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The Maple Leafs are up against the salary cap

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Just like everyone believes.

2019 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

On Wednesday, Kyle Dubas told the media the Leafs are “not up against the cap”. Short of some kind of semantic game playing around what “up against” really means that would rival that time we all argued about the true meaning of elite, this statement is totally false.

Of course, the NHL isn’t in the offseason yet, and there is no salary cap in the playoffs. For the Leafs right now through to when the 2019-2020 season actually ends — projected to be mid October — they can sign new contracts or make trades, but they are subject to the old CBA “tagging” rules on adding new contracts. These rules disappear when this season ends, and a simpler process will replace it. But suffice it to say, trades are rare during the playoffs, but re-signing RFAs or UFAs may begin for the Leafs soon.

In between the end of the playoffs and the start of free agency, teams have to issue qualifying offers to unsigned RFAs or those players turn into UFAs on free agent day. That sets up the offseason salary cap calculation that is in effect from that date to the last day of training camp.

To understand the offseason salary cap concept, you need to understand the in-season one. Simplified, and assuming no one is on LTIR, the in-season calculation goes like this: Add up all the cap hits of the 23 (or fewer) players on the Active Roster, anyone on IR (which removes them from the 23-man limit, not the salary cap), and any retained salary or other ancillary bits of cap hit like bonuses or un-buriable amounts for players in the minors. That total has to be below the salary cap ceiling.

In the offseason, there is no Active Roster or 23-man limit, so the CBA defines a system of cap hits that count towards the cap. Those are: All players on one-way contracts, regardless of where they have played the prior season; all players on two-way contracts, prorated by the number of days in the NHL, the qualifying offers given to all RFAs, prorated or not depending on one-way or two-way status; and then all the rest of the things like retained salary. That total has to be below next season’s cap ceiling plus a 10% cushion.

The new season’s salary cap calculation begins on the last day of training camp when teams are required to submit their 23-man roster.

Some reminders: once free agent day is over, the calculation is done on 2020-2021 contract amounts. NHL contracts are completely distinct from AHL contracts. Players signed by the Marlies to AHL deals are not considered here. Contract type is not determined by where a player plays, so someone who has a full season in the AHL can be on an NHL one-way, NHL two-way or AHL deal.

Thing I don’t know: Some of these players have already been loaned to European teams because of the staggered starts of the season, so they may not be considered for offseason cap calculations. It’s not a significant issue this season, regardless of how they are treated.

(AMP and some other mobile systems mangle tables. View on the web for better results.)

Projected 2020 offseason cap calculation

Name Cap Hit (or Qualifying Offer) Days in NHL If 2-way Prorated Cap Hit Projected Roster
Name Cap Hit (or Qualifying Offer) Days in NHL If 2-way Prorated Cap Hit Projected Roster
One-Way Contracts
Auston Matthews 11,634,000 11,634,000 11,634,000
John Tavares 11,000,000 11,000,000 11,000,000
Mitch Marner 10,893,000 10,893,000 10,893,000
William Nylander 6,932,366 6,932,366 6,932,366
Alex Kerfoot 3,500,000 3,500,000 3,500,000
Andreas Johnsson 3,400,000 3,400,000 3,400,000
Kasperi Kapanen 3,200,000 3,200,000 3,200,000
Zach Hyman 2,250,000 2,250,000 2,250,000
Pierre Engvall 1,250,000 1,250,000 1,250,000
Nic Petan 775,000 775,000
Kalle Kossila 700,000 700,000
Morgan Rielly 5,000,000 5,000,000 5,000,000
Jake Muzzin 5,625,000 5,625,000 5,625,000
Justin Holl 2,000,000 2,000,000 2,000,000
Martin Marincin 700,000 700,000 700,000
Calle Rosen 750,000 750,000
Frederik Andersen 5,000,000 5,000,000 5,000,000
Jack Campbell 1,650,000 1,650,000 1,650,000
Two-Way Contracts
Egor Korshkov 925,000 5 24,866
Nick Robertson 850,000 0 0
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev 783,333 0 0
Adam Brooks 725,000 25 97,446
Alexander Brabanov 925,000 0 0 925,000
Mikhail Abramov 810,000 0 0
Rasmus Sandin 894,137 96 461,490 894,137
Timothy Liljegren 863,333 37 171,738 863,333
Joe Duszak 800,000 0 0
Mac Hollowell 799,766 0 0
Jesper Lindgren 775,833 0 0
Teemu Kivihalme 725,000 5 19,758
Mikko Lehtonen 925,000 0 0 925,000
Kristians Rubins 785,000 0 0
Filip Kral 810,000 0 0
Ian Scott 805,833 0 0
Joseph Woll 800,000 0 0
Qualifying Offers
Denis Malgin 787,500 186 787,500 787,500
Frederik Gauthier 735,000 186 735,000 735,000
Max Veronneau 874,125 10 46,996
Jeremy Bracco 787,500 1 4,234
Pontus Aberg 735,000 13 51,371
Ilya Mikheyev 874,125 87 408,865 874,125
Travis Dermott - one way 874,125 874,125 874,125
Retained 1,200,000 1,200,000 1,200,000
Total: 97,128,976 81,142,755 82,112,586
Salary Cap 81,500,000 81,500,000
10% overage 8,150,000
Total: 89,650,000 81,500,000
Cap Space 8,507,245 -612,586

The offseason calculation assumes all RFAs will get qualifying offers, and some might not, but it’s not an issue particularly, there is a lot of offseason space, which is good, because when there isn’t, that means you have a problem.

The tightness comes when the calculation moves into the next season — that part that matters most — and that cushion disappears.

The projected roster is just the core of the team plus some acceptable additions, and the point to be taken from it is not who is on there, but that 23 men is over the cap. And, there is no reason to believe that Ilya Mikheyev will be playing at his qualifying offer amount, although Travis Dermott might be.

The Toronto Maple Leafs as currently constituted are up against the cap next year, and everything we learned last offseason about the methods to play with a short roster could apply this year. While Dubas claimed in his media availability that the Leafs have “some space”, that’s only true on a roster of less than 22 men. To add any player of any quality, someone of similar or greater cap hit has to be removed from this roster.