TLN Roundtable: Will any of the Big Three become cap casualties?

Earlier today, I wrote about Darren Dreger’s comments on Auston Matthews’ inevitable eight-year extension. Dreger suggested Matthews likely ends up with a contract similar to that of Connor McDavid, which is $12.5 million annually over eight seasons.

The Oilers, for the sake of comparison, have McDavid and Leon Draisaitl locked up for $21 million annually starting next season. The team had to jettison Jordan Eberle’s $6 million contract this off-season, and there’s a chance they’ll have to do the same with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins come summer 2018.

That brings us to this week’s roundtable discussion. How much is this Leafs trio going to cost? Are they all going to get signed? Or will the Leafs opt to deal one away to either fill a hole in another spot?


Assuming the Leafs wind up with Matthews at $12M and Nylander and Marner at $8M a piece that seems like a lot of cabbage for just three players and by my math that means they need 17 more guys with $47M left, meaning an average cap hit of $2.76M. On the surface that looks doable and I’d rather error on the side of not trying to replace high end talent.

The waters get a little murkier when you figure in players like Kadri, Rielly, and Gardiner and with the Leafs getting better the quality of replacement players they’ll have developing out of their prospect pool will decline.

That being said, I’d say you don’t entertain the idea of moving any of the core at the moment. Live in the now, enjoy the ride. Komarov, Bozak, and van Riemsdyk departing (and all three should depart) gives the Leafs a lot of flexibility and Kapanen, Soshnikov, and Aaltonen are affordable in house replacements, if you can accept a modest talent decline.

I also don’t want to be the “the cap will go up” guy, but the cap will go up, at least until the next lockout and at that point we probably get a couple of free buyouts, so that’s nice too.

All and all this is a boring answer, so I feel I need to say who I’d let go if I had to get rid of one of them, and I’ll go with Mitch Marner. Auston Matthews should be in a Leafs uniform until ten years after he’s dead (j/k, he’s immortal) and William Nylander has the added bonus of being able to shift to center. Especially if Bozak is departing (and he should) this would be the determining factor for me. Of course, all three are great and I’m in favour of keeping them all, so if you’re upset by this, you really can’t find anything to be happy about.

R/Leafs Hobart

Unless we see an 80+ point year, I don’t think there’s any way Nylander significantly out-costs Pastrnak and Ehlers. Matthews and Marner are another year out so it’s harder to judge. Given Marner’s possession numbers we’re likely to see a decrease in production from him this year which will be a big factor. Matthews will probably be around $11M, with Nylander around $6.5M and Marner around $7M. They’re all worth a whole heck of a lot more than that, but that’s the market they’re in. I don’t see them being a significant cap issue at all.

Feb 21, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) is congratulated by center Nazem Kadri (43) and center William Nylander (29) and center Auston Matthews (34) against the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Jets 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Scott “College Boy” Maxwell

The Leafs should trade Marner for Phaneuf and Nylander for Seabrook, then sign Auston Matthews to a 20 year contract with a $60 AAV.


Losing any one of the big three would be a really stupid move on the part of Leafs management – a catastrophically bad move and a fireable offence to whoever orchestrated it. Whether it’s through a trade or free agency, there is no good reason that the Leafs cannot keep all three of their star young forwards. In a hypothetical trade, unless in return they’re getting a player who’s a) – better b) around the same peak age or younger and c) -… losing any of them makes next to zero sense.

Auston is the clear #1 player on the future of the team (and uh, right now) with Marner and Nylander fighting hypothetically for that #2 role. In reality though, that role only matters mostly to the fanbase. Knowing what we know about the types of personalities these players possess – it doesn’t appear that two minutes of ice time either way per game is going to be the make or break between Nylander and Marner’s satisfaction in Toronto. They’re either happy to be here, or really, really good liars. If you’re looking for a team with a better young forward core, you won’t find many. You can argue about the McDavids and the Laines of the world and whatever else you want, but the fact is the Leafs are good (actually) and have one of the brightest damn futures in the league – as long as they don’t mess things up.

And you can argue all you want about role players, bottom-six forwards, Roman Polak PTOs, backup goaltenders, the penalty kill coach and the water bottles the Leafs use on the bench – but at the end of the day it is elite talent that wins and loses the majority of games – and eventually, playoff series. Sure, there’s the odd team that slips through the cracks of a ridiculous playoff format riding the coattails of a great defenceman while playing against injury-plagued lineups. But if you find a team that wins the Stanley Cup without having at least three or four forwards playing at the top of their game? Well, you’re going to be looking for a long time.

There are always ways to find capable NHLers to fill out your roster. We still haven’t seen that much of Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen, but they don’t cost a whole lot either and seem to be capable pairing options. You can trade players. You can sign Connor Brown to a sweetheart deal. You can always fill in the holes with *someone* good enough to be on an NHL team and the Leafs have mostly been able to do that. But finding elite forward talent? Well, your main route is to build through the draft.

The Leafs have already found their key pieces for the future, and losing any one of them would be and ridiculous and horrifying experience for the biggest hockey team in the world.


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    • Skill2Envy

      I actually commented about this mid summer, it looks like Gardiner might become a cap causality. Hard to see him fitting in the same year as Marner and Mattews needing new deals – Kadri (4.5), Rielly (5), Nylander(begins with 6 or 7), Zeitsev (4.5), Andersen (5) plus one year of Marleau (6.25) left and disregarding all other contracts at less on the books. It could happen but its doubtful Gardiner fits long term because of the cap.

      In two years time though Gardiner could become expendable with Liljegren, Dermott and Neilson behind him. Carrick improving, Rosen and Borgman maybe becoming reliable pieces along with players on the Marlies, future draft picks and unseen trades/moves.

      As Bobcock said “The truth today isn’t always the truth tomorrow”. We need Gardiner on this version of the Leafs, in two years time he may not be a need or want in a cap system.

      • Twitchy

        Gardiner is the best defenceman on the team, he’s not going to be made expendable by a bunch of rookies in their first or second seasons. It’d be much smarter to flip Zaitsev and perhaps another player to free up space for Gardiner. The Leafs need to keep Gardiner around if they intend to win.

        You don’t move around the top tier players to fit in your mid tier guys. That’s how you screw up your team and get in cap hell. You pay for your top talent, you flip the mid tier guys like Zaitsev, and you take advantage of rookies on ELCs.

  • Capt.Jay

    Will any of these guys (Gardiner and Reilly included) take a home town discount to win some cups or are the agents that kill the sport too influential nowadays?

  • Stan Smith

    The key to the Leafs succes is going to be filling the roster with cheap young talent. I expect by the time MNM get paid their full value, there will be a carousel of supporting players. Such is the nature of the NHL salary cap.