As we explored earlier this week, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a second buy-out window between now and about 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning thanks to the settlement of the Mark Fraser case coming early on Tuesday. They have a 48-hour window to decide whether or not to buy out a contract that could help them sign Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri, two players that will likely command $7-million between the two, that the Maple Leafs do not have salary cap space for.
The popular target is John-Michael Liles. Check our poll to the right, and a fair number of visitors to this site would prefer a buy-out on Liles, which would cost just $875K against the cap this season, although that balloons to $2.375-million in the third year of the buy-out, once deals for Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren expire but just about when it’s time for Nazem Kadri to start negotiating a contract that will see the Leafs buy up some UFA years. Consider the contracts Dave Nonis gave to Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson which are both unlikely to work out in the long run, there isn’t a lot of room to mortgage more of the future now for today.
I can see why it would be an option and the Leafs should consider it, but taking a huge hit on Liles to keep Franson around just seems like a huge mis-management, effectively paying an extra $1,312,500 per year over the next six to keep him around. A trade is certainly preferable, although I don’t think it’s possible that Liles can be moved. He has more value to the Leafs on the roster and trying to redeem himself after his first two seasons in Toronto have been interrupted by a concussion, a lockout, and a lengthy sequence of healthy scratches.
That said, paying an amount so he won’t play is somewhat foolish since the Leafs have already used up both of their compliance buy-outs, and didn’t pick up an asset from another team in the process. I think that while Nonis had a number in mind for each of the players he was re-signing, he ultimately saw each come in at a price a little higher than he expected and the mistakes added up. In this cap crunch year, differences of $100K mean a lot.
Given the Leafs have seen minor mistakes (Orr, McLaren, buy-outs on Darcy Tucker and Colby Armstrong, retaining $500K in the Jonathan Bernier trade, qualifying Mark Fraser despite plans to sign Paul Ranger, etc:) add up, it’s not wise to let the same thing happen in the summer of 2015. Remember, Moneyball concepts aren’t exactly about using statistics to find good players, they’re about not being trapped by market inefficiencies. The Leafs have done just that this summer, buying up UFAs on the market and paying a premium for toughness and unrealized potential in the Orr, McLaren and Bernier trades.
PPP: What do you think you’ve helped the Leafs accomplish for next season?
CF: I think we’ve done a really good job of helping management find new market efficiencies to make us more competitive.
PPP: You mean market inefficiencies?
CF: No, efficiencies. The NHL dresses about 900 players a year. As I’ve explained to Mr. Nonis, over 48 games that provides us with a huge sample size. Enormous. A lot of good work has been done by other teams in finding inefficiencies in the market. So much good work that we now believe there are no more inefficiencies left to exploit. In such a marketplace, we can take advantage of the one thing the Leafs have and that’s cash. That’s why we’re willing to pay above market value for things that used to be inefficiencies. That’s efficient. Other teams can’t use their cap space like that.
It’s not like this wasn’t preventable. There were three buy-out targets for the Leafs when at one point there used to only be two, and they probably would have done it all with one and still managed to get David Clarkson under contract. I don’t think any manager is perfect, but I also don’t think Nonis ever envisioned himself to be in this scenario back in June.