You haven’t started reading this article, but you’re probably already shaking your head at the title. I assure you that yesterday’s transactions haven’t completely warped my mind and sent me off the deep end.
If we’re being honest, that time probably came ages ago. But to the topic at hand. The National Hockey League put out its full list of players exempt from the upcoming expansion draft due to long term injuries. The list is as follows:
Dave Bolland, Craig Cunningham, Chris Pronger, Cody McCormick, David Clarkson, Johan Franzen, Joe Vitale, Ryane Clowe, Mikhail Grabovski, Pascal Dupuis, Nathan Horton, Stephane Robidas
There isn’t a real rhyme or reason to this one, other than the fact that these players have all been suffering from severe injuries, and most of them seem to have been associated with the Leafs over the past few years for whatever reason. Beyond that, there’s no connection between having No Movement Clauses or not, or when your contract expires, or any of the easy connections. I’m not sure what makes Stephane Robidas (a pending UFA without an NMC) exempt, but not Marc Savard (a pending UFA without an NMC).
I’m not going to stress too much about the specifications, but I will point out that Joffrey Lupul isn’t there. Lupul didn’t play for the Leafs this year as a result of a “stomach injury”, that has become a bit of a contentious point in Toronto. Lupul told the Toronto Sun last September that he believes himself to be capable of playing, but was also hanging out at Coachella during the playoffs, so who knows where he really stands.
We do know where he stands with the Leafs, though: Likely on “Robidas Island”, with Nathan Horton (and, for the first time since its inception, not with Robidas). Toronto, given their current roster makeup, have no use for a player who hasn’t played in a year, contributed a 25-point season since 2014, or contributed a 50 point season since 2012.
They might have use for his cap space, though. The easiest route for them, at the moment, is to place him on Long-Term Injured Reserve in the event that they make signings and acquisitions that require them to exceed the salary cap. But as Drag Like Pull has explained on this site before, LTIR isn’t a pure get out of jail free card; teams like the Leafs with high-performing young forwards will still have their bonus overages spill over into other years, and you don’t get the full balance of a player’s cap hit through LTIR unless you pre-spend all of it, to begin with.
This would make upcoming years harder on the Leafs, given that the current group of kids managed to rack up around $5 million in bonuses this year, the bulk of which will spill over to next. Chump change compared to what those players would make if signed on the open market, but still a stinger.
Now, over to the Golden Knights. The idea that Vegas will have to take on everybody’s bad contracts is straight up mythical. If you signed a bad player to a 5×5 deal last year, George McPhee isn’t going to take it with a wink and move along. Yes, the team has to get themselves to the cap floor like everybody else, but they’re allowed to be a fair bit under it by the end of their expansion draft, only needing to hit about two-thirds of the ceiling with their selections.
If they’re lucky, and teams like the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins are put into tight binds with their cap situations, it may be as simple for them as grabbing players like Rick Nash and Marc-Andre Fleury, and then building a regular team. But there’s a chance that the other 30 clubs will scratch each other’s backs to leave Vegas with nothing but cap dumps and lower-cost gamble players. That’s a nerd’s dream, but with the minimum salary rule in place, they may have to take on a contract or two.
Back to Lupul. If the Knights are going to go this route, they’re going to prioritize players that they can get off their books as soon as possible afterwards. They can’t trade players right after the draft, so preferable cap dumps are players that they can keep on the books for a year without worrying about them getting in the way of the actual roster.
Lupul has one year remaining at his cap hit of $5.25 million, which in its own gets them more than 10% of the way to their minimum salary. Even better is the fact that he’s only making $3.75 million in actual salary next year, and that they could go the LTIR route with him too if they suddenly become a ceiling team; given that they’ll be vet laden with few entry-level deals, they won’t have to worry about bonus overages in the same way that the Leafs will.
In theory, this gives the Leafs a little bit more “true” cap space to work with, while giving Vegas some padding. Of course, they might want one of Toronto’s actual players instead, especially if Toronto really ends up going through with protecting Matt Martin. So the Leafs would likely have to include some sort of incentive to make it happen.
Perhaps that’s the Hail Mary of the Ben Smith signing yesterday: an offer of their preference of Josh Leivo, Brendan Leipsic, or Kerby Rychel if they were to take on Lupul’s contract, with the threat of protecting that player and exposing Martin’s deal, one Vegas is unlikely to take, instead.
Do I see this as likely? Not really; I can’t imagine the league not leaving the Knights enough legitimate, team-friendly salary to build a qualifying hockey team, and I can’t imagine that McPhee will find Leipsic/Leivo/Rychel to be a year of Lupul’s salary more valuable than Martin Marincin or Alexey Marchenko.
But it’s possible if nothing else. It would require some opportunism on Toronto’s parts if Vegas finds themselves in a bind, and I bet other teams will be making similar offers with some of their short term baggage, but it’s certainly something to consider if the right variables align in June.