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The Toronto Maple Leafs and Next Season’s Salary Cap: Where Do Things Stand?

What implications exist for the Maple Leafs on next season’s signing of players?

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Everyone knows that the Toronto Maple Leafs have an on-going love-hate relationship with the NHL’s salary cap and it’s upper limit. Speaking metaphorically, the team has money to burn but is limited to what it’s allowed to spend on salaries.

Currently, as most fans know, the salary cap’s upper limit for this season is $81.5 million and already the Maple Leafs have four players committed to just under half of that number in John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander.

This past week, the NHL’s Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly released news to the general managers of all NHL teams that next season’s salary cap was projected to be between $84 million and $88.2 million. The final numbers – between that range – might change when the NHLPA weighs in, but we now know the limits both high and low.

Related: The Toronto Maple Leafs Are Looking Forward to Next Season’s Salary Cap’s Increase

What We Know About the Salary Cap

Here’s what we do know about the salary-cap structure:

(1) Last season, the NHLPA triggered a 1 percent inflator to make the cap to $81.5 million this season.

(2) The salary cap figure won’t be finalized until late June 2020.

(3) The $84 million projection is with a zero percent inflator; the $88.2 million projection would comprise the full 5 percent.

(4) To set the inflator, the NHLPA responds to it’s membership’s wishes when negotiating the salary cap limits, and many NHL plays want the minimum escrow – that is, the money that is drawn from the players’ salaries to put into a “slush fund” in case the NHL teams don’t make their projected income. That, I have read, can be about 15% of a player’s salary. If there is a shortfall, whatever funds have been taken in escrow are used to pay part of the NHL teams’ losses.

Noteworthy is the fact that it also works in the favor of the players should finances be strong and income become more than projected. That leftover is split 50/50 between players and teams. Funny that the NHLPA (the players’ association) would take a short-term view and opt for less money so individual players don’t have to pay into the escrow pot where they might win or lose.

What Will the Upper Limit of the Salary Cap Be and How Will It Impact the Maple Leafs?

Given the concerns I have noted above, NHL team general managers probably are not looking at a salary cap that comes in at the upper limit – which, ironically they want (they want to pay more for player salaries). And, given what the NHLPA did last season by setting the inflator if they do it again that upper limit will be just under $85 million.

Looking at Cap Friendly, here’s how the Maple Leafs’ salaries add up for the next season.

The team currently has 18 players signed for $77.8 million in salaries – that’s what’s committed for next season. If the upper limit of the salary cap were $85 million, it would leave $7 million that Kyle Dubas could spend to add other players. The NHL CBA (collective bargaining agreement) has agreed that active NHL rosters must have between 20 and 23 players under contract).

Looking at the forwards, if the Maple Leafs don’t trade anyone, the team has a full complement of players. In fact, they can pretty well fill three full forward lines right now with the players who are signed for next season. The only player who is a restricted free agent that the team wouldn’t move is likely the young Russian forward Ilya Mikheyev – so they will want to sign him for certain.

Considering the goalie tandem of Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell, it seems pretty firm and I would guess Dubas is happy enough with those two goalies locked up. Andersen is an All-Star goalie and Campbell has shown well when he’s played with the team.

However, when thinking about the defense, there are only three defensemen who are currently signed up who can play in a top-four role (Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Justin Holl). It’s clear that the defense is where the team needs to spend money.

Related: Jason Spezza Plans to Return Next Season… Is It With the Maple Leafs?

Already, the St. Louis Blues great defenseman Alex Pietrangelo’s name has been thrown into the hat. At 30-years old he’s a great player and his $6.5 million contract ends after this season. But if the Maple Leafs sign Mikheyev, as I suspect they want to, there are not enough funds left over to sign Pietrangelo. That said, he’s Ontario-born, only from about 50 km away from Toronto. The team might make a trade for him.

Likely, however, the Maple Leafs will be looking at other lesser lights on expiring contracts: these include the Calgary Flames T.J. Brodie (now at $4.65 million), the Washington Capitals Brenden Dillon (now at $3.27 million), and the Vancouver Canucks Chris Tanev (now at $4.45 million). One of these players might soon – this summer – be employed by the Maple Leafs.

Is that a possibility?

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