Leafs salary cap situation, as best we can tell, after Franson signs

Cam Charron
September 26 2013 08:11AM

The good news is that Cody Franson is under contract.

The bad news is that the Leafs are still a little over a million above the salary cap, according to Capgeek. While Leafs' assistant general manager Dave Poulin complained yesterday that Capgeek doesn't factor in the bonus cushion for Jake Gardiner, all the calculator apps on the site do. The Leafs will have to ditch two players on their current roster if they are more than $925K above the salary cap. For the sake of argument, let's say they are. What happens next?

The Leafs have 24 players under contract. Subtract Korbinian Holzer and Trevor Smith, and the Leafs have 12 forwards and 7 defencemen for opening day:

Lupul - Bozak - Kessel
JvR - Kadri - Kulemin
Raymond - Bolland* - Colborne
McLaren* - McClement - Orr*

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
Gardiner - Franson
Ranger - Fraser
(Liles)

Bernier
Reimer

Why am I sending Holzer down to the Marlies and not John-Michael Liles? While it would save a little over $100K—and this is going to sound awful—but in the event Liles gets hurt this season, the Leafs can shuttle him to the long-term injury reserve and open up some space. Perhaps a morbid way of looking at it, but from a more positive standpoint, Liles is also a good hockey player, and I'll stand by that he's worth having in the lineup for another season. Even if he's overpaid, he's in the top six best defencemen on this hockey team, and I wouldn't be shocked if early in the campaign he won the job I have pencilled in for Mark Fraser.

The asterisks on the lineup represent players that may or may not be injured at this point. If the team doctor thinks that the player will be out for 24 calendar days or 10 regular season games, that's until October 22, then the team will get cap relief for those players. Neither injury sounds serious enough to happen, but the asterisks do point out the risks (see what I did there) of skating with an undermanned roster with no scratches. If something tightens up for a player during a morning skate and he can't go during a game, you have to skate with a 17-skater roster. Thankfully, the Leafs have experience in that department but it's a dangerous game to get into, particularly when three players in the top nine of the lineup above (Lupul, Raymond, Bolland) have all had significant back injuries in their careers.

It seems like a cop-out, but the Leafs could play with just 17 skaters to make the cap. The New Jersey Devils in 2010 and Calgary Flames in 2009 had periods where they went down to 15 skaters to make the salary cap. This only becomes a possibility for the Leafs if nobody on the roster moves and somebody gets hurt. This becomes a possibility after Clarkson returns as well, but they'll at least have an extra added body at that point. There's also an exemption for a "Roster Emergency" that states if a team falls below the minimum number of skaters thanks to an injury or suspension and doesn't have the cap space to call a player up in the interim, they can call a player up as long as that player's cap hit is less than $650K so they don't play a second consecutive game with 17 or fewer skaters. Given the team only has one back-to-back in the first month, and that comes in the first two days of the season, I don't think that's a possibility, but we'll see what happens.

Anyway… I think I had $7-million pegged for both Franson and Nazem Kadri in the wayback machine, and it turns out Dave Nonis got them both under contract for less than $5-million which is excellent. I've said before that Nonis is pretty good at getting his restricted free agents locked up, and he has a clear understanding of the actual value of players with zero arbitration rights. Sean Gentille of the Sporting News called it "lowball and mothball" which is appropriate. Because Nonis got those two guys for $2-million less than reasonable people projected, the cap issues won't really start until opening day if McLaren or Orr are still not able to play, but it's not like either of them haven't played a full game without breaking a sweat. I think the minutes played by those players in the third period amounted to single digits last season.

The Leafs aren't out of trouble yet, but they're in a lot less trouble than we assumed they would be in, and they could get into more trouble for a month or so, but Nonis just may pull this one off, which is a pretty significant feather in his cap. Kudos to him for that, and more kudos will be granted once the Leafs find themselves out of these woods.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 STAN
September 26 2013, 11:26AM
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There is a psychological issue with Nonis's approach.

First, he pulled no punches with Franson by making Gunnarsson a priority and giving him $3M+. First nail in coffin.

Second, by grinding certain players (Kadri, Franson) while grossly overpaying for others (Clarkson, Bozak) he's also telling the team, the entire organization and Leafs nation that he really has no clue. That he is willing to overpay, but only to the first in line. In other words, the Nonis/Leiweke Leafs are NOT a meritocracy, but instead will always value blind luck (see Clarkson and Bozak again) and nepotism (Leiweke's son-in-law).

Tyler Bozak seems like a nice guy and pretty decent player, but it is his friendship with Phil Kessel that got him a $21M contract. So on one hand Nonis/Leiweke value player contentment (Kessel-Bozak), but blatantly disregard it when it comes to keeping others happy (Kadri, Franson).

Now, Kadri and Franson may have the best seasons of their careers in 2013-14 because of the resentment chip on their respective shoulders. There's nothing like a peeved off player trying to prove his worth to his miserly, incompetent employers.

Also, Leafs fans seem to forget that Dave Nonis has been Brian Burke's right hand man for a long, long time. He was aboard the Good Ship Maple Leafs just a week after Burke was signed to that 5-year contract as President and GM. And that means he was there, as valued advisor, for ALL of Burke's moves, good and bad.

Are we to believe that he advised AGAINST all the bad moves and nodded enthusiastically for the good ones only? Highly unlikely.

Put yourself in Kadri's skates, inside the Leafs locker room. Sure he's only played 100 NHL games, but is a tough, talented player with nothing but upside, coming off his best NHL stretch. Across the room is David Clarkson, a journeyman who won the hype-induced sweepstakes last summer as a few teams chased him; a 29 year old free agent who scored 30 goals, ONCE, but generally pots 14 per season. You had to beg for fair contract, but settled for a deal that is probably 60-percent of your value. But there sits a less-talented teammate making $5.2M. You KNOW that should be YOUR number, while Clarkson is probably closer to the $2.9M the Leafs reluctantly agreed to pay you.

I don't think that makes for a healthy atmosphere.

The same could be said for Franson-Phaneuf. Even NHL players voted Phaneuf the most overrated player in the League. Out of 750 players. That says a lot. And yet, he'll still collect $6.5M this season, while making the same number of bonehead plays for which he's become infamous. (Breaking Lupul's arm, missing the net on point shots and allowing too many forwards to skate around him.)

Bottom line: Nonis is rolling the dice, while betting heavily that this pay disparity for which he is responsible will make for a tighter, better team.

Me thinks NOT.

Good night, and good luck.

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#5 MaxPower417
September 26 2013, 08:51AM
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Wow, what a steal.

Having no injury replacements and two goons on the fourth line, not capable of stepping up into a greater role for the first 10 games is slightly distressing.

I would be much more comfortable if at least one of McLaren/Orr was sent to the Marlies in exchange for the Marlie forward that most impressed the coaching staff in the preseason. But realistically that isn't going to happen.

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#6 Jeremy Ian
September 26 2013, 12:54PM
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@STAN

wow, that's a balanced assessment.

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#7 Matt William-Robert Martin
September 26 2013, 02:32PM
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STAN wrote:

There is a psychological issue with Nonis's approach.

First, he pulled no punches with Franson by making Gunnarsson a priority and giving him $3M+. First nail in coffin.

Second, by grinding certain players (Kadri, Franson) while grossly overpaying for others (Clarkson, Bozak) he's also telling the team, the entire organization and Leafs nation that he really has no clue. That he is willing to overpay, but only to the first in line. In other words, the Nonis/Leiweke Leafs are NOT a meritocracy, but instead will always value blind luck (see Clarkson and Bozak again) and nepotism (Leiweke's son-in-law).

Tyler Bozak seems like a nice guy and pretty decent player, but it is his friendship with Phil Kessel that got him a $21M contract. So on one hand Nonis/Leiweke value player contentment (Kessel-Bozak), but blatantly disregard it when it comes to keeping others happy (Kadri, Franson).

Now, Kadri and Franson may have the best seasons of their careers in 2013-14 because of the resentment chip on their respective shoulders. There's nothing like a peeved off player trying to prove his worth to his miserly, incompetent employers.

Also, Leafs fans seem to forget that Dave Nonis has been Brian Burke's right hand man for a long, long time. He was aboard the Good Ship Maple Leafs just a week after Burke was signed to that 5-year contract as President and GM. And that means he was there, as valued advisor, for ALL of Burke's moves, good and bad.

Are we to believe that he advised AGAINST all the bad moves and nodded enthusiastically for the good ones only? Highly unlikely.

Put yourself in Kadri's skates, inside the Leafs locker room. Sure he's only played 100 NHL games, but is a tough, talented player with nothing but upside, coming off his best NHL stretch. Across the room is David Clarkson, a journeyman who won the hype-induced sweepstakes last summer as a few teams chased him; a 29 year old free agent who scored 30 goals, ONCE, but generally pots 14 per season. You had to beg for fair contract, but settled for a deal that is probably 60-percent of your value. But there sits a less-talented teammate making $5.2M. You KNOW that should be YOUR number, while Clarkson is probably closer to the $2.9M the Leafs reluctantly agreed to pay you.

I don't think that makes for a healthy atmosphere.

The same could be said for Franson-Phaneuf. Even NHL players voted Phaneuf the most overrated player in the League. Out of 750 players. That says a lot. And yet, he'll still collect $6.5M this season, while making the same number of bonehead plays for which he's become infamous. (Breaking Lupul's arm, missing the net on point shots and allowing too many forwards to skate around him.)

Bottom line: Nonis is rolling the dice, while betting heavily that this pay disparity for which he is responsible will make for a tighter, better team.

Me thinks NOT.

Good night, and good luck.

Other teams were offering Clarkson more, same with Bozak. so ur saying that he should have paid the unproven players more and the veterans less... except the veterans wouldn't sign for less. Stop complaining, at the end of the day Nonis could have done a heck of a lot worse

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#9 WesternDP
September 26 2013, 08:52PM
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Cam Charron wrote:

They're still not under the salary cap.

Granted, I did not consider the possibility of carrying 20 skaters on road trips either, which does not seem prudent.

Check out the latest at Capgeek:

http://www.capgeek.com/mapleleafs/

Holzer has been sent down, only $216,667 over with 23 players.

If Nonis sends down Orr and keeps Devane for $224,000 less then Nonis can graduate from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft And Wizardry.

If McLaren is still injured then LTIR soon with Broll as the temporary replacement at $590,833.

There is also the issue of bonuses calculation, which Poulin said gives a bit more space.

Either way, it looks like Dave Nonis is about to become wizard.

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#10 Mike
September 26 2013, 08:19AM
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And no room for Rielly's 9 games.

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#11 LeafHead2154
September 26 2013, 08:25AM
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Cam, what about Colborne? He is on a one-way contract and cannot be waived to the Marlies without risk of some team claiming him. Can the Leafs carry him too without going over the cap? Even though his pre-season play was nothing spectacular, I think he deserves to be given a sustained look in the NHL on a 3rd/4th line role as a center or on the wing.

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#12 The Craig
September 26 2013, 08:37AM
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What about benched/scratched players? Does that not offer up some cap space? I remember when the Devils benched a bunch of their regulars late in the season to meet the cap requirements, that was a couple years ago I think.

I'm wondering what are the chances that Dion walks next season or maybe he's traded (less likely) if Franson shows he's capable of taking on a significant portion of those minutes. With Percy and Reilly coming along, what are the chances Dion's gone next season? Or is Franson the more likely to go?

How much of a haircut would Dion have to take in order to stay?

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#13 EvanLichty
September 26 2013, 08:53AM
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On September 10th, Cam Charron wrote: "The situation is very clear: the Toronto Maple Leafs don't have the salary cap space to sign both Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson unless they a) move some salary or b) Dave Nonis is secretly a wizard."

With all due respect to Cam, who I think is a very thoughtful and well-reasoned writer, Dave Nonis has still not been conclusively outed as a wizard.

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#14 EvanLichty
September 26 2013, 09:05AM
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@Cam Charron

It will be interesting to see just how many teams this year are forced to go with 20 skaters. I agree with you that it seems imprudent.

Randy Carlyle had discussed the possibility of keeping Morgan Rielly up, but not playing him every game. That might have been possible before Clarkson's suspension, but now that they have to fill his spot with additional salary, I don't think the money's there for Rielly to spend any time in the press box.

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#15 James Mirtle
September 27 2013, 01:33AM
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There's no issue with "bonuses" calculation. Capgeek accurately reflects the bonus overage situation; Poulin is mistaken here.

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#16 theconrod
September 27 2013, 05:17AM
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@Cam Charron

Correct on the one-way/two-way contracts, however I believe that was just unnecessary information he added in his post. As far as I know, he's no longer exempt from waivers, and there's no way he will make it down to the Marlies without being claimed by another team.

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#17 Topshelf
September 28 2013, 04:09PM
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@Matt William-Robert Martin

You don't seem to have any clue about the difference between UFA's and RFA's. There has always been a disparity. In the last two years it seems GM's are getting even tougher in negotiations with the RFA's realizing offer sheets (almost) never happen and the players in the end will take less so as not to sit out for too long.

Regarding this......

"Put yourself in Kadri's skates, inside the Leafs locker room. Sure he's only played 100 NHL games, but is a tough, talented player with nothing but upside, coming off his best NHL stretch. Across the room is David Clarkson, a journeyman who won the hype-induced sweepstakes last summer as a few teams chased him; a 29 year old free agent who scored 30 goals, ONCE, but generally pots 14 per season. You had to beg for fair contract, but settled for a deal that is probably 60-percent of your value. But there sits a less-talented teammate making $5.2M. You KNOW that should be YOUR number, while Clarkson is probably closer to the $2.9M the Leafs reluctantly agreed to pay you."......

Take a look at what New Jersey gave Travis Zajac, $5.75 per over 8 years. I don't suppose he would have got anywhere near that if he was upcoming RFA, right?

Kadri has played really well over a 48 game stretch and is getting nearly $3 million per for the next two years, not terrible. At the end of that deal if he plays as well as he did last season he will get a substantial raise. It's also worth noting Kadri had the easiest minutes of any Leaf forward (except Orr, McClaren and Frattin) around 25-30 games in.

Kadri is probably thinking to himself, "Wow if Clarkson gets $5.25 as a UFA and Bozo gets $4 million plus, I'm going to get all the monies, when I'm UFA"

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