Over the last couple of years, we’ve gotten used to the Maple Leafs having very little room to add player contracts. They spent much of the most recent season at the limit of 50, only making some room by trading Eric Fehr and Nikita Soshnikov at the deadline.
Next season, which begins on July 1, 2018, will be a little less of a tight squeeze, unless they get carried away with shopping in Europe this spring.
As of now, the Leafs have 48 contracts until the end of June. That doesn’t stop them from adding players as free agents or on ELCs. All those deals begin next year.
For next year, they have only 30 contracts already on the books.
However, there are nine RFAs in the system. Not every one of those RFAs will be, or even should be, signed, but for the sake of a conservative estimate, let’s assume the Leafs do sign them all. That makes 39 contracts.
They also have 10 UFAs. If they signed them all, that would be 49, and we’d be full up. But let’s winnow that down a little. One of those 10 is Joffrey Lupul. Another is Ben Smith, and there is a very credible rumour that he is going to sign in Germany next year. Colin Greening and Kyle Baun are also in the AHL and due for new contracts. Greening has been part of the team all year, but Baun has not made a large impact since coming over for Kerby Rychel in the Tomas Plekanec trade. Let’s say the Leafs want Greening again, but none of the others currently in the AHL. That puts them at 40 contracts so far.
Now to the NHL UFAs. They are: James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Tomas Plekanec, Dominic Moore and Roman Polak.
I think it’s safe to say that someone is going to be signed to play centre, but if it’s either Moore or Plekanec, it doesn’t much matter for counting purposes, so keep the count at 40 for right now.
That’s room for 10 contracts, not counting players traded or RFAs who aren’t signed. Without adding anyone not an RFA to the current NHL roster, the Leafs would have 11 NHL forwards, six NHL defenders and two goalies for a total of 19. They would also have most of the key members of the Marlies locked up.
Ten contract spaces should easily top up the NHL squad to 23, provide room to add some players to the AHL and have a couple left over for wiggle room in the season. The only SPC space taken up by a non-player contract next season is Nathan Horton’s.
To make more room for that European free agent shopping the Leafs like to do, the Leafs could choose to buy out or trade Matt Martin or move on from Martin Marincin and Kasimir Kaskisuo. At some point, they need to decide how many NHL-capable goalies they want in the organization, and if they want to make room for a younger prospect in the AHL. They seem primed to trade someone, but it might not be until training camp.
I don’t think there will be any cause for alarm if the Leafs choose to give an AHLer a contract, much in the way they have with Justin Holl or Chris Mueller. Those deals often happen late in the summer, anyway. Similarly if they use an SPC slot for an ELC for a later round draft pick, that might be a good move to keep the player in the system.
By the time July 1 rolls around and we know who is or is not getting a qualifying offer out of those 9 RFAs, we might have an even better idea of the contract room.
Most of the dead cap space is gone, all but one of the unusable SPC spots are now gone, and the Leafs aren’t holding onto players they took as contract dumps anymore. The old Leafs are almost all gone.