Maple Leafs and Salary Cap Manipulation

Photo from Toronto City News (https://toronto.citynews.ca/2018/05/11/toronto-maple-leafs-kyle-dubas)

The Use of Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR)

When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded backup goaltender Garret Sparks to the Vegas Golden Knights for a 2020 fourth-round pick and David Clarkson, many fans were shocked, to say the least.

What some fans don’t realize is that by owning Clarkson’s $5.25 million contract and pushing the Maple Leafs above the upper limit of the $81.5 million salary cap means they will now be able to take full advantage of the LTIR once the 2019-20 season starts. Once the Maple Leafs place both Clarkson and Nathan Horton on LTIR, it will free up $10.55 million in cap space. This is why they were willing to add Clarkson’s contract as it helps them create more cap space then if they were to only have Horton’s contract of $5.3 million on LTIR.

Impact on Mitch Marner’s Contract

It is believed that Mitch Marner and his agent Darren Ferris are looking for a five to a six-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) somewhere close to $11 million. With the Maple Leafs being over the salary cap right now, they will not be able to sign Marner until after the season starts once they have placed Clarkson and Horton on LTIR and freed up the $10.55 million. If Marner’s new contract is more than that, the Maple Leafs will have some temporary relief as both Zach Hyman ($2.25 million) and Travis Dermott ($863.3 thousand) will be starting the season on LTIR as they recover from injuries sustained during the 2019 NHL Playoffs. By adding those two to LTIR to start the season, they will have roughly $13.6 million to use to sign Marner.

What Happens After Marner Signs?

If Marner signs for more than the $10.55 million that they will have available from the LTIR contracts of Clarkson and Horton, the Maple Leafs will have to either use cheaper options with their bottom-six forwards or make another trade to fit him within the $81.5 million salary cap. There is still the possibility that the Maple Leafs could convince Marner to sign a shorter deal for two or three years for less money with the promise of a bigger payday down the road.

Mitch Marner (Courtesy of Dinur Blum @rabbi_d via Flickr)

Next Season

Things will not be getting any easier next season for the Maple Leafs when it comes to the salary cap, so they will again need to become creative in how they manage their roster. The Maple Leafs currently only have one defenseman on their NHL roster for next season and that’s Morgan Rielly. It is very likely that prospects Rasmus Sandin ($894,167) and Timothy Liljegren ($863,333) are on next year’s NHL rosters and that Dermott, who is a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer will be re-signed. They also have RFA options with Ben Harpur and Jordan Schmaltz. The biggest amount spent on defense next summer will either be re-signing one of Jake Muzzin or Tyson Barrie (both will be looking for a new deal worth over $5 million per season) or the Maple Leafs will explore the Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) market.

Summary

The next few seasons will involve tricky salary cap situations for Maple Leafs general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas, but he has the benefit of having capologist Brandon Pridham on his staff. If the Maple Leafs plan on keeping Rielly, they will need to make sure that whatever they do over the next two summers will leave them with approximately $10+ million to re-sign Rielly when his contract expires at the end of the 2021-22 season.


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