Everyone knows that the Toronto Maple Leafs iced a very cheap roster this season. There’s all sorts of graphics out there that let you boggle at how low the total amount spent was. By some estimates, it’s the lowest in the league. It’s also a lie.
You don’t get to slough off your mistakes so easy. You pay for them. Sometimes you pay for them for years and under new management. Your mistakes often count against the cap, and they always count against the 50-man SPC limit unless you buy them out.
That cheap roster of young guys, most of whom didn’t miss more than a few games all year, was dragging along a lot of bloat in dead contracts from mistakes made in the good old days.
Right now, as the 2016-2017 season hasn’t quite ended — it doesn’t until June 30 — the Leafs have 50 SPCs, while for next season they have 35.
For clarification: The SPC limit functions on a league year. Any free agent the Leafs sign right now only counts against next year’s limit, which goes into effect July 1. But, the Leafs cannot add a player already under contract for this league year unless they remove a contract as well.
Cap Friendly data on the Leafs through next year
|Van Riemsdyk, James||28||$4,250,000||$4,250,000|
|Bozak, Tyler "A"||31||$4,200,000||$4,200,000|
|Komarov, Leo "A"||30||$2,950,000||$2,950,000|
|Rielly, Morgan "A"||23||$5,000,000||$5,000,000|
|Hunwick, Matt "A"||31||$1,200,000||UFA|
|LONG-TERM INJURED RESERVE||AGE||2016-17||2017-18|
Whoo hoo! That’s lots. Except, it’s not, of course.
Let’s add it up
First, let’s add in the unsigned RFAs. There are eight in total, and I’m going to assume Sergei Kalinin is not staying on the Leafs, but that all others will be signed at some point. For right now, I’m defining that point as before July 1.
35 + 7 = 42
A nice, meaningful number under 50. Except we’ve ignored all the UFAs as well as some other things.
One player, assuming that’s not a UFA, will be taken by Vegas. And the Leafs will sign someone to be the backup goaltender. Those two cancel each other out, and we’re at 42 still.
Brian Boyle, Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick are all UFAs, and while the Leafs may not re-sign any of those particular players, they need another centre (or six), and more than six defenders. Assume they will sign replacements for all three and we are at 45.
There are two UFA defenders in the AHL — captain Andrew Campbell and veteran Steve Oleksy, received in the trade with Pittsburgh. The Marlies are not oversupplied with defence depth, but they don’t absolutely need to get it via NHL contracts. However, unless Campbell is retiring, I am assuming he’s re-signed and now we are 46, and the Leafs have room for four contracts.
That escalated quickly
This is too tight. The Leafs have long-term development needs, prospects to sign, and while some of those contracts will not count against the 50-man roster (players in junior are usually exempt from it) they need the flexibility to make trades, sign free agents and improve the roster. That flexibility needs to be an ongoing thing. They don’t want to start the season without at least a couple of spaces free.
Given that need to cull the roster, it seems clear that either some of those seven RFAs will not be kept after all, or some players the Leafs don’t see in their future are going to be traded.
On the plus side, the number of dead contracts is dramatically reduced next year, with only two remaining.
Timing is everything
There is some incentive here for the Leafs to delay some of those RFA signings. While technically, once they issue qualifying offers to all seven players, any one of them could accept that offer and he’d be added to the 50-man limit for next year. Obviously, the player isn’t going to do that, and the Leafs will make sure they have space before the RFAs are actually signed. If some of them go to arbitration, that usually drags on into August, which is all the better.
Of course, a big expansion draft/entry draft trade frenzy could see that number of signed players plummet before July 1 ever arrives. However, the limit is 50 right now, the expansion draft only removes one. Any trades have to take that into account.
The good news is that on July 1, there is going to be a lot of temporary contract room that will allow the Leafs to add whoever they can find in the free agent market, if they find anyone.