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Is there an offseason cap crunch for the Maple Leafs?

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Maybe. To figure that out, we have to re-learn how offseason cap hits are calculated.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Last summer was a nice calm uneventful period for the Maple Leafs where no one talked about contracts or cap hits. But if we cast our minds back a little, we might recall the summer where we all learned about offseason LTIR and how the salary cap is calculated from July 1 to the end of training camp. It’s time to look at that business again to see how much cap space the Leafs actually have right now to sign players.

Most people are familiar with the offseason salary cap cushion of 10% that allows teams to make deals and sign players without having to fit under the cap ceiling at all times. But there’s a couple of unanswered questions about this calculation: 10% of what, and just how do you add up the cap hit of a team when there is no roster?

Salary Cap Upper Limit

Sometime in June the NHL will announce the salary cap ceiling and floor for the coming season — the upper and lower limits. The NHL season runs from July 1 to June 30, so right now, this is still the 2018-2019 season and there’s no salary cap in effect as it was lifted as soon as the playoffs start.

Cap Friendly reports that the earliest the NHL has announced the new numbers is June 18 and the latest is June 29.

Once we know that new cap ceiling, then we can calculate the offseason salary cap cushion, which is 10% of the upper limit.

Calculating the Salary Cap of a team in the offseason

Not every NHL salary counts against the salary cap during the season. The 23-man NHL roster plus any amounts too big to bury in the AHL are what makes up the bulk of a team’s cap hit, but as soon as the trade deadline rolls around, there is no 23-man limit, and once July 1 arrives, there is no one in the AHL. All players are on the NHL roster, and stay there until they are assigned in training camp. But not all of their cap hits count. That would never work, and no team would ever be under the upper limit.

The rules for adding up what does count are fairly straightforward, if a little fiddly. First, only players under contract for the 2019-2020 season are considered, with the addition of all RFAs who have been issued qualifying offers. Then the cap hits are added up this way:

  1. All NHL contracts that are one-way
  2. All NHL two-way contracts, prorated by the number of days the player was in the NHL the prior year
  3. All unsigned RFAs at their qualifying offer amount, prorated by the number of days the players was in the NHL the prior year for two-way qualifying offers
  4. All other amounts such as retained salary or bonus rollovers

The current situation for the Maple Leafs looks like this:

Preliminary 2019 Maple Leafs Offseason Cap Hit

Name Cap Hit (or Qualifying Offer) Days in NHL If 2-way Prorated Cap Hit
Name Cap Hit (or Qualifying Offer) Days in NHL If 2-way Prorated Cap Hit
One-Way Contracts
Auston Matthews 11,634,000 11,634,000
John Tavares 11,000,000 11,000,000
William Nylander 6,962,366 6,962,366
Patrick Marleau 6,250,000 6,250,000
Nazem Kadri 4,500,000 4,500,000
Zach Hyman 2,250,000 2,250,000
Connor Brown 2,100,000 2,100,000
Trevor Moore 775,000 775,000
Nic Petan 775,000 775,000
Morgan Rielly 5,000,000 5,000,000
Nikita Zaitsev 4,500,000 4,500,000
Jake Muzzin 4,000,000 4,000,000
Justin Holl 675,000 675,000
Calle Rosen 750,000 750,000
Frederik Andersen 5,000,000 5,000,000
Garrett Sparks 750,000 750,000
Nathan Horton 5,300,000 5,300,000
Two-Way Contracts
Frederik Gauthier 675,000 180 675,000
Travis Dermott 863,333 180 863,333
Ilya Mikheyev 925,000 0 0
Egor Korshkov 925,000 0 0
Pierre Engvall 925,000 0 0
Jeremy Bracco 842,500 0 0
Semyon Der Arguchintsev 783,333 0 0
Mason Marchment 767,500 0 0
Adam Brooks 759,167 0 0
Dmytro Timashov 694,444 0 0
Rasmus Sandin 894,167 0 0
Timothy Liljegren 863,333 0 0
Joe Duszak 800,000 0 0
Mac Hollowell 799,766 0 0
Teemu Kivihalme 792,500 0 0
Jesper Lindgren 775,833 0 0
Andreas Borgman 700,000 0 0
Ian Scott 805,833 0 0
Joseph Woll 800,000 0 0
Kasimir Kaskisuo 675,000 6 22,500
Qualifying Offers
Andreas Johnsson 862,875 180 862,875
Kasperi Kapanen 874,125 180 874,125
Mitch Marner 874,125 874,125
Michael Carcone 735,000 0 0
Gabriel Gagne 735,000 0 0
Nicholas Baptiste 826,875 0 0
Jordan Subban 715,000 0 0
Eamon McAdam 874,125 1 4,856
Retained 1,200,000
Total: 77,598,180
Salary Cap 83,000,000
10% overage 8,300,000
Total: 91,300,000
Cap Space 13,701,820

Notes:

  1. I have taken the days in the NHL for Eamon McAdam and Kasimir Kaskisuo from the dates they were called up and down. If it’s off by a little, the effect is minimal.
  2. There is no bonus rollover this year.
  3. The cap ceiling will go up, but by how much isn’t known yet.
  4. No unsigned UFAs count, but they do as soon as they are signed if the deal is one-way.
  5. Teams have to include the amount in any offer sheet they have negotiated with a player, so the offering team has to have the room in this calculation at the time they negotiate the offer.

The Mitch Marner contract will eat up most of this cap space, and any UFA signed on July 1 has to fit in the remainder. However, as we learned a few years ago, the Leafs can put Nathan Horton on LTIR in the offseason. The above calculation includes his contract.

Just like in the regular season, it’s advantageous to be as close to the upper limit as a team can get before they place a player on LTIR. So for the Maple Leafs, they will coast along under the upper limit and the extra 10% until they get very close, and then they will make that LTIR move to provide a pool of $5.3 million to use for new contracts. LTIR pools are depleted by the AAV and the performance bonuses in a contract, so the Leafs will not sign a 35+ contract or ELC that includes bonuses if they can help it this offseason.

The other thing the Leafs have done very well is not having any extra one-way contracts on the books at the moment. They did have several AHL players on one-way deals during the season, but those have expired, and we should not expect to see any new ones signed until closer to the start of the season. If the Leafs were to sign a player who spent last season in the AHL to a two-way deal, this calculation is unaffected.

When the regular season starts, the calculations are all redone without the 10% cushion and using the actual 23-man roster, so that ultimate calculation has to be kept in mind as deals are made this season. The current calculation only includes 19 players, excepting the extra backup goalies, so the in-season cap calculation is going to be even tighter, and not just because there’s three RFAs to upgrade from qualifying offer amounts to contract amounts.

This calculation will be updated and re-posted as changes are made.