Projecting the Leafs 2019–20 Roster

We can and we will — Kyle Dubas, July 2018

Elliotte Friedman also made a bold statement Wednesday night on Tim & Sid:

… this will be William Nylander’s final season as a Toronto Maple Leaf

Friedman went on to say later that he believes the cap hit next year is a key factor, given the need to find cap space for Matthews and Marner.

I can understand Elliotte’s concerns about the state of the Nylander situation. I did write about RFA holdouts in this very blog three days ago, and by the end of writing that article I did have a few more doubts about Willie’s future in Toronto. But I do believe that his signing is very likely and I do believe that he can stay a Toronto Maple Leaf because there IS enough cap space.

It’s certainly challenging to fit all the pieces together but it’s not that difficult either if a plug like me can do it. Kyle Dubas has the Cap Guru Brandon Pridham.

Here’s what I came up with using the @CapFriendly site. Bottom-line: The 2019–20 Cap Hit for the Leafs comes in just below the Salary Cap of $83M with $17k to spare. What follows below the roster chart is an explanation on how I got there.

2019–20 Leafs Roster Projection

Leafs 2019–20 Roster with the Big 3 Signed

William Nylander’s Contract
First, let’s make some assumptions on Willie’s contract. For purposes of this exercise I will go with the $6.9M figure being floated by Marc Savard and assume a six year term. I’m not sure that it won’t be a bridge deal closer to $5M and I suspect Dubas would push the AAV lower but let’s be conservative and go with it.

Secondly, we need to figure out the cap hit each year. This is complicated because the CBA requires a prorating formula for RFA signings that happen during the season. For brevity purposes, I will just mention that I used this tool by Earl Schwartz, one of the smartest capologists around.
The net result is a large cap hit of $9.6M for 2018–19 but a cap hit of $6.53M for years 2–6.

Matthews and Marner Hit Paydirt
Remember, my purpose here is to make conservative assumptions but to also keep fairly close to reality. So if you think a few of these are a little high, keep that in mind and don’t shoot the messenger. ;-)

I’m assuming Auston Matthews will rake in $12M on an 8 year deal. I think that fits given what players like McDavid ($12.5M), Tavares ($11M), and Eichel ($10M) have been paid. The salary cap has grown, so Tavares’ $11M equates to $11.4M now. I more or less put Matthews between McDavid and Tavares here. I believe this is a realistic number given his amazing potential but also takes into account the risk of future injuries lowering his contract value a smidgen. I’ll predict an extension being signed in-season, maybe December.

Mitch has blasted out of the gates like Secretariat. The only good comparable I can think of right now is Patrick Kane. After all, the comparisons to Kane started when Mitch was in junior. They play the same wing, have roughly the same size, and play a similar style though Patrick did score more goals.

If I do some *math* (my Dad always wondered why I got a degree in [gasp] math) I can move Patrick’s contract forward in time. If we do that we find that his $6.3M over 5 years represented 9.6% of his average available cap. Then it’s just a matter of projecting the salary cap and applying the 9.6% again.

The result: Patrick Kane’s deal would cost $8.5M today. I kept Mitch’s assumption at $9.5M to show the Leafs can do this, even at a higher price.

Assumptions We Need to Make

  • Connor Brown is traded to make the needed cap room. I didn’t like doing this but *living the cap life*
  • Jake Gardiner is lost to free agency. I love Jake but I can’t make him fit and Dermott/Sandin are on the rise. *living the cap life*
  • Nikita Zaitsev remains on the roster, he has a modified NTC that kicks in July 1st but I’m staying conservative because 1) he might be needed anyways given Hainsey is unsigned and the right defence side is in churn and 2) he might not be easy to trade given his stats and long $4.5M contract.
  • I left room for a $3M mid-quality RD defenceman to play top pair beside Morgan Rielly, assuming an aging Ron Hainsey is ready to retire.
  • Patrick Marleau remains due to his No Move Clause. He is shown on the 4th line to recognize that he is nearly 40 and to make room for developing wingers but you can move him (A buyout or retirement has no impact on a 35+ contract as I understand it.)
  • Nathan Horton is on LTIR and Leafs maximize the $5.3M in relief. The degree to which this is not managed effectively will impact the $3M defenceman reserve.
  • The minor potential performance bonuses of $132.5K carry over to 2020–21; no carryover of bonuses from 2018–19; $1.2M of Phil Kessel’s salary continues to be retained.
  • I assumed that the Leafs go with a 22 man roster instead of 23 to save $700K+ in cap. This is feasible, the Marlies are a short but risky uber ride away and the reserve forward and defenceman are there for injuries.
  • Assumes an $83M Salary Cap for 2019–20

Other Signings

The remaining big RFAs are Kasperi Kapanen and seventh round surprise Andreas Johnsson.

Kapanen is having a breakout season but let’s not get carried away. He still has to produce over the entire season, has no prior season results to draw on, and he does not have arbitration rights. I’m a big fan of Kappy but I believe he can be signed somewhere close to $2.5M for 2-3 years. I would point to a very promising young winger from the same draft as a rough comparable: Ondrej Kase in Anaheim who signed for $2.6M x 3 years a few months ago. He put up 20 goals and 38 points in just 66 games last season. Let’s use $2.7M x 3 for now because we all want Kappy to be Happy.

For Johnson, I’ll just use Connor Brown as a reference point. (You can look for more comparables but I’m not trying to build a full-fledged case here for any one player, I’m just trying to make sure the numbers are generally conservative for this exercise.) Brown signed at 23 for $2.1M x 3 years after putting up a hard-to-match 20 goals and 38 points in the 2016–17 season. Johnsson is 24 and has only put up 11 points in his first 30 games but I’ll assume he does better this season and gets close to Brown. So I’ll take $2.1M x 3 for now.

Leivo is interesting. We don’t know which line he will play on or how he will produce but if Nylander comes back, someone has to play on the 4th line and there won’t be much of a spike in points from there. He can probably be re-signed for 1 million. (I think he has more potential than 4th line.)

The other parts probably don’t need to be gone into detail because they can be replaced by depth if negotiations don’t work out. I’ve assumed that the Leafs make qualifying offers where needed for the other RFA’s which means that they get at least a 5% increase in most cases. The toughest one may be Igor Ozhiganov who is older and came over from a pretty good league (KHL) but if he can’t agree on a deal that fits him into the cost structure then Justin Holl may get the nod. Sparks is another one but it’s a buyer’s market for backups with NHL experience. I never said it was going to be a breeze, just that it’s not THAT difficult. If Sparks refuses, the Leafs go to the marketplace and possibly upgrade from the waiver wire later (like Pickard or McElhinney).

But as a gift to the Cap Gods and the pundits and to maintain a conservative approach, I’ll arbitrarily sacrifice Par Lindholm who may not be content with an offer around $1 million after getting $925K + potentially up to $850K in performance bonuses this season. It’s ok. If the top 3 centres are rolling, the leftover minutes are, well, minimal and every team needs a GOAT. (Ian Tulloch in The Athletic — paywall).

That’s it! Kyle Dubas can and he will. Nylander can fit into the Cap even if we make a big $ assumption on Matthews and Marner. Hopefully you stuck with me and have a better understanding of my point of view. Nothing is of course certain but I believe it is always in the interests of a team to keep young top-end talent like William Nylander.

It’s a headache doing the Cap gyrations but at the end of the day, there’s a stronger team on the ice. And that’s what matters most.

M. Math (Stats) (U of Waterloo) retired. Covid-19 and NHL Tableau viz and analysis.

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