Before you go shopping, you need to know what you’re looking for (a LW) and you need to know what you have to spend. If you’re buying something big, you also need room in your house for it. Here’s where the Leafs stand on those things:
Cap space room for the Leafs has been covered, but there’s less mystery now. No one acts like they believe Jake Muzzin can return, so the Leafs will be using LTIR all season. New players are dollar for dollar out of whatever LTIR pool exists.
Right now, with a roster of 23, that pool is at $1.1 million. This is a deceptive figure because Matt Murray is on IR — so his cap hit is included with all the other players. And there is therefore an extra goalie on the roster at approximately $800,000. In addition, the Leafs don’t seem to have actually removed Wayne Simmonds after they waived him. He’s part of the 23 healthy players.
Take off some of the excess players and the extra goalie, and the Leafs could make something around $3 million in pool space depending on how ruthless they want to be with their defence depth and how many depth players they want to risk on waivers.
Now about that roster size. On March 3 at one minute after midnight, the 23-man limit goes away, so players can be added on deadline day to whatever cap space exists irrespective of roster size.
Well, except for the other roster restriction, that is.
Teams are allowed to have 50 contracts in any given season. The only exemption is players in North American junior hockey. The Leafs have three exempt players under contract, Fraser Minten, Braeden Kressler and Ty Voit.
The total of the contracts that count is at 49, and the expectation is really strong that Matt Knies is going to sign a deal starting this season once his college games are done. That means, effectively, the Leafs have no contract room.
To add players, they must remove players, and there are some obvious ways to do that. Trades are likely going to involve players going back, not to clear space, this is not the add a guy and then trade Kerfoot theory of team stasis. But teams that are selling multiple players need guys to play out the season. It’s not a surprise Chicago had scouts at the recent Marlies game or that Dryden Hunt was sent down just before the Marlies went to Abbotsford.
Last year, Kyle Dubas made quick work of sending Alex Biega off to Nashville to finish out the season to make space. There’s many more opportunities to do that this year, and just make a trade of an AHLer on an NHL contract for no return. Every fall when we think the Marlies have way too many players, that’s just planning for spring.
With the room (very little) sorted out, the next step is to look at the cash on hand.
Without the extra picks added in in the Matt Murray deal, this would be a very depressing list, but it is still a very flat wallet.
For this summer’s draft the Leafs have the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th as well as Ottawa’s 3rd.
There’s a condition on the 3rd, that means it could be taken by Arizona instead of the 2nd in 2025, but that seems unlikely that they would want to move up in years. But that condition makes it an untradeable pick as far as I know. There’s no public information on when Arizona has to decide this — it might be at the draft itself.
In 2024, the Leafs have a 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th as well as Ottawa’s 7th.
In 2025, the Leafs have everything but that second-rounder we’re assuming Arizona will ultimately want.
The lack of second rounders is a bit of an issue for the Leafs. That Ottawa third is likely to be only 10 or so spots out of the second round, and has some value, but trading seems to be fixated on the round of the pick, and the most nuance you get is “bad first” or a “good first”.
The Leafs first is likely to be no more than 10 picks away from a second rounder as well. And yet the impression that trading that first is a big deal and trading the Ottawa third is underpaying is going to be a problem when someone wants a second rounder for a depth player.
Chicago, Arizona, Anaheim — those teams will take a 2024 or 2025 pick. Vancouver likely isn’t going to. So it all depends on who a trade is made with. Columbus’s self image is hard to pin down. Do you sign Johnny Gaudreau and then rip it all down? I don’t think you do. And yet, good heavens, they’re bad. But I don’t think they want assets so deep into the future either. They likely want players or good picks this summer.
There’s been a lot of talk about Matt Knies, and will they or won’t they trade him. If the Leafs could lever open a big enough hole for Timo Meier, pay for double retention on his huge salary, and fit him on the roster, they’d have to give up Knies. And most of their good picks too. But for more mundane trades, the players asked for are going to range from unsigned prospects to younger NHL rostered players like Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren.
The top names are:
- Roni Hirvonen
- Topi Niemelä
- Fraser Minten
- Ty Voit
There’s some other possibilities just based on their performance and those are:
- Nikita Grebyonkin
- Brandon Lisowsky
- Ryan Tverberg
There’s also some totally under the radar players that might be of interest to teams depending on the level of trade they’re involved in. One is Braeden Kressler, signed as a free agent and playing in the OHL. Filip Král might attract some attention from a team that thought he looked plausible in the NHL — he seems completely blocked from ever moving up on the Leafs.
Then there’s the kinds of players no one ever talks about as trade chips, but I wonder about like Joe Woll. I know every goalie on a team is assumed to be coming off the conveyer belt to the NHL next year. Erik Källgren was, wasn’t he? But is Woll the future? What if some other team likes him more than the Leafs do? Would the Leafs risk the goalie depth?
Trading is at it’s heart about teams sorting players out to teams where the management likes them more than others do. The Leafs like Woll, he’s come along nicely. But I don’t think he’d be off the table if someone wanted him.
One name not on these lists is Nick Robertson because no team wants to sell that low on a player. He gets to start over fresh next year and try to crack the Leafs roster.
While the Leafs have some players and prospects that are valuable, they really only have one who has name recognition and the cachet of junior success to be seen as an asset of note. Add that to the lack of picks, and it’s not hard to see why Kyle Dubas has been playing his cards close to his chest. He needs to disguise how few he has as much as how he wants to use them.