For a fourth straight season, the Maple Leafs are going home early. Four early exits against three different teams. Every year we hope that the previous early exit would improve our playoff experience. So far that is not the case. This Maple Leafs core can not seem to find a way to reach that next level. The level needed for the team to move forward. The team needs changes, but with the salary cap not going up, where does the team go from here?
According to Cap Geek, the Maple Leafs will have $4,591,467 in cap space for the 2020-21 season. The list of 17 players for next season has nine forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders. Just under $4.6 million does not leave the Maple Leafs much wiggle room for improvements.
Now both Calle Rosen and Martin Marincin are listed on the Maple Leafs roster for next season. If they both get sent down to the Toronto Marlies, then that would free up an additional $1,450,000. This brings the Maple Leafs available cap space to just over $6 million. Although slightly better, $6 million is still not a lot to work with to improve this team.
Restricted Free Agents
The Maple Leafs have seven players who are restricted free agents (RFA) this off-season. Ilya Mikheyev and Travis Dermott are at the top of the Maple Leafs RFA list. Dermott ($863,333) and Mikheyev ($925,000) could both be re-signed fairly cheap. I think Mikheyev can be brought back for under $1.25 Million and Dermott for under $1 million.
The big question is, should the Maple Leafs keep Dermott or trade him for a defenseman with more experience? Unless the Maple Leafs plan on using him on the right side, I believe they should trade him. Either package him in a deal for a more experienced defenseman or trade him for a draft pick, thus freeing up cap space to sign a more experienced defenseman.
Unrestricted Free Agents
There will be 12 players within the Maple Leafs organization becoming Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) this off-season. It is highly unlikely that either of Tyson Barrie or Cody Ceci will be Maple Leafs next season. The team just does not have the cap space. The one player I would like to see come back is Jason Spezza. Playing at the league minimum this season, Spezza showed that he can still play. If the Maple Leafs can bring him back for another season at the league minimum, that would be a good thing for this team.
The Maple Leafs will no longer have the contracts of David Clarkson and Nathan Horton to use as salary cap relief. Those two players had a combined cap hit of $10.55 million. With both players no longer on the Maple Leafs Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR), the team can no longer spend over the salary cap limit.
We can expect the Maple Leafs 2019 second-round pick, Nick Robertson, to be on the team next season. We can also expect newly signed defenseman Mikko Lehtonen to join the team. Robertson would likely play with Alexander Kerfoot on the third line. Lehtonen, who is a left shooting defenseman, has played on the right side before, so that is where I would expect him to play.
How Much In Salary Cap Is Available?
Once the Maple Leafs add both Robertson ($850,000) and Lehtonen ($925,000) they will have $4,266,467 in cap space. If they also decide to re-sign Spezza at $700,000 then they are left with $3,566,467. Now, this more than leaves enough cap space to re-sign both Dermott and Mikheyev. Just for numbers’ sake, let’s say Dermott signs for $950,000 and Mikheyev signs for $1.25 million. That will leave the Maple Leafs with only $1,366,467 available in salary cap space.
If the Maple Leafs plan to upgrade their defense, they will most certainly need to make a trade or two. If they trade assets for picks to free up cap space, here are some of the UFA defensemen they might consider trying to sign. Radko Gudas, Alex Pietrangelo, Justin Schultz, Kevin Shattenkirk, or Christopher Tanev.
To sign any of these players, the Maple Leafs will need to have between $3 million and $7.5 million. The NHL free agency period will start on October 9th or seven days after the Stanley Cup has been awarded. We will find out then just how much the Maple Leafs can upgrade this team.
The Maple Leafs need to upgrade this team. It will be interesting to see how they manage their salary cap situation. I have no idea how long of a leash Brendan Shanahan has given to general manager Kyle Dubas, but it should be shorter now, after another early playoff exit.
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