With Phil Kessel signing a contract extension for an infinite number of dollars spread over an infinite number of years, this got me thinking about the future cap situation of the Leafs which got me thinking of the recent Colborne trade as perhaps being a harbinger of things to come.
The Leafs traded a young but stalled prospect to the Flames for a song. A conditional 4th round draft pick of a song, to be exact.
Call it the Burke-Nonis factor. While Dave Nonis is busy driving the Leafs into the ditch Brian Burke can idle behind him picking up useful spare parts while cheering on his protégé.
Here is the Leafs’ cap situation as of today:
The part of the above chart to pay attention to is the difference in signed players from this season to next, a drop off of 12 bodies. If we assume that the cap rises by as much as $6 million for next season that gives the team roughly $28 million to fill those roster spots.
Here are their forward contracts for the next three seasons:
Note the NTC/NMC on the top five earners listed and keep in mind the team has already used both of their compliance buyouts on Mike Komisarek and Mikhail Grabovski. No more get out of jail free cards.
Here is their blueline roster for the next four seasons as well:
Here note that they don’t have a single blueliner signed beyond three seasons and the value contracts on the blueline are still not enough to offset the cap imbalance created by the forward contracts.
(All images taken from capgeek)
The Leafs have Kessel, Lupul, Clarkson, Van Riemsdyk and Bozak taking up around $27 million of cap space with pending UFAs Dave Bolland, Dion Phaneuf, and Nikolai Kulemin. They also have James Reimer, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson, and Carter Ashton as expiring RFAs this year and Nazem Kadri an expiring RFA the following season.
Given the current salary structure of the team is it reasonable to expect that captain Dion Phaneuf will take much less than his current $6.5 million in a new deal? Or that Dave Bolland won’t threaten to explore free agency is the Leafs don’t at least give him $4 million? Reimer may no longer be the Leafs starter if Jonathan Bernier develops as is expected, but he currently makes over a million less than Bernier, who is an RFA in two years’ time so one can’t expect much of a savings on that front either.
The usual avenue of cap savings that teams in this situation exploit, specifically affordable entry-level contracts to offset veteran contracts, does not appear to be one readily available to the Leafs. Their prospect depth may not provide the cost offsets that would enable them to ice a well-rounded roster while still retaining, which implies re-signing, their current young players.
Something, or more specifically someone, is likely to shake loose. My guess is one forward, perhaps via free-agency like Jay McClement, and one defenseman. And the Calgary Flames, in my opinion, may be uniquely positioned to take advantage of this.
Burke and Nonis have worked together since their Hartford days. In Vancouver, Anaheim, and Toronto where you find one the other is almost sure to follow. They work well together and there is a very strong professional relationship between the two. The Leafs are obviously trying to build something in the here and now, while the Flames are attempting to gather together a collection of talented young players and rebuild.
The Flames could offer a collection of picks and prospects for one of the Leafs’ sacrificial lambs, forfeiting an asset from an organizational strength to shore up a weakness. For instance, Feaster and Burke could offer Laurent Brossoit and a 2nd round draft pick for Jake Gardiner, feeding the Leafs’ system needs for draft picks and goaltending prospects while adding to the Flames a potential top-four defenseman on the cusp of entering his developmental upswing.
It might not even take that much given Burke’s reputation for wringing deals out of otherwise competent GMs.
The other avenue would be to acquire JM Liles, whose demotion only saves the Leafs about 900k in cap space, resulting in nearly $3M in dead space for the Leafs. That’s a problem which limits the Leafs’ budgeting flexibility, but also for the next two seasons since Liles’ contract extends until 2015-16. Calgary could absord that contract easily and potentially wring a high draft pick or prospect or two out of the Leafs in return.
Either way, the Leafs have very real cap struggles both now and in the near future and the Flames are maybe the only team in the league who can offer them significant relief.