Fresh of a season where the Leafs finish 25th and draft Alex Nylander with the 6th overall pick, the team turns its focus to Steven Stamkos. There is much debate among the front office with respect to the $11.5M contract he is rumoured to be looking for. His agent has indicated the Leafs have the inside track if they are willing to pay him. GM Lou Lamoriello and Coach Mike Babcock are pushing hard for the signing while Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter are a little more skeptical, believing that there is too much talent and signing Stamkos may cause the Leafs to lose multiple young players due to salary cap issues just as they are entering their prime. Is having Stamkos and two 4th liners a better use of cap space than keeping three solid 2nd line players in their primes?
Brendan Shanahan has asked for a theoretical picture of the teams salary cap position through the period of the contract.
I don't need to recap the speculation, the favourited tweets, the Twitter banter, the talking head chatter, you all have seen it. Stamkos is going to free agency and he wants to be a Leaf... provided they back up the truck of $11.5M over 7 years with implied endorsement deals and a front office position when he retires and a statue on Legends Row. There are multiple sides to this signing, with most observations falling into the A) do you want to sign Stamkos to this kind of money (his PPG is down over the last year and a half) and B) if Stamkos does make sense, should a team at the start of a rebuild with a window for winning closer to 2020 than 2015 want to make this kind of deal? (Of course, there's no chance he stays with those stinking Lightning. Nope. No Way.)
This post does not answer the first question and probably doesn't answer the second either, but it takes an attempt at determining the ramifications of such a hefty contract within the frame of the Leafs existing and potential future contract obligations.
What I've done is forecasted (poorly) the extent of the Leafs existing contract expiries with the promotion and subsequent signing of future contracts for Leafs prospects versus the ability to stay within the salary cap.
I put a few restrictions on the exercise.
A) All existing contract commitments must remain in force (ie cannot be traded for draft picks). Also the cap remains constant at $71.4M and there is no salary inflation.
B) All prospects hit their ceiling and are fairly rewarded. I`m not assuming this because of my eternal optimism. By having other successful prospects, cap space is used up and it provides a `worst case`scenario from a cap perspective (best case from a performance perspective). The flip side If all prospects save for Nylander and Marner bust, the Leafs rebuild is either going to be supplemented heavily by UFAs (who will receive similar contracts as the prospects beyond entry level) or it will be a stars and scrubs team with no real depth beyond its top players.`
C) Any contract signed subsequently (mainly RFA extensions) can be traded for `futures` eliminating their cap hit. The exercise assumes Toronto will not be able to use these futures (draft picks, prospects) down the road but in real life it may provide a near term, low cost piece. The Brandon Saad trade comes to mind whereby Chicago received Marko Dano (among other pieces).
D) Roster must contain 13 Forwards, 8 Defencemen and 2 Goalies. Generic depth players can be signed for low $ amounts to fill out rosters.
E) Only the 2016 1st round pick (Alex Nylander!!!) can be used in the exercise.
F) These are purely made up guesses at actual salaries and contracts expected and not meant to debate whether or not Stuart Percy or Rinat Valiev will have a better career. Trying to forecast out salaries & expectations over a 7 year period is purely guessing and the players are merely placeholders for the future pieces on the team. I don`t actually believe the 2020 Maple Leafs defence lineup will consist of Phaneuf, Rielly, Harrington, Percy, Dermott, Valiev, Random 7th defenceman but I couldn't make a better assumption if I tried.
The 2016 offseason starts off with a bang as the Leafs sign Stamkos to a 7 yr $11.5M contract. Nazem Kadri also earns himself a 6 year, $6M contract. Nylander returns for his first full season after playing the last 39 games in the 2015 season. Also called up are Connor Brown, Mitch Marner and Andreas Johnson. ($42.5M committed to forwards)
2017 - forward ranks remain mostly unchanged with Kapenen and Gauthier replacing Leivo and Winnik. Brown gets a raise. ($42.7M)
2018 - Changing of the guard as JVR, Lupul, Bozak and Komarov head to UFA. Nylander signs a 7 yr, $7.5M contract and Holland resigns as well for 4 years, $2.8M. The younger Nylander makes the team as do Soshnikov, Bracco and Timashov. ($38.0M)
2019 - It's the Mitch Marner show as MM signs an identical contract to Nylander's. Combined with raises to Brown and Johnson, Kapenen and Holland are dealt for flexibility and depth forwards are signed. The Leafs have $47M committed to the forward corps. ($47.2M)
2020 - More RFA raises and extensions push the Leafs forward corps to $51.2M. Bracco and Timashov prove to be solid contributors. ($51.2M)
2021 - A. Nylander signs an RFA extension while the Leafs go year to year with Soshnikov. ($53.4M)
2022 - Kadri hits UFA, the Leafs sign a depth forward. Stamkos last year under contract with the Leafs. ($49.8M)
2016 offseason sees the Leafs sign Morgan Rielly to a 6 yr, $6M contract. Percy and Loov make the team while Robidas LLTIR (Lou Lamoriello Term Injury Reserve). ($20.7M commited to defence)
2017 - Robidas and Hunwick are off the books replaced by Valiev and Dermott. Loov signs a 2 yr deal at $1.5M. ($22.4M)
2018 - Scott Harrington get a 1 year $2.5M deal while the Leafs lock up Percy to a 4 yr, $3.6M contract. ($26.6M)
2019 - Jake Gardiner head to UFA and the Leafs trade Loov. Sign two depth defencemen ($23.2)
2020 - Valiev signs a 2 yr deal. ($24.45M)
2021 - Phaneuf contract comes off the books. ($21.95)
2022 - Rielly resigns for another 4 years at $6.5M. Percy heads to UFA ($18.9M)
2016 - Garret Sparks makes the team out of camp as James Reimer heads to UFA (sad face). ($4.9M)
2017 - Sparks is the clear number 1 and signs a 2 yr $1.3m contract. The Leafs find a solid backup veteran goalie and sign him to a 2 yr, $2M contract. ($3.2M)
2019 - Leafs sign Sparks to a 4 yr, $3.6M contract and successively find a cheap back-up for $1.5M each year ($5.1M).
How'd we do? Combined with the dead cap space from a certain trade and Tim Gleason, we summarize how we did and what the next steps are.
Well that's bit ugly. It's clear under this scenario the Leafs will have some cap issues in the 2019-2022 timeframe. We've already moved out some decent assets for futures (Holland, Kapenen, Loov, Leivo) and let JVR, Gardiner, Komarov, Bozak, Lupul go to UFA. I think it's important to note that although the contracts are not good - the Lupul/Bozak deals won't hamstring the team long term. It sucks not having more near term flexibility, but in the long run they shouldn't pose an issue. Let's look at some alternatives.
Trade Kadri - Kadri comes with a $6M cap hit and would solve a huge chunk of the cap space if traded. Problem is he is currently our best player and should still be a solid player in 4-5 (the time frame is his age 29-32 seasons). There's no urgency to make this move today but moving Kadri is the easiest way to solve a huge chunk of our cap problems.
Play hardball with Nylander and Marner - The Leafs could try to keep their RFA years low rather than signing the big contract at the first opportunity. The problem is given the projected cap space, and some rumblings from this summer, they could be obvious offer sheet choices which could force the Leafs into the maximum contract.
Dump Phaneuf - Whatever you think about Dion Phaneuf today, he will undoubtedly be worse in years 4-6, right when the Leafs should be primed to compete for the cup and he'll eating up 10% of the cap space to boot. If trading Kessel was about long term cap management, the Leafs need to be doubling those efforts to move Phaneuf.
Defence - Assuming Rielly is making upwards of $6-7M per season in 2019-2022... combined with Phaneuf, there isn't much cap space available to significantly bolster the D. The Leafs will need to acquire/develop some more impact D to be competitive in that time period.
The Leafs probably have the available capacity to sign Stamkos to a huge contract but doing so is going to mean competing for the cup with a very young team as there won't be much available cap space for free agents.
If Nylander and Marner both earn big dollars in their first RFA period, there could be $25M committed to them plus Stamkos meaning depth players will need to be on entry level contracts or near league minimum (assuming some other prospects like Brown, Johnson, Bracco, Timashov turn into decent players). We'll be into Chicago Blackhawks territory cap-wise so hopefully three Stanley Cups come with it.
It will be tough to keep Kadri and Gardiner long term and moving Phaneuf could be the saving grace. It's also interesting though that the cap crunch probably won't come for several years down the road, giving the Leafs plenty of time to figure out how to navigate the waters.
What do you think?