What the Maple Leafs do in the next few days is directly linked to Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel.
Don’t believe me? Okay, tag along.
Some elementary mathematics (I never went higher) should illuminate exactly where the Leafs stand entering unrestricted free agency and what kind of room they have moving forward to take on another substantial contract.
In buying him out the Leafs saved themselves four more years of a $5.5 cap hit on Mikhail Grabovski, whose play fell through the floor after the 29-goal season that earned him his rich deal.
According to our friends a Cap Geek, the Leafs have $24.5 million to reach the salary cap. Only one team, the New York Islanders has more money to spend.
But no team has fewer players signed than the 12 currently employed by the Maple Leafs.
Let’s stick to the short term. If the Leafs, as expected, qualify Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Bernier, Carl Gunnarsson and Cody Franson at the minimum permissible (don’t even ask me about arbitration) and sign Mark Fraser and Joe Colborne to two-way contracts, they are looking at 16 NHL players with about $18.3 million left to spend under the cap.
Is that good?
Yeah. Somewhere between good and very good.
Let’s compare apples to apples: teams who have 15, 16 and 17 players signed and how much cap space they retain.
Teams with 17 players signed.
Rangers: $14.1 million left.
LA: $6.6 million left.
Carolina: $6.3 million left.
Teams with 16 players signed (includes Leafs with four free agents at minimum qualifying offers)
Toronto: $18.3 million.
Edmonton: $16.6 million
Teams with 15 players signed:
Islanders: $32.8 million.
Winnipeg: $23.1 million.
So what do we know?
- We know the Leafs can field essentially the same team they had last year with money to spare even if they have to pay more than they want for Tyler Bozak.
- We also know the Leafs are in better shape cap-wise than most teams.
- We know Leafs GM Dave Nonis is looking down two gun barrels, potential 2014-2015 unrestricted free agency for Kessel and Phaneuf. If those two players were free this season they would undoubtedly be the two most coveted UFAs. They would be the two non-goalie plums of the summer of 2014 as well. In other words, there is no possibility of losing one or both of them through free agency and recovering comparable talent by signing some else’s free agent.
- That means that if Nonis is confident of signing Kessel and or Phaneuf, he must weigh the impact of any big-name player available through trade. Nonis has a big-time need for more grit along the wall, a number once centre and a top four defenceman.
- So what should he do?
Hey, I point out problems I don’t solve them but these are vital days for the Leafs. Can Nonis land a prominent centre via the trade route? If he does, can he afford him and still keep Phaneuf and Kessel or does the addition (not to mention the impending need to sign a current restricted free agent) of one big name mean the possible subtraction of another one a year down the line?