there a bit of contention? How long of a deal does he want? Yes, he did have a fine season, but he’s still developing as a player and there is no evidence yet of his ceiling.
Hyman got four years and its not difficult to assume Brown would get something at least similar. But could he demand five or six years based on his 20 goal campaign? It might not be out of the question.
Then what of Gardiner in two years? The team has a hole on D as is. As a pending UFA, will he get a big deal? It will likely be a wait and see to see how things play out. Gardiner is a workhorse and currently the second best guy Toronto has back there. He brings much to the table, sometimes though leaves a lot to be desired. How he fits in is still a guess.
The Leafs have options. Deals that are not the eight- year max can be done. The likelihood is the player will want to go only to when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Once it moves past that, the team will be “buying” his unrestricted years and thus would want more. Usually as a UFA, you can end up with more money as there is an actual bidding war for your services. And, if you’re only 26 or 27, you have a lot of bargaining power.
Only time will tell how things play out.
3. Don’t Overpay the Secondary Players
When you put together a team that has too many good players, you eventually run out of cap space to pay them all.
You have your core group you want, but then you have to surround them with help.
Toronto has actually done a fine job so far at determining the players they like, and finding a way to pay them, but not overpay them.
It’s tricky business since cap space is so limited. If your star players take 35 percent, there’s not a lot to spread around. But Toronto has managed to sign some of their support players to long term deals that are not a huge strain on the cap.
When you start having your fifth, sixth best players and beyond making at least five- million, that is where things can get difficult for teams to fit everyone in and actually field a decent 22 man roster. Paying them a little less adds up in the end.
Toronto so far has managed this.
Nazem Kadri re-signed for six years at $4.5 million per season. He has five years left on that deal.
Morgan Reilly re-signed for six years, at $5 million per season. He too has five years left.
Nikita Zaitsev re-signed for seven years at $4.5 milllion per season. That starts this year.
Fredrik Andersen signed for five years at $5 million per season. He has four years left on that deal.
They probably have another defenceman, maybe two, to try and make part of their support core. They also would probably like to have a couple of key forwards to add as well.
If we take a look at the champions, the Penguins, they had:
Marc-Andre Fleury at $5.75 million
Kris Letang at $7.25 million
Patric Hornqvist at $4.25 million
Olli Maata at $4.08 million
That’s just over $21 million for these four players to go with the $25 million they’re spending on their big three.
The Blackhawks had:
Brent Seabrook at $6.8 million
Corey Crawford at $6 million
Marian Hossa at $5.2 million
Artem Anisimov at $4.5 million
That’s just over $22.5 million for these four players to go with the over $26 million they are spending on their big three.
For Toronto, if they again manage to re-sign their three main guys at the approximate 35 percent rate, they will add $19 million to that total with their four main support players. It may not seen as much, but the two to four million dollars of savings will go a long way to helping them keep additional players in the fold and add more players to the roster.
Further down the roster, they have other players, like Tyler Bozak, James vanRiemsdyk, Jake Gardiner, Leo Komarov and Zach Hyman making a combined $17.7 million. Three of these players though are on expiring deals so the Leafs are not tied too long to these players. This offers them some flexibility to give further shape their roster.
4. Be Weary of Giving Term To Support Players
Sometimes its not just the dollars that are the issue. Its also the term. The Leafs benefit from having Bozak, JVR, Lupul, Komarov, Dominic Moore, Eric Fehr and to a lesser extent, Alexei Marchenko and Martin Marincin, as well as the buyouts of Jared Cowen and Tim Gleason coming off the books after this season. That is over $24 million coming off the books.
If they’re not part of your main core, it may be important going forward to not tie yourself down to players with big five or even six year deals. Your top five or six players sure. But anyone else, it can be a risk.
Sure, they gave four years to Hyman and Matt Martin, and may do so with Connor Brown. But four seems to be the max for your depth guys. And with Martin and Hyman, both are making less than $3 million. Going beyond that and you get into trouble. See the Kings and Dustin Brown who has five years left on his deal at over $5 million per season. Or the Jets and Mathieu Perreault who is going to get $4.125 million in each of the next four seasons. Or Brandon Sutter who got $4.375 million per for five years. Or Reilly Smith who got $5 million per for five years. Or the Bruins signing Matt Beleskey for four years at $3.8 million per season. Or Justin Abdelkader getting seven years on his contract. Seven! The list goes on and on.
If the Leafs avoid long terms with big dollars to their middle part of their roster, they could actually spread the funds around throughout their roster.
Also, not locking up big term is key because it will allow them to move players around more easily rather than be stuck with so many four, five, seven or eight year deals through their entire roster.
Having so many players, both on cheap rookie deals and having many on expiring contracts is probably good reason why the Leafs went after Patrick Marleau and signed him to such a big contract. At three years, his last year will really be the beginning of the contracts for Matthews and Marner so the impact long term will be limited to one year.
The expiring deals are so helpful. Next year, Lupul will come off the books. Yes, he was easily stored on LTIR, but having this come off next year will allow more flexibility during the off-season.
To further support this claim, the Pens had three other players, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley and Carl Hagelin make at least three million. But, since Kunitz and Daley were on expiring deals, it allowed them some funds to re-sign Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary. Also, Matt Murray’s deal kicks in as well.
Having balance, and flexibility, and not overpaying too many guys will surely help Toronto, at the very least, keep most of this team together, while allowing it the opportunity to add and aid the roster further.
5. Keep the Cupboard Full
There’s no bigger bonus than having entry level contracts. You could be paying players, really good ones, less than one million. That is where you get the most bang for your buck.
Yes, performance bonuses can run the total high, but the low base cap hit is the best way teams can take advantage of the cap.
Toronto benefitted from having so many on these entry level deals. Without bonuses, the Leafs will pay Marner, Matthews and Nylander less than $3 million combined. They will be impacted this season with carryover bonuses, but at the end of the day, with how these three can produce, that’s a home run there.
With the cap space gained from having Entry-Level contracts, it allowed them to sign Hainsey and Marleau to rich but short term contracts.
Continuing to add these types is of huge importance to long term sustainability.
The core group keeps teams afloat, but being able to add top players on the cheap can’t be beat.
Look at the Pens again. Sheary, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Murray, Carter Rowney were all on deals that paid them less than one million. They all played a big part on this year’s cup team or on both cup teams the last two years.
All these players came through the Pens system. None of them were drafted before the third round. Rowney and Sheary were both undrafted free agents. And the most recent pick, Guentzel, was selected four years ago.
The Pens gave them time and they were ready to contribute. Two Cups proved that.
The Hawks too benefited from a strong pipeline, including most recently Artemi Panarin who thrived immediately after coming over from the KHL. Getting an almost point per game scorer on an entry level deal is truly a huge advantage.
But, as success comes, so does paying for it. The Hawks traded Panarin for Brandon Saad to allow the team more cost certainty.
Currently, the Hawks haven’t found as much success with their supporting cast of young players as the Pens. It’s resulted in a two year slippage. If those young players don’t find a way to be better contributors, a further slide could commence.
It’s why it’s so imparative for Toronto to continue to build as they continue to win.
This year, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and Zaitsev will start new deals that will cost Toronto at least $2 million per player. This is the next wave of players Toronto had to pay after Reilly and Kadri.
But with that, the leafs will still have plenty of affordable players.
“Older” young players like Josh Leivo, Connor Carrick, Nikita Soshnikov, Fred Gauthier and Kerby Rychel will battle for roster spots and playing time looking to establish themselves as full time NHLers. They all make less than a million so for now, they’re a solid group of cheap depth players. They also added Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman from overseas to add further depth and competition.
At some point the Leafs will likely part with Bozak and vanRiemsdyk and perhaps too Gardiner. Those fringe players above may not cut it as replacements.
But, Toronto can be excited by the likes of Kasperi Kapanen, Carl Grundstom, Jeremy Bracco, Timothy Liljegren and Travis Dermott.
All have shown some signs of being more than depth players. Kapanen and Liljegren have first round pedigree. Kapanen was very good at the end of the year. Yet he may not even make the team this year. He does have all the qualities of being a good top nine forward.
Liljegren is only 18 and a defenceman. They will be patient, but how fast he makes it will be up to him. He has the tools to perhaps be special.
Based on immediate need, Grundstom may make it first. His two way play and grit could get him playing time soon after likely some seasoning in the AHL.
Dermott and Bracco have all the tools as well to be very solid NHLers.
Keeping the pipeline full and continuing to add high end young players and developing them properly will only sustain success.
It’s important Toronto sticks to that plan. They did expend a second rounder to get a rental like Brian Boyle, but prior trades afforded them the luxury. It would serve the Leafs well to not make that a habit. It’s too hard to try and hit home runs with late round picks or selecting only four to five times a draft.
Keeping their first at the very least gives them the best chance to continue the pipeline and avoid declines that we’ve seen with the LA Kings and maybe the Hawks.
LA is a great example of a team paying for it now from trying to win. The payoff was great, two cups in a span of three years from 2012 to 2014, but the last three years has seen them miss the playoffs twice, lose in the first round the other time and be a team stuck with bad cap contracts and very few, if any prospects.
The Kings since 2013 have made 34 selections in the draft and only four have made it to the NHL, with Adrian Kempe playing the most games with 25.
With two horrible contracts on the books for at least another four years (Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown), $10 million a season being paid to Anze Kopitar, who scored only 12 goals last season, and their best player, Drew Doughty needing to be signed in a couple years, its not a pleasant outlook.
If you’re the Leafs, you’d probably take the two Cup wins. But, this is a good lesson for them to learn from as being good can evaporate pretty quickly if you run out of depth and cap space. And there is no guarantee you can win. But the chances are greater should you be smart with how to manage your assets.
As mentioned, they have Bozak and JVR to re-sign after this season. They easily could, but for how much? JVR could easily get $6 million on the open market. Bozak could too get a raise on the $4.2 million he is making now.
Teams can tend to get clingy with the players they have. Toronto seems different, but it will be interesting to see how these two situations develop.
Mock Salary Cap Roster
Here is a mockup of the kind of salary you should pay by position. This is with a cap max of $80 million. This slotting will leave $1 million in cap space. This is for a 23 man roster.
Currently the cap maximum is set for $75 million this coming season. With carryover bonuses, buyouts and retained salary on the books as well, the Leafs are in fact currently over the cap. Now, the Leafs can go 10 per cent over in the off-season so long as they are at or less than the cap max by the beginning of the season.
They will get internal savings by putting Nathan Horton and Lupul on LTIR. That is a total of $10.55 million. The team still needs to re-sign Brown, but that should not be a truly difficult issue.
The cap has increased around $2 million in each of the last three years. So its possible that in a couple years, the cap could reach $80 million. Of course it depends on so many factors. But, it seems the cap is tracking towards that number.
So, if that is the case, what could the Leafs roster look like at that time? This would be the 2019-2020 season. Then, the contracts of Matthews and Marner will have expired and their new deals would kick in that season. Nylander would already had one year on his new deal.
By then, the contracts of Bozak, Moore, Fehr, van Riemsdyk, Komarov, Leivo, Soshnikov, Marchenko, Carrick, Gardiner, Marincin, Hainsey, McElhinney will have all expired. Who stays and who goes is anyone’s guess.
While the retained salary for Phil Kessel, at $1.2 million, is still on the books, Cowen and Gleason’s buyouts will have come off by then.
So with all that, can the Leafs slot in and field a kind of team that can sustain success?
Here is how the Leafs could slot. We will assume the salary cap will be a round number of $80 million.
This lineup totals $76, 300, 000 including the retained salary of Phil Kessel. Nathan Horton’s $5.3 million dollar cap hit will still be on the books, but again, with LTIR, they can put him there and gain that amount of cap space.
This first example is based on the assumption Matthews signs an eight- year deal while both Nylander and Marner settle for the five year “bridge” deals that take them to unrestricted free agency.
Also, Gardiner is re-signed for five years. He is due to be an unrestricted free agent at that time.
This lineup allows some breathing room. This would have at least four entry level deals. They could potentially have bonuses that could be carried over.
The spare parts that have no names assigned could be anyone from rookie entry deals, to veterans to short contracts.
Either way, this may be the “better” case scenario for Toronto as they have some cap space to work with.
But, the Leafs could potentially be tied to bigger contracts.
Here is the situation that Toronto could be in if it gave Matthews even more money ($11 million AAV), signed Marner and Nylander to richer eight- year deals (at $8 million AAV), and even Connor Brown getting a longer term deal, likely meaning more money since it would take away some UFA years.
This would total $79, 550, 000 leaving Toronto with a sliver of cap space (excluding Horton). Also of note, this lineup is only using players currently within their organization.
The contracts for Matthews, Marner and Nylander total $27 million. That’s almost 34 per cent. That’s actually generous to the Leafs since we see other teams have a big three totalling more than that. Could Marner and Nylander demand more? There some potential for that to happen. If the three veered closer to the 35 to 40 per cent range, then something would have to give. Something may have to give even before that if any flexibility would be needed.
They’d probably have to find a defenceman who made much less than Jake Gardiner. Or, perhaps they trade away Connor Brown. Matt Martin could be bought out or demoted.
And both the lineups displayed do not even consider a player outside the organization that could be added. Toronto added Marleau this summer, but down the road, could they make that kind of commitment?
Based on looking at the defence, they could probably use a better addition. Maybe they replace Gardiner. But, how much would they have available to spend?
In the summer of 2019, the likes of Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, Tyler Seguin, Oliver Ekman-Larsson among other good players would be unrestricted free agents. Its probably unlikely some or even any of these players would be available. Its been the trend that teams re-sign their top players.
That being said, maybe one or two are available. Especially on defense. What if Drew Doughty is available? Think he’d demand something high? like what PK Subban makes? Certainly. So how could the Leafs fit that kind of contract in or put in a competing offer?
In that situation the Leafs would likely have to part with one of Marner or Nylander. That would be a tough pill to swallow.
But, we’ve seen it before. The Pens had to move Staal, the Hawks moved Panarin, it happens and it could happen to the Leafs having to move a top player out.
Flexibility is important in the cap era. This is why it would be beneficial for Toronto to see if Matthews, Marner and Nylander can take less.
The rumours that McDavid would be getting as much as $13 to $14 million created a lot of talk that the Oilers would do it, but wouldn’t have much of a team around him during that eight- year run. It surprised some actually that he “settled” for $12.5 million per.
While $7, $8, $10, $11 million is still a ton of money, the lower the percent of the cap the Leafs end up paying their big three, the better team they will afford to field.
But, you want to keep them happy. And, you don’t want to have a situation where there’s holdouts or any sort of animosity. And you definitely want to avoid arbitration. That seems to never go well.
If they perform, the money for them will take care of itself. But, hopefully there is some number that can be found that will appease both the player and the team while not leaving the Leafs with just these three players and nothing else.
This will be an interesting backstory for the team over the next couple of years and this story will come to the forefront two years from now should especially Matthews be without a contract yet.
Right now, the story is the team and with the additions of veterans Marleau, Moore and Hainsey, the goal is to start winning sooner than later.
Even with eight rookies last year and one of the youngest teams in the NHL last year, the Leafs understand the window is always small to try and win a cup. Anything can happen in two years, even in one year. So them trying to win now, adding veteran talent, is actually sensible. Plus they had the cap space to do it.
But, if the goal is to try and keep this core group together to maintain longevity in success, it will be a challenge, especially if there is a lot of success. Success means the players should be rewarded for it.
This is why it will be imperative for the Leafs to follow the outline above and continue to build, while trying to win.
Unfortunately the cap won’t allow teams to stay together, like say the Islanders of the 1980s or the Oilers from that era as well.
If the Leafs can manage it well, and they have the right people in place to planl this, they can get the best of both worlds and win and win often with the same key guys in place.
But after over 50 years of not winning, this team, this city really won’t care much about all this so long as they can win at least once. With this group, this smart management team in place, it just may happen, regardless of the cap constraints.