Toronto Maple Leafs: Future Cap Outlook

Just over a year and a half ago I wrote a blog about how the Maple Leafs could deal with the then impending flat salary cap. At the time, we were heading into a COVID-shortened season and the outlook of potential revenue for the NHL was not looking promising. Hence, why the cap remained at $81.5 million for the past two seasons.

Thankfully, this past season has yielded much better results for the NHL as the league estimates the 2021/2022 season revenue to surpass $5.2 billion, around $600 million more than the last full 82-game season in 2018/2019, and funny enough… that was the last season where the salary cap would increase for the following year. With that being said, the league has indicated the 2022/2023 salary cap to be $82.5 million, a raise of $1 million even though there is some speculation about why it was not increased by $2 million after meeting the revenue requirements. Nonetheless, I think it is safe to assume that we can expect the salary cap to raise another $2 million each year until 2024/2025 and then take a much bigger jump for the 2025/2026 season.

Similar to the exercise that we did a while back, let us take a look at a few things about the Maple Leafs roster structure in detail for the next 3 seasons (all data is captured from CapFriendly):

  1. Committed Contracts and where they slot into the lineup and resulting slots that need to be filled with potential transactions through UFA
  2. Expiring Contracts of players with UFA status
  3. Expiring Contracts of players with RFA status
  4. Expiring negotiating rights to drafted players
  5. Draft Picks Owned for that upcoming off-season

2022/2023

Starting off with this season, please keep in mind that the purpose of this exercise is to not necessarily offer trade/signing suggestions that would improve the team, but merely offer a view into the teams situation going into that season.

UFAs: C. Blackwell, J. Campbell, M. Hutchinson, T. Kivihalme, I. Lyubushkin, I. Mikheyev, B. Seney (Group 6)
RFAs: J. Duszak (Arb. Elig.), P. Engvall (Arb. Elig.), O. Kase (Arb. Elig.), C. Krys, K. Rubins (Arb. Elig.), R. Sandin, I. Scott
Expiring Negotiating Rights: R. O’Connell
2022 Draft Picks: 1st Rd. (25th overall), Winnipeg’s 3rd Rd. (79th overall), 7th Rd. (218th overall)

As of right now the Maple Leafs roster does look quite mediocre, but that doesn’t mean this roster is written in stone. Very clearly, the roster needs improvements in all 3 positions, most notably… goaltending. But with just $8.9 million in cap space to fill out 4 forward spots and a goaltender, plus some extra skaters… Kyle Dubas will likely be forced to trade away some skaters that are currently under contract… perhaps Kerfoot, Holl and/or Mrazek which could free up another $9.3 million and offer some tremendous flexibility going into Free Agent Frenzy.

In Summary, I think the Leafs priorities this off-season need to be:

  1. Solidify the goaltending position
  2. Find 2-3 middle-six forward options, specifically a couple of forwards that fit John Tavares’ style of play
  3. Take a real objective look at some players in the core and evaluate if it is worth moving on from them, specifically William Nylander and Jake Muzzin. This topic could very well be at #1 as it will shape what you are able to bring in as new additions

2023/2024

UFAs: M. Bunting, C. Dahlström, J. Holl (possibly traded in season prior), D. Kämpf, A. Kerfoot (possibly traded in season prior), W. Simmonds
RFAs: N. Abruzzese, J. Anderson (Arb. Elig.), S. Der-Arguchintsev, M. Hollowell, P. Holmberg, E. Källgren, F. Král
Expiring Negotiating Rights: K. Loponen
2023 Draft Picks: 1st Rd., 3rd Rd., 4th Rd., 5th Rd., 6th Rd.

This is where I think things will get very interesting when it comes to the future of the Maple Leafs franchise. In just over one year from now, prior to the 2023/2024 season… Auston Matthews will be eligible to sign what will likely be the biggest contract in NHL history. How those negotiations go, will most certainly shape what the roster will look like for the 23/24 season and beyond. With that being said, the Leafs will have to also make some tough decisions when it comes to some pending UFAs, particularly Michael Bunting and David Kämpf, both of which will certainly need raises. Furthermore, I left Petr Mrázek off this roster projection as he is assumed to be traded in the season prior to the 23/24 season.

In Summary, I think the Leafs priorities for the 2023/2024 season need to be:

  1. Extend Auston Matthews to the maximum amount of years that he is willing to sign, no matter the cap-hit.
  2. If William Nylander is still on the roster… you must decide if he is being extended a year before his deal expires and if not, you must trade him to solidify another part of the roster
  3. Begin to further integrate some more youthful players into the lineup who are playing on their entry-level contracts, particularly guys like Robertson, Knies, Holmberg, Steeves and Abruzzese.
  4. Find more opportunity for guys like Sandin and Liljegren and start to make them key-pieces of the core.

2024/2025

UFAs: T. Brodie, K. Clifford, M. Giordano, A. Matthews, B. McMann, P. Mrázek (likely traded in two seasons ago), J. Muzzin, W. Nylander
RFAs: M. Abramov, R. Amirov, C. Douglas, M. Ellis, P. Gogolev, T. Liljegren (Arb. Elig.), D. Ovchinnikov, A. Rindell, N. Robertson (Arb. Elig.), R. Sandin (Arb. Elig.), A. Steeves
Expiring Negotiating Rights: D. Malgin, V. Miettinen, M. Koster, J. Fusco
2024 Draft Picks: 1st Rd., 2nd Rd., 4th Rd., 5th Rd., 6th Rd., 7th Rd.

At this point in the future, it will be quite obvious what path the organization will be headed on. It would be safe to assume that this year will be the beginning of a new era for the Maple Leafs for better or for worse. For starters, we’ll know for sure if Auston Matthews is still a Leaf and if Kyle Dubas is still the GM. By this time, Kyle would have selected his 7th draft class as GM and would be entering his 8th year on the job. One would have to hope that this year will be a year that fans can bear the fruits of some draft gems that the Dubas regime would have drafted.

Aside from the obvious projectable NHLers and Amirov (for obvious reasons being that health should be his only priority at this time)… the Leafs trajectory as a truly elite franchise could sky rocket if they can have some not-so-obvious young players make contributions at the NHL level.

In Summary, I think the Leafs priorities for the 2024/2025 season need to be:

  1. Find out what you truly have in your future core pieces before signing them to their platform contracts as they enter UFA status. Specifically… Sandin, Liljegren, Robertson and Knies.
  2. Continue to develop and integrate young and modern talent into the lineup that compliments your core of stars who will be well into their prime at this point (Matthews and Marner).
  3. Continue to evaluate where the organization is with their goalies in the system and never stop looking to draft/develop a bonafide starter.

Final Takeaways

Once again, this exercise has shown us a little glimpse into what Dubas is building out for this organization. He has kept this team extremely flexible while keeping in mind that everything he is building towards is circled around the extension of the most talented player in franchise history. Even with a marginal cap increase over the next few years, Dubas has left the roster with over $50 million in cap space in the year that a future Matthews contract will hit the books. Even after factoring in potential deals signed along the way that will chew into that space, there still is a realistic possibility that the cap will jump to over $90 million for this season and that would just allow for more additions to build around the core. of consequence now that we have seen Kyle Dubas’ recent moves. I think Kyle has done a tremendous job dealing with the current times. People like to throw shade at him for signing those large deals to players who haven’t proven anything yet… but they forget that those deals were signed with an understanding that the salary cap would raise to a level that it actually wouldn’t reach for another 5-6 years. No one could have foreseen a flat cap for the first 3-4 seasons of the Big 4 deals and yet here we are. At the end of the day, this exercise has given me a greater perspective of the patience it might take for this Leafs team to reach the summit, as long as Dubas continues to build a team of elite talent and drive… I am confident he will extend Auston Matthews and that will continue to extend the window for this team to win a cup.