John-Michael Liles clears waivers, will likely report to Marlies


-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:

(Figures via Capgeek)

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:

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.

  • “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 think it’s fair to look at each of those signings and say Nonis did a fine job with them. I mean, he did.

    Overall, though, there’s no way to get around the fact that he didn’t really improve the team and murdered their cap situation over the summer. Then we have to hear about how Loiselle, the Leafs’ “capologist”, is some kind of mastermind who can pull cap space out of his ass, which makes it all the more frustrating. The Leafs should have been better prepared for all of this.

    • The Liles and Komisarek contracts weren’t good contracts… I can’t say the same about Grabovski’s. That being said, Burke never pushed the Leafs up to the cap ceiling. Nonis got rid of all the aforementioned players, and still found himself in a ugly cap situation.

      I don’t see how this can be blamed on Brian Burke.

    • Nonis signed clarkson to a huge contract and I don’t think clarkson will put up the points grabo would have if he would have been put in the 2c spot. Plus getting bernier was a smart deal from a purely value perspective, but it was unnecessary and insulting to Reimer who deserves a full season as the number one goalie to prove he’s the guy. He’ll never get that chance now. Neveind the bozak deal. These will all probably come back to haunt the leafs. Gms all make mistakes

  • I think that it is fair for the Leafs to have waited until the end of training camp to decide if a player was going to fit on the team. After all, isn’t that what training camp is for? Liles is a respected vet, and they have a lot of money tied up in him, so why not see if he can out play Reilly? I guess he didn’t though I certainly didn’t see enough of anything to judge. To me, the mistake is not failing to see that Liles wasn’t going to fit back in May, but signing the extension in the first place. It wasn’t really a “this summer” problem.

  • Perhaps Leafs management are rolling the dice and thinking they can sneak back Liles to the NHL roster if they get into injury trouble with their puck moving defencemen.

    The teams that have the space to claim Liles might not want him because it might screw up their chance for the top draft picks.

  • Back in Black

    Awesome article, Cam.

    Sometimes I feel like the Leafs are run by an old boys club instead of competent, intelligent people. If they don’t make the playoffs this season, this article is enough evidence to pink-slip Nonis.

  • Back in Black

    “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.”

    The difference is that you might want to call Liles back up if you have injuries to puck moving defencemen or decide that Morgan Reilly needs to go down to his junior team or be sent to play in the World Juniors.

    I checked a couple of sources and they all say that there are no re-entry waivers on the new CBA. So I think once a guy clears, you can push him up and down without losing him.

    With his high salary, Liles was effectively waiver exempt (few could or would claim him) so he was the one sent down.

    Research the CBA, this might be a mildly smart move.

    • I addressed this point earlier.

      “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. ”

      Your insinuation is that it’s worth $2.9-million to be stuck in the minors or in the pressbox because Liles is that much better as a replacement.

      That’s some world class spin going on.

  • Back in Black

    How come we find all these issues with the Leafs? According to Darcy Tucker this morning and Jeremy Roenick the Leafs will be a stronger team this year because of who they signed and who they added. Was not Loiselle brought in because he knew all about cap issues? If the writers and commenters here are so good at cap management how come they were not called to work for MLSE?

  • Jeremy Ian

    I agree it was not good management. But let’s not get too worked up about the omniscient powers of managers. Too much is being placed on Nonis (or Burke’s) questionable judgment. If you can only make one decision at a time with a high degree of uncertainty about the outcome, your options narrow with each move. And especially in a context in which the budget is not an immediate binding constraint, you get “branching.”

    It happened all over the league. From July 2-16 teams offered UFA’s a collective $618m; July 5th busted all records with $399m on the table. And this was in a hard cap year!

    It’s a collective action problem, not a character deficiency.

    (having said that, I would have preferred Grabbo… whatever).

  • Jeremy Ian

    “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…”

    Do you believe everything every coach and GM says?

    Carlyle stressing that the team could make do without Franson is towing the line for (his direct boss) Nonis and publicly pushing Nonis’s agenda in salary negotiations with Franson.

    What is Carlyle going to say? the truth?

    “Gee, my boss needs to sign him. I’m a little worried.”

    Franson was signed just days ago. What if Franson was still holding out?

    The simple reality is that until Franson was signed, they needed Liles as part of the backup plans.