Matt Murray is likely to return to the Leafs lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Penguins, and that move will bring the Leafs cap space back into focus. It’s been very easy to ignore the cap situation on the Leafs, since they started the season with players on LTIR and have added a few more at regular intervals. Murray played one game and then was injured in practice on October 15. He’s been on LTIR ever since.

When Jordie Benn returned to the lineup from LTIR, the Leafs returned two players to the AHL, leaving them with 22 on the roster. That indicates they may choose to activate Murray and leave Keith Petruzzelli on the roster as a practice goalie and injury insurance. They would then be at the 23-man limit.

Skip down to the update, since this has all been overtaken by reality now.

At the moment, the LTIR pool is $5,135,833, with $4,687,500 of that Murray’s cap hit. With Murray activated, there will be $448,333 remaining, with only Jake Muzzin on LTIR.

All numbers are from Cap Friendly.

There has been some confusion at times because part of Murray’s salary was retained by the Ottawa Senators. To clarify: The amount listed above is the Maple Leafs’ portion of his cap hit. The Senators’ portion counts against their cap at all times, regardless of his injury status, and there is no situation in which his full cap hit counts against the Maple Leafs’ cap.

Ilya Samsonov, already skating at practice, was never on LTIR. There is no requirement for him to remain off the roster for the 24-day minimum LTIR requires, and he has already passed the week that IR requires. He can be activated with no effect on the salary cap, as players on IR are only exempted from the roster limit.

With Murray back, all that’s required is for Keith Petruzzelli to be returned to the AHL to activate Samsonov. Under that scenario, the LTIR pool will be $1,265,833. That assumes the Leafs will prudently keep Erik Källgren on the roster until they are sure everyone is fit. If they send him down, they can recall an extra skater for approximately the same cap hit, or activate Kyle Clifford off of IR.

That all sounds wonderful, with enough space to comfortably make a trade sometime in the coming months. Remember, though, LTIR space is used dollar for dollar, so it’s less attractive than real cap space for prorated deadline contracts. That comfortable cap picture is 100% dependant on Jake Muzzin staying unhealthy, however.

That would be the Jake Muzzin who is also skating these days. The minute he’s ready to return, the entire picture changes, and it’s back to being impossible to fit everyone on the roster, even with a wholesale clear-out of the extras back to the AHL. Someone making over $1 million has to be cut or traded.

This day may never come. Injuries might crop up that provide more space, but with Muzzin back, the Leafs defence corps of the top seven has a combined cap hit of $23.725 million. That’s not a big number; however, about half the NHL has a defence that costs at or more than that, including budget teams and teams that aren’t trying to win much. The fact it won’t fit on the Leafs roster is a problem caused by the cost of the forwards. Vegas pays less for their forwards. Dallas, who had to force Jason Robertson into a low AAV contract, pays less. The Oilers, the Flames, the Avalanche and the Panters — all teams that signed big deals lately — pay less.  If you cut the Leafs down to 12 forwards, they still cost more than anyone else.

And that’s why we’re here, hoping a player who once was the saviour of the Maple Leafs, the guy who made them a serious team with a real defence, never plays again. The other alternative is to gleefully think up trades that make the team worse. Blame the salary cap if you like, but the choices that created this roster created this problem. And it’s one that looks a lot less serious when Auston Matthews is winning the Richard, and lot more troublesome when he isn’t.


  1. Jake Muzzin evaluated in late February means he’s sitting on LTIR until the trade deadline.
  2. TJ Brodie on IR is making me say some very bad words right now, you’ll just have to imagine.
  3. Mac Hollowell called up is... well, I don’t get it, I never have. He played in the Soo, so what?
  4. I like Pontus Holmberg and think he should just be on the Leafs.

Cap space/LTIR now looks like this:

Holmberg and Hollowell take up $1.58 million of the LTIR pool, leaving it at less than Murray’s cap hit, so some other move has to occur unless the Leafs tweet means Brodie is on LTIR.