September 30 2013 10:04AM
-Image from Twitter via Mark Masters
Rosters must be set by 5 p.m. Eastern today, meaning that all teams need to be salary cap-compliant and under 23 men. The Toronto Maple Leafs don't have to worry about rosters limits: it's the minimum number of players they can carry around that should worry them at this point, as too much salary cap waste has cost the team potential gameday reinforcements, but we'll get to that later.
The first big news is that Morgan Rielly may have made the Maple Leafs, as one of the seven defencemen on the ice. John-Michael Liles, however, was not. He was placed on waivers yesterday and should expect to be sent down to the Toronto Marlies after having cleared. I'm guessing that the Maple Leafs dangled Joe Colborne as bait in an effort to deal Liles at some point, so it was probably wishful thinking that a team would claim Liles and his $3.875-million salary cap hit with three years remaining. Chances are, he's not on the Leafs roster, especially not if Rielly is.
This leads to a couple of questions.
Question 1 - When did the Leafs decide that Liles wasn't in their plans?
Well, it couldn't have been at the start of the summer. I have to imagine that from about the middle of May to late June, Dave Nonis was putting together his offseason plan. It involved buying out Mike Komisarek and Mikhail Grabovski.
It certainly didn't involve leaving Liles off the roster, otherwise they'd have used one of their two compliance buyouts on Liles, and used an ordinary course buyout on Mike Komisarek. Why? Because that option would have been much cheaper.
Article 50.5 (d) (ii) (3) of the collective bargaining agreement offers a new buyout procedure, designed to reflect that teams are buying out salary cap savings and coerce teams to buy out front-loaded deals. Since the Leafs had paid more salary ($19-million) than cap hit ($18-million) to Komisarek, two thirds of the extra million dollars is removed from the buyout calculation.
It works out like this, borrowing the format from Illustration #1 of the relevant section in the CBA:
So that's about a $2.17-million charge against the Leafs' cap in 2013-2014, and $1.17-million in 2014-2015. It's much more pleasant to buy out shorter term deals.
I walked through a similar procedure to buy out Liles this summer, but since it's the 2013-2014 cap hit we worry about, Liles will cost the Leafs $2.95-million against the cap, since only $925K is taken off the cap hit if a player on a one-way deal winds up in the minors. The savings, had they given an ordinary course buyout to Komisarek and a compliance buyout to Liles would have been $783,333.33, more than enough for any one of Joe Colborne, Jamie Devane, Spencer Abbott, Troy Bodie, David Broll or Trevor Smith to be on the roster as an extra man.
Instead, the Leafs have a non-zero chance of starting the season with not only just 11 forwards dressed, but with just 11 forwards on the active roster.
Question 2 - Wait, what?
I know, right? Assistant GM Claude Loiselle went on the radio a week ago and turned Toronto fans onto the idea that Liles was the odd-man out:
Loiselle "Liles never got off on the right track after his injury and coaching change"— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) September 26, 2013
Isn't that information that you knew before and during the buy-out period?
I get that the Leafs added Paul Ranger and Morgan Rielly, players that they may not have expected to crack the roster back in May or June, but Randy Carlyle stressed that the team could make do without Franson, and Franson is a much better defenceman than Liles, and is the only right-shooting defenceman the Leafs have on the team. There are plenty of Liles' available.
Look, I don't intend to be negative about everything this season, but there's a narrative perpetuating that because Nonis managed to get Mason Raymond, Nazem Kadri, and Franson under contract for less than people were expecting that he's some kind of salary cap genius.
I reckon it was about mid-September that the Leafs looked at their group and realized that to be compliant, they'd have to shed a few hundred thou off of the roster and Liles was the victim. If the team is saying that they planned this all along, then it was remarkably poor planning.