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The end of LTIR and the Maple Leafs

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Farewell to David Clarkson, best wishes to Nathan Horton.

Dallas Stars v Columbus Blue Jackets
Nathan Horton, the way he’d rather be remembered in the NHL.
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

CapFriendly reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs used the most LTIR in the 2019-2020 season.

As you might recall, the Maple Leafs traded for David Clarkson again last offseason when Mitch Marner was still unsigned. That deal gave the Leafs the flexibility to get as close to the actual salary cap in the total value of their actual healthy players on the ice. Other injuries padded that LTIR used out to this large number.

The expectation is that the Leafs will play the 2020-2021 season without LTIR unless they have actual long term injuries that happen in-season.

This is extremely good news. It was David Clarkson himself that launched the Leafs on these years of LTIR usage. In February of 2015, Clarkson, was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the contract of the injured Nathan Horton. Horton had signed a seven-year deal with Columbus in 2013, full of the expectation that his NHL career would continue on as it had been in Florida and Boston. It didn’t happen, and he played only 36 games in Columbus. By the time his contract was traded, he wasn’t officially listed as unable to play, but that was clearly understood to be the situation by the Leafs.

Clarkson believed he’d continue his career in Columbus, but he played three more games in 2015 and only 23 the next year before his career was ended by injury as well.

Because the Leafs needed to get out from under the terrible contract they’d signed Clarkson to, they had to take Horton’s uninsured contract from the Blue Jackets and pay him, while Horton remained on LTIR until his deal expired at the end of this season.

During these five years of LTIR space, although it wasn’t used in 2018-2019, a bit of a myth about the magic of LTIR has gripped the land, and it will soon be time to learn all over again why it’s very good to not be using LTIR pools to fill the roster. The cap space accumulated by the Leafs in 2019 was more than enough to fit in Jake Muzzin well before the deadline without ever moving Horton to LTIR.

This season, knock on wood that no one is hurt, by the time the trade deadline is in sight, the Maple Leafs will have been able to “bank” the cap space unused each day and go shopping. The expectation is that the Leafs will be stacking up pennies to come up with the room to add a player, not big piles of bills, but it does add up.

Unless a massive trade is in the works, everything we learned last year about running a short roster will come into play this season. Without LTIR in use, running short as much as possible to increase the cap space banked is a very useful technique. To do that, however, you need waiver exempt players or players that can easily clear waivers who you actually want on your roster. That lets you “paper down” players on off days and during homestands to the bare minimum roster size. Having the AHL team practice on the next pad over in the same building makes this much easier.

No matter how tight the cap situation is this coming season, life without LTIR is much better than life with it.