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|
|Travis Dermott - one way||874,125||874,125||874,125|
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.