With the activation on Tuesday of Morgan Rielly from LTIR, the Maple Leafs have drained their LTIR pool almost dry.
With Rielly activated, they have (per CapFriendly) $92,294 in regular salary pool, and $541,667 in the performance bonus pool. That second figure can only be used to absorb the performance bonuses on the contract of a player added to the team.
It’s assumed that Andreas Johnsson won’t be activated this year, but Ilya Mikheyev will be, perhaps soon (the current prognosis is the end of March). Jake Muzzin, has never been put on LTIR since his injury in late February. With the trade deadline in the past, there are no roster limits in terms of numbers of players on the Leafs active roster, but the salary cap still holds sway. To make room for Mikheyev’s $925,000 cap hit, the Leafs will need to conjure up $832,706 in space through to the end of the regular season.
With now nine defenders on the roster, the obvious move is to cut the last man added, the waiver-exempt Calle Rosen. However, his cap hit of $750,000 falls short of the mark.
The waiver-exempt options for players to cut are very limited beyond Rosen. Pierre Engvall and Rasmus Sandin are the entire list. If Muzzin will remain injured and off the playing roster for the required 24 days and 10 games, he could be retroactively put on LTIR and this problem gets kicked down the road for a while. Remember, once the regular season is over, we never have to talk about this year’s salary cap again.
It’s possible the Leafs believe Muzzin will be back soon. He did go on the California road trip with everyone else, but he hasn’t been practising. If so, the team might simply solve this the easy way by cutting Sandin for a few games, and then bringing him back as the playoffs begin. The Marlies are currently well back of a playoff spot with only 16 games remaining, and seem very unlikely to overtake three teams for the last playoff spot in their division. If they are out of the playoffs, the Leafs can have unlimited call-ups for their playoffs.
The only other plausible option to cut now is Denis Malgin, who is not waiver exempt, but is also not finding a solid roster spot on his new team. He has played this entire season in the NHL, but given his contract status, he would likely clear. A claiming team is just taking him off the ice for this season and gaining rights to him as an RFA and nothing more, as he would be ineligible to play. It’s unlikely he’d be waived just to sort this out for two weeks, but you never know.
No matter what happens, the final result of this season’s cap machinations is that the Leafs never once came close to a cap crunch, and always had room for a full roster of whoever they wanted on the ice.