Adjusting Salary Cap Expectations: Maple Leafs 2012 Edition


The NHL first introduced a salary cap in 2005-06. In that year the maximum amount a team could spend was a paltry $39 million, or roughly half of what Ryan Suter is going to make next season. For the 2012-13 NHL season the salary cap has been set at $70.2 million. Some people believe that the cap will be rolled back as a result of this summer's ongoing CBA negotiations (I don't), but GMs are currently operating with $70.2 million in mind as they head into Free Agent Frenzy this week.

While the salary cap has increased 80% since it was first introduced, most fans' expectations for what salary figures should look like have not. Many fans still seem to be operating under the premise that a $5 million contract today is the same as a $5 million contract signed a few years ago. For a player this is more or less true, since inflation of the dollar (Canadian or U.S.) is not anywhere near 80%. For a team on an internal budget it is also somewhat true since the amount that the owner will let them spend has not increased. But from the standpoint of how much a team can spend on players, it's not true at all. I decided to explore this in a bit more detail with the current Leafs' roster.

Because it's hard to mentally adjust expectations for the dollar values on a contract as the cap rises, I think it would be helpful to start thinking of player salaries in terms of the percent of the salary cap they took up the year their contract started. To that end, I calculated that statistic for every player currently on the Leafs roster according to Capgeek. For players who currently do not have contracts such as Nikolai Kulemin, I used the value of their previous contract. I also included Ben Scrivens since Capgeek listed only one goalie for the Leafs. And the roster includes Colby Armstrong because I put the spreadsheet together before his buyout was announced.

In addition to calculating each player's cap hit as a percentage of the cap I also inflated each player's salary to the value it would correspond to under a $70.2 million salary cap and deflated it to the value that it would correspond to under the original $39 million cap. The players at the extremes produced interesting results; Dion Phaneuf's contract is equivalent to an $8 million deal signed tomorrow, while Ben Scrivens' contract last year is equivalent to just $364,000 under the original 2005-06 salary cap. Here's how the whole team shakes out, sorted by cap % the year the deal started:

Player Year Started Real Cap Hit Colbys % Of Cap 05-06 Equivalent 12-13 Equivalent
Phaneuf 2008 6.500 2.2 11.5 4.471 8.048
Kessel 2009 5.400 1.8 9.5 3.708 6.674
Komisarek 2009 4.500 1.5 7.9 3.090 5.562
Grabovski 2012 5.500 1.8 7.8 3.056 5.500
Lupul 2009 4.250 1.4 7.5 2.918 5.253
Connolly 2011 4.750 1.6 7.4 2.881 5.186
Van Riemsdyk 2012 4.250 1.4 6.1 2.361 4.250
Lombardi 2010 3.500 1.2 5.9 2.298 4.136
Liles 2012 3.875 1.3 5.5 2.153 3.875
MacArthur 2011 3.250 1.1 5.1 1.971 3.548
Armstrong 2010 3.000 1.0 5.1 1.970 3.545
Kulemin 2010 2.350 0.8 4.0 1.543 2.777
Reimer 2011 1.800 0.6 2.8 1.092 1.965
Bozak 2011 1.500 0.5 2.3 0.910 1.638
Frattin 2010 1.300 0.4 2.2 0.854 1.536
Gunnarsson 2011 1.325 0.4 2.1 0.804 1.447
Steckel 2010 1.100 0.4 1.9 0.722 1.300
Gardiner 2011 1.117 0.4 1.7 0.677 1.219
Franson 2010 0.800 0.3 1.3 0.525 0.945
Crabb 2011 0.750 0.3 1.2 0.455 0.819
Brown 2011 0.737 0.2 1.1 0.447 0.805
Rosehill 2011 0.600 0.2 0.9 0.364 0.655
Scrivens 2011 0.600 0.2 0.9 0.364 0.655

Since only one Leafs (Dion Phaneuf) has a deal that started more than three seasons ago, the results for most players going backwards are more interesting than the results going forwards. This highlights the fact that some recent contracts are not as bad as they might sound. James Van Riemsdyk's new contract would be less than $2.5 million under the original cap. Mikhail Grabovski's deal looks pretty good in this context. A $3 million centre would have been looked at as good value in 2005. Phaneuf's deal is the one that shows the most striking inflation - his contract is the equivalent of over $8 million 2012-13. That's worth keeping mind if Suter gets something like $8 million this week; Dion Phaneuf got that much money as an RFA 4 seasons ago.

Since most of these contracts are fairly recent, I thought it would be interesting to grab some contracts from earlier in the CBA to show just how much cap inflation has really taken place.

Player Year Started Real Cap Hit % Of Cap 05-06 Equivalent 12-13 Equivalent
Sundin 2006 7.600 17.3 6.736 12.125
McCabe 2006 5.750 13.1 5.097 9.174
Kaberle 2006 4.250 9.7 3.767 6.781
Chara 2006 7.500 17.0 6.648 11.966
Crosby 2008 8.700 15.3 5.984 10.771
Ovechkin 2008 9.538 16.8 6.561 11.809

Here's where we can start to see just how much inflation has really occurred. Three players on this list have contracts roughly worth $12 million under next season's salary cap. Bryan McCabe's deal in 2006 is probably larger than the highest cap hit for any defender will be in 2012. And Zach Parise isn't going to have a cap hit anywhere near $12.125 million. So as you can see, talking in absolute dollar terms creates pretty big problems when comparing players who signed under different salary caps. is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of

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