On Friday, Leafland exploded after this tweet from Dave Nonis' second cousin:
Franson trade speculation will heat up. Leafs would like to keep him, but $$ is too much. Prospect and draft pick fair return?— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) July 26, 2013
The Leafs cap situation isn't pretty. According to capgeek.com, the Leafs have roughly $6.7 million in cap space with three RFAs to sign. And considering it's unlikely that the Leafs will carry only 12 forwards into the regular season, there will need to be room for a 13th forward. Unless someone is taking a big sweetheart deal, $6.7m doesn't get you all four players. Nazem Kadri is likely to sign somewhere between $3m to $4m. Toronto may wait to see what plays out in a few other markets before finally sitting down with their former top pick. Derek Stepan in New York and Cody Hodgson in Buffalo might set the range for Kadri's deal. Mark Fraser is unlikely to get the $2m he has requested in arbitration, but could very likely wind up in the $1m to $1.25m range. Even if we take the lower of these estimates for Kadri and Fraser, we're still looking at $4m combined. That leaves less than $3m for Franson plus that 13th forward. That's not enough.
There are a few options: with the addition of Paul Ranger and the eventual contract for Mark Fraser, the Leafs will potentially have five LD on the roster entering camp. The obvious solution is to move one of these players and the obvious candidate is John-Michael Liles. Liles is the contract the Leafs should have bought out back in June when they instead bought out Mikhail Grabovski. There are, however, a few problems with trading Liles: a) he has a limited NTC, and despite not knowing the details of that clause, we can assume this makes any trade involving him more difficult due to the time of year and lack of cap space among teams. Not to mention Liles generally hasn't been the same player since suffering a concussion in the 2011-2012 season.
Demoting Liles to the AHL isn't really an option. That move would only save the Leafs $900k on the cap - not enough to keep Franson. In order to trade Liles, which I would argue is possible but unlikely, the Leafs would need to eat at least $1.75 to $2m of his salary, per year. That's a pretty big pill to swallow for the next three seasons, but would give the Leafs the space for Franson plus that 13th forward.
In a situation without a good option, the best one for Toronto would be to buy-out Liles after Mark Fraser's arbitration case is settled. As per the NHL CBA, there is a second buy-out window for clubs that have salary arbitration cases. In such cases, the second buy-out window opens three days after the club's final arbitration case is settled (either through an award via arbitration or last minute deal with the team) and lasts for 48 hours. Mark Fraser's arbitration case is set for tomorrow. That means the Leafs brief opening to buy-out Liles will begin either Thursday or Friday of this week.
Liles' buy-out numbers aren't pretty, but it gets the Leafs an extra $3m to play with for the upcoming season, which is just enough to sign Cody Franson to a new long-term deal and have a little left over to keep Jerry D'Amigo or Tyler Biggs on the roster.
John-Michael Liles buyout from CapGeek.com
- 2013-14: $875,000
- 2014-15: $875,000
- 2015-16: $2,375,000
- 2016-17: $1,250,000
- 2017-18: $1,250,000
- 2018-19: $1,250,000
That $2.375m hit in 2015-2016 is going to be tough to swallow, but it's important to note that both cap hits for Darcy Tucker and Colby Armstrong expire after this coming season. Liles would potentially be the only active buy-out cap hit at that point and there is a high probability of a rising cap over the next two years. Is keeping Cody Franson worth buying-out Liles? I'd wager yes, given the needs of the team and the strong play he showed in the second half of the season and the playoffs. Franson fits in with the age group Nonis/Burke has put together. Let's hope Toronto finds a way to keep him.