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What Marleau means for the Leafs cap

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The Leafs added a hefty deal. Does it matter?

San Jose Sharks v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With the signing of Patrick Marleau to a 3-year, $6.25M AAV deal, the Leafs have all but confirmed that they are going to dip into LTIR space this season and deal with the ramifications. In of itself, this is not a huge surprise — to not do so would be to throw away what is effectively millions of dollars of space for the team. However, it is worth noting where the Leafs currently stand with regards to the cap and what potential moves may follow.

As usual, a hearty thank you to CapFriendly, without whom we would all be lost.

The Snapshot

Per CapFriendly, that is the Leafs current cap situation. As can be seen, they are above the cap as it stands, and must use LTIR to become compliant. It should be noted that the above figures assume Ben Smith (and his $650,000 contract) is on the Leafs. In reality, he’s likely to be on the Marlies, and his salary will be entirely buried. They also have Nikita Soshnikov and Kasperi Kapanen on the Marlies roster, as opposed to the Leafs. In any case, this overage is not an issue right now, due to the 10% cushion teams may exceed the cap by in the offseason. The Leafs have about $5.8M in space before they hit the upper amount of that cushion.

On the first day of training camp, the Leafs will likely put Nathan Horton on LTIR, and gain the cap space they exceed the upper limit by. What we may see is the Leafs get as close as possible to exceeding the upper limit by Horton’s full $5.3M cap hit, in order to maximize the amount of benefit they get from putting him on LTIR (here is a quick FAQ on LTIR, courtesy of CapFriendly).

The interesting number than many people glaze over is the number of SPCs the Leafs have signed. Currently, it’s at 46/50. This assumes the Leafs will retain RFAs Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, and Justin Holl. We’ll ignore Holl, under the assumption that he gets a deal with no NHL cap impact.

Let’s first discuss the cap ramifications. There haven’t been a lot of rumours about the deals that Hyman and Brown will get. Presumably, it’s in the $2-3M range for both, but a lot depends on the term and structure of the deal. Matt Cane’s salary prediction model has Hyman with a projected AAV of $2.1M and Brown with a projected AAV of $2.8M. At around those figures, they will be reasonably priced, but also take the Leafs outside the range where simply putting Horton on LTIR would make them compliant. One solution would be for the Leafs to bury players like Smith and Fehr in the AHL.

On to the contracts problem. Simply put, re-signing Hyman and Brown also means the Leafs have too many players. Or rather, too many players to play. This was already a problem last year, where a potentially useful player like Josh Leivo sat on the sidelines the entire year. It’s exacerbated with the addition of Marleau, the growth of Kasperi Kapanen, and the fact that the Leafs have lost no forwards of note from last season.

As far as I can tell, there are 17 forwards that have any sort of shot at being on the Leafs roster this season (once Horton/Lupul are put on IR or LTIR). Real quick, they are: Matthews, Marleau, Nylander, Kadri, JVR, Marner, Bozak, Komarov, Martin, Moore, Brown, Hyman, Soshnikov, Kapanen, Leivo, Smith, and Fehr. At most, they will keep 14 on the main roster (and run 14 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies). Smith is one of them, and as mentioned before, he will almost certainly be a Marlie. Two more won’t make the roster. Kapanen, Fehr, Leivo, and Soshnikov seem like the likely casualties, given Babcock’s love for Hyman. Which two go down? Leivo and Fehr both need to be put on waivers. Given that the Leafs refused to expose Leivo at the expansion draft and spent all year avoiding putting him on waivers, they seem to think he will be claimed, and find him valuable enough to keep around. Fehr almost certainly would not be claimed, while Kapanen and Soshnikov are both waiver-exempt (though Soshnikov is only a few games away from losing that status).

Beyond this, who plays? Only 12 forwards can get a regular shift. Injuries will likely come, but if everyone is available, a couple players who are quite clearly NHLers will not be playing (partially because Matt Martin evidently has an untouchable roster spot).

Specifically, Nikita Soshnikov, Josh Leivo, and Kasperi Kapanen look like they may be on the outside looking in, while all being young NHL players with relative upside. In particular, Kapanen is the last remaining blue-chip forward prospect in the Leafs system. I don’t see Babcock scratching Zach Hyman, and everyone else has a locked down roster spot.

Alternatively, the Leafs can trade a body or three, likely in such a way that they clear salary, rather than add to it. This seems to me like the most likely outcome, simply because it’s untenable and inefficient to have that many players sitting.

So who goes? If the Leafs want to shed money, it’s likely someone higher in the lineup. Maybe Komarov? The Leafs still don’t have a whole lot of centre depth, so trading Bozak would be tricky. And JVR is still the Leafs best LW by a country mile - Marleau is older, worse, and more expensive. So it’s unclear to me what direction they take in a trade. But it does seem clear that they do need to make one.