There’s no tip-toeing around it – Joffrey Lupul’s contract is ugly as sin. With a cap hit of $5.25M for two more seasons, it’s the last of the large, unwanted contracts that the Toronto Maple Leafs have to deal with. Lupul is still scoring – 11 in 46 games so far this season – so he’s by definition still a 20-goal guy. At 32-years old, though, Lupul’s mobility is beginning to fail him, and he’s looking less and less like a consistent contributor. As such, his contract is practically immovable.
Note that I said practically, as dealing Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators may have changed things. One of the most shocking factors of the Phaneuf trade was that Toronto retained zero of his salary, giving the Leafs a significant amount of flexibility going forward. And we already know that no contract is immovable to the Leafs if they are able to leverage their financial might. See: David Clarkson. All Toronto has to do is eat some of that Joffrey Lupul salary.
For those unfamiliar with salary retention, each team is allowed to retain salary on up to three traded contracts. Currently, the Leafs retain salary on two contracts – $200K on Carl Gunnarsson’s contract (traded to St. Louis, coming off the books this summer) and $1.2M on Phil Kessel’s deal (traded to Pittsburgh, on the books until 2020). That leaves one more retention slot at Toronto’s disposal; a slot that most had earmarked for Dion Phaneuf’s eventual trade.
TLN’s Jon Steitzer earlier this week discussed the possibility of buying out Lupul’s contract, since all of us here apparently (and desperately) want him gone before 2018. If Lupul were to be bought out this coming offseason, Toronto would be hit with a four-year cap penalty ($1.5M, $3M, $1.5M and $1.5M). If they could handle putting up with him for one more season, his buyout penalty the following offseason would be spread over two years instead ($2.75M then $1.75M). If you hate the idea of the four-year buyout penalty, but also hate the idea of keeping Lupul around past this season, then the salary retention option is probably for you.
Think of it like this… Nobody in their right mind would trade for two more years of Joffrey Lupul at $5.25M per season. But what if Joffrey Lupul only costs, say, $3M? Someone probably bites, especially if they don’t have to give up any significant assets. Trading Lupul this offseason and retaining a large chunk of salary (in this example, $2.25M) essentially turns into an immediate two-year cap penalty for Toronto.
To me, that salary retention option sounds a hell of a lot better than any of the buy-out penalty options. These are the years when Toronto is best able to handle the retained salary burden. In the following seasons, they’ll have to sign a number of their youngsters to new contracts and before they’re looking to add pieces to an improving lineup. And with Gunnarsson’s contract up this offseason, Toronto will gain back that slot, giving them another bullet in the chamber after retaining on Kessel and Lupul. Taking a hit now to rid yourself of Lupul’s salary and open up roster spaces for young players makes a lot of fiscal sense, assuming you’re ready to move on from the Joffrey Lupul era in Toronto.