The first question isn’t: who should the Maple Leafs get on defence. It’s: can they actually acquire anyone?
The answer to that is, as always, it depends. The field is wide open for low-salary depth defence options, of which the Leafs have enough, but the way they’re dropping like flies, maybe they should get one or two more of those in case.
To review, they have:
- Jake Muzzin: $5.625 million on LTIR until at least February, but not for sure out the entire season.
- Morgan Rielly: $7.5 million on LTIR until at least mid-December, a January return seems more probable.
- TJ Brodie: on IR, and counting against the cap, out for a week or so yet.
- Justin Holl: now the highest-paid healthy defender
- Timothy Liljegren
- Rasmus Sandin
- Mark Giordano
- Mac Hollowell
- Jordie Benn
- Victor Mete
The Holl through Mete crew cost $7.8 million in total. We could trade them all, minus Giordano straight up for John Klingberg, who says no?
But seriously, the cap space isn’t there for a big deal, not without moving out a forward with some kind of real cap hit. The Leafs don’t have extras of those.
Right now, with a roster of 23 healthy players (no one on IR or LTIR counts towards the 23) they have LTIR pool space of $7.2 million. Notice that’s less than Morgan Rielly’s cap hit.
When Brodie comes back, the pool space will go up because someone has to be sent down to make roster room, and his cap hit is already counted. That leaves enough for Rielly to bump someone else off and return and the space is almost nothing.
This shouldn’t be news. The only reason the Leafs haven’t been in a cap crunch full of all those dire scenarios of forced trades from the summer is because someone expensive has been hurt and on LTIR every day of the season.
There is no extra space, even if Muzzin is on LTIR all year. Chopping the roster down to 20 will net about $2.5 million or so, depending on who gets the axe. So assuming New Guy bumps the 20th player off the roster, he can make about $3 million. That’s your budget, find a guy better than Justin Holl and hope Muzzin never returns.
Oh, and just to be clear, you don’t have to worry about Ilya Samsonov, when he returns and bumps Erik Källgren. In fact, the picture gets a little bit easier, since Sansonov is only on IR right now.
Call it $4 million with clever scheming, and don’t forget that this is LTIR space, so it’s dollar for dollar and not prorated. Go shopping!