It doesn’t take much analysis to realize that things are pretty rotten in Toronto. After firing Randy Carlyle, the Leafs came out and laid an egg at home, getting shelled 6-2 by the Washington Capitals. The Leafs, who are 2-8-0 in their last 10 games, are quickly slipping out of playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, and with their current salary cap situation, it’s going to be really difficult for them to do anything about it.
The Leafs are jammed right up against the cap ceiling. I mean, it’s so tight that Dave Nonis is going to have to loosen his tie more than Brian Burke ever did in order get a breath of fresh air in here. The Leafs have $0.883 million of free cap space, and of all the teams in the league, only Pittsburgh has less room to wiggle with.
And that’s just this season. The outlook of the team moving forward looks pretty foggy.
The Leafs currently have 12 players and one goalie under contract next season who will make a combined $51.519 million. Gary Bettman suggested in December that the NHL’s cap will rise to around $73 million, so the Leafs will likely have about $22 million to play with in the offseason. With that $22 million, they have to deal with new contracts for some pretty important players.
Jonathan Bernier, an upcoming RFA, is currently being paid $2.9 million and will be looking for a pretty sizeable upgrade in the offseason. In his first season with Toronto last year, the Leafs finished dead last in the league with 34.9 shots against per 60 minutes. It’s more of the same this year for the Leafs, as they’re ahead of only Buffalo in shots against per 60 minutes with 33.5. Over the past two years, Toronto goalies have been peppered with more shots than anybody else in the league. Unlike his counterpart James Reimer, Bernier has stepped up to the task.
Last year, he appeared in 55 games with a 2.69 goals against average and a 0.923 save percentage, while Reimer put up a 3.29 goals against average and a 0.911 save percentage. Bernier is obviously very critical to Toronto’s success. With the amount of shots they allow per game, they essentially count on a spectacular goaltending performance for a chance to win and they’re much more likely to get that from Bernier than they are from Reimer.
The Leafs also have to sign Nazem Kadri (RFA) and Cody Franson (UFA) to new deals at the end of the season. Kadri and Franson have been incredibly important to the Leafs’ offence this season. Franson is second on the team in team goals for per 60 minutes while he is on the ice, while Kadri is third. Kadri also has the highest Corsi For per 60 minutes rating on the team, and Franson has the second highest CF60 rating for defencemen behind only Morgan Reilly.
In a quick summary, the Leafs are a better team when Kadri and Franson are on the ice and when Bernier is in net than they are without them.
If the Leafs remain status quo and head into the offseason without moving any of the players they have signed heading into 2015/16 and beyond, they’ll have roughly $22 million (depending on what happens to the cap) to keep these three guys around and make improvements to their roster.
The Leafs don’t have much bargaining power with Franson. He’s a UFA heading into a relatively thin free agent market. If guys like Mike Green and Marc Staal are signed to extensions before July 1st, Franson could be one of the most coveted blue liners available. Depending on the market, Franson could easily command $4.5 million, considering he’s already making $3.3 million. With Kadri, the Leafs have a little more flexibility, but he’s only three years away (worst case scenario) from unrestricted free agency, so the Leafs are going to have to pony up a decent amount of cash for him to surrender any of his UFA years. If Kadri is going to be coughing up UFA years to stay on the Leafs, I doubt he’ll want to be making less than teammate Tyler Bozak ($21 mil over 5 years).
Obviously these are just quick estimates, but it isn’t unreasonable to assume these three guys will cost (conservatively) $14 million together to keep around. If that’s the case, the Leafs will only have ~$8 million depending on how much the cap goes up to flesh out the rest of their roster, which still needs at least seven more players.
That doesn’t leave much room for improvement. Long story short, something gotta give. The Leafs need to decide who they’re going to move forward with because with their current cap situation, there isn’t much room for improvement.