Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported today some news about the Leafs cap situation.

They quietly placed Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul and Stephane Robidas on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) earlier this season — giving themselves the flexibility to operate more than $15-million above the $73-million cap for the remainder of the year.

This is news, since up until now, Cap Friendly had listed all of these players as on Injured Reserve and therefore, fully counting against the salary cap.

Johnston explains the implications of this move in some detail, so do read his story. The gist is that they are very close to the cap without using LTIR, so the very large amount of performance bonuses the rookies will earn this year will show up next year as overages no matter what they do now.

So given that that bill is coming due anyway, and the space is there now, why not spend, spend, spend?

Cap Friendly now reports the deadline cap space of the Leafs with LTIR at $18,837,915.  That’s a lot of cap space!

But, wait.  What is there to spend it on?  The Leafs have a chock-a-block roster with a clearly articulated plan of rebuilding through development of their prospects.  Sure there’s room there to add Brian Boyle if you want a good man and a better 4C, but what else?

Johnston suggests Gudbranson, and I couldn’t agree more.  Just not Erik Gudbranson, please.  Alex Gudbranson, acquired on a loan deal from Minnesota, looked okay in his first outing as a Marlie last night, and he might be the sort of AHL depth piece the team needs.  But Erik Gudbranson does not seem like a good fit on the Leafs.

For now, adding veterans, even of the calibre of Boyle, seems counter intuitive for a team that is building for the future.  It’s like spending your tax refund on a big screen TV when you know it should go right into your RRSP. It’s big, it’s attractive, and it’s entertaining, but it isn’t making your future brighter.

However, the Leafs can use that cap space now in a way that does bring them some future returns. They’ll have it next year too because if that LTIR move is repeated they will have a truly staggering amount of space.  This is a prime setup for the kind of deal that sent Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes, or brought Connor Carrick to the Leafs.

The trick is to find a bad contract to take that does not run past the end of next season.  And then you ask for the sweetener.  Carrick turned out to be very sweet.  It seems like the Leafs must at least be contemplating the potential for a deal like this or why bother moving these players to LTIR at all?

Who might other teams want to clear out?  Even if you never play them outside of the AHL, as with Brooks Laich and Milan Michalek, the deal might be worth it.

Antti Niemi: the Dallas goalie is under contract through next year for $4.5 million in cap hit.  It’s not very likely that Dallas is making the playoffs this year, but next year, they might want him off their books.  He is also a fully serviceable backup requiring only some draft picks or prospects packed along with his goalie skates to make him a good buy.

Marc-André Fleury: the Penguins want to move him to solve their cap problems, their expansion draft problems, and to make room to pay Matt Murray when his contract runs out.  Fleury’s contract runs for two more years after this one, which makes it less attractive than Niemi’s but goalies are not a bad thing to have as expansion looms.  They seem to be the ultimate trading chip in expansion years.

Kevin Bieksa: the Ducks have too many defenders, and his no-move clause, also a problem with Fleury, could prevent any deal.  But at $4 million for this year and next, he is an obvious candidate to move to a team that can handle the hit and covets a chance at the other, younger defenders in the Anaheim system.

Rob Scuderi and Teddy Purcell: the Kings will have a cap crunch if Jonathan Quick comes off of IR this season.  They recently moved out Tom Gilbert, one of three buried contracts, and these other two are small potatoes compared to Bieksa, but the combined savings could help LA, and they might throw in something to make it sweeter.  Their cap hits total just over $2.7 million and run out this summer, so the sweetener here would be much smaller than for other deals.

Joe Colborne and Blake Comeau: the Colorado Avalanche have the hockey world abuzz with the idea of acquiring Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog.  And with their very high asking price.  The Avalanche are also looking to offload some rental players of value like Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque.  But these less talked about Avs forwards are interesting because they are both under contract through next year, and their cap hits are $2.5 and $2.4 million respectively.  That’s a lot of dough for a team that is tearing it down and wants to go young.  If you took those two off the Avs hands, what does that get you? If it’s a discount on Landeskog—a near perfect, younger replacement for James van Riemsdyk, don’t you at least consider it?

Jaroslav Halak: the Islanders sent their former starter to the AHL, and went in a different direction.  Halak, who is ripping it up in Bridgeport, has one more year on his contract at $4.5 million.  Like Fleury or Niemi, he is a plausible backup for the Leafs, and the overpayment now is worth taking on if the Islanders find some way to make it worth the Leafs’ while.