Kyle Dubas is in for a busy offseason. It’s easy to say that his first as GM went extremely well, with a number of depth signings as well as notching John Tavares (who did not grant a meeting to the Montreal Canadiens) and William Nylander. Many would say that he stumbled with the Nylander signing, yet, I promise you, that contract is going to look like a steal in the near future. The reality is, he’s in for a lot more this summer. The Leafs RFA class consists of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Garret Sparks and Igor Ozhiganov. That’s a lengthy list, which neglects to include the UFA class of Jake Gardiner, Martin Marincin, Ron Hainsey, Tyler Ennis, and Par Lindholm. More on them another time though, as we’re just going to be discussing the RFA’s.
Disclaimer: The eventual comparisons are chosen based on closest fit, ex. I could not realistically say that Auston should get the steal of a contract that MacKinnon has.
As is stands now, pending any movements Dubas makes before the deadline or at the draft, the Leafs have approximately 56,275,699 of the cap next year tied up. The projected ceiling is ~ 83,000,000, meaning that for their long list of free agents, the Leafs have ~26,724,301 in cap space available to sign these players. The reality is, the Leafs are not using any of the LTIR space, which they utilized last year for Nathan Horton who is still on the books until 2020-2021. I am basically just saying that the space exists, but for this article I’m going to assume that it is not utilized and Horton’s 5.3 mil goes against the cap.
There has been a lot of discussion of this deal lately after Dubas stated that there were talks with his agent, with Dubas stating that he hoped to have a better idea of it around the trade deadline. On top of this, Elliotte Friedman put in his theory that the deal would not be the max 8 years, but rather lower in order to save on the cap hit. I’m just going to say this now, I don’t think that is the case at all. Both Dubas and Matthews have made it vocal that they want the full length, so why would we even look into an insider saying otherwise. So how does the best scorer of the younger group compare with his peers?
Listen, this first one had to be done. McDavid is paid 12.5 / yr so it must be seen how far off Matthews is, numbers wise.
First of all, McDavid is unreal. Eye-test tells us that and so does the stats, no shocker here. There’s not much to discuss, McDavid should be making league max, but took a cut (which he shouldn’t have). Matthews on the other hand, is also extremely good, but its tough to draw a comparison to arguably the best player in the world. Moral of the story, no one should be paid anything particularly close to McDavid.
First of all, can we just appreciate what the 2016 draft was almost like? Had he been born just a few days earlier, he would have been in the 2016 draft, which would have had an insane top 3 to go along with the rest of the possibly best draft in recent memory. Anyways, Auston vs Jack. To be honest, I believe that Eichel is severely underrated, but that being said, he is still not at Auston’s level. Even though Eichel generates a tonne of chances, but he doesn’t appear to absolutely dominate as much as Matthews does. On paper, it seems logical that Auston’s had more to play with, but according to the data, the quality of teammates is almost identical to what Jack plays with.
In summary, Auston should get > 10 but < 12.5.
I don’t think its possible to appreciate enough what the Leafs have. The 1-2 punch of Auston and John is absolutely absurd. Tavares has typically played the harder minutes so far this year, and even when he was with the Isles, he faced tough competition, but with worse line mates than he has now. Tavares is the better all around player, but Auston is insane at generating chances at capitalizing on them.
- Verdict: It makes sense that the Tavares’ contract would be the lower limits of Matthews’ contract and McDavid’s would be the upper limit. Based on that, I feel its safe to say that (hopefully) we get an alert informing us that Auston Matthews has signed a 8 year deal, valued at 92-96 million with an AAV of 11.5-12 million.
It is also worth noting that there is a great deal of potential for the structure of the deal to be one opposite of that of Nylander, being a lighter hit in the earlier years but a heavier hit in the later in order to save the money they will need for their other signings while contracts like Horton’s are still on the books.
I’m going to take a different approach on this one, as Marner requires it. Before this year, I had Mitch locked at a 8-8.5×8 deal. I thought that the Draisaitl contract was the perfect comparison and seemed to make the most sense. That was of course, until this year. Marner has been incredible so far, with him lighting it up with Tavares. This, along with the commitment to not negotiate a deal in the season greatly complicates things for the Leafs. On top of those complications, his father has been allegedly extremely involved in the talks, and unlike Nylander’s father, who caught a great deal of heat for wanting his son to receive the money he felt he deserved, Paul Marner will not stand for anything less than his son getting the money and the leadership role that he feels Mitch deserves. He has been quoted as saying that he hates that Mitch has not been considered by the fans a favorite to become captain, which is, well, a bold statement to say publicly to say the least.
Like I did with the Matthews comparables, I will start with the upper limits and then move to the lower end.
The upper limit contract is a real issue. Eichel is a C, while Mitch is a winger, which is a necessary distinction when it comes to a contract negotiation. Looking at this graphic, you can see how Mitch would argue that he deserves a similar contract. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t look at that comparison as it is very worrisome.
This was my initial relation to Marner. As can be seen above, this is a much better comparison. To be honest, as bad as I feel for McDavid being attached to the Oilers, I feel just as bad for Draisaitl. Not only is stuck on a team in as much trouble as the Oilers, but he is also underrated as he plays under McDavid’s shadow. If all were right and contract negotiations were not so all over the place, it would be an easy lock for Marner to get the same deal.
This will be a quick one. Kucherov is absolutely insane. There is a very short list of people who should be paid more than Kuch, yet his deal starts next year with a 9.5 AAV. As much as Mitch is valued, as spectacular as he his, he does not deserve to be paid as much as Kucherov.
- Verdict: Based on the Kucherov deal alone, I would confidently say that the Marner contract will either be in the form of a 9-9.5×8 or a bridge deal, similar to Kucherov’s which was ~4.7×3. Due to the cap crunch in the upcoming year(s), the bridge deal seems the most likely, as there will be more than enough money when the bridge deal ends. It seems most likely that Marner will bet on himself and go for a bridge to secure the value that he feels he deserves.
These last few will be discussed very briefly.
- Verdict: Kappy has been incredible this year, and due to this being such a small sample, I can’t see Kappy or Dubas being comfortable going for a long term deal, so bridge deal it is. I could see this one being around 3-3.5 AAV for the same term as Marner, that being 3 years.
Just last summer, Johnsson signed a 1 year bridge with an AAV of 787,500, which brings us to now. Johnsson has played extremely well this year, but has not put up anything that would allow for him to argue a great deal, so it seems likely he goes for a slightly longer bridge deal, giving him more time to increase his stock. Being honest, I would love for the Leafs to ink Johnsson for long term at a very friendly cap hit, but I can’t see him not betting on himself.
- Verdict: the most likely is a contract with value below Brown’s AAV, so something along the lines of 1.5×2.
Ozzy has been fine this year. He’s shown moments of brilliance, and doesn’t appear to do much wrong. For what the Leafs intentions were with him, he’s done a good job. With that being said, he hasn’t shown anything that would raise him above being a depth option.
- Verdict: I could see a contract similar to what he has now. It wouldn’t make sense for the Leafs to commit long term (*cough* Zaistev *cough*), and for that I’d say he receives something around 1×2 at the very most or another 1×1 deal.
Another player who has been fine has been Sparks. Overall, he has caught a lot of heat, the reason for which evades me. He’s been an average backup, is honestly a very good thing for the Leafs as he can still be depended on to give Freddy a break when its needed.
- Verdict: I could see the Leafs inking him to a short term deal, around 2 years for a small cap hit, similar to that of Huch, being ~1.2 million
Like I noted earlier, going into this offseason, the Leafs have ~26,724,301 available.
minus 12 (Matthews)
minus 9 (Marner)
minus 3 (Kappy)
minus 2 (Johnsson)
minus 1 (Ozzy)
minus 1.2 (Sparks)
= ~ – 1,000,000
Everyone is aware that the Leafs will be in a crunch. A great deal can happen before these signings are made, such as removing Zaitsev’s contract, or utilizing the LTIR space. So as it looks like this estimation has them as over the cap, we can have faith in Dubas and his AGM’s that they will make it work and make it clear there was never any reason to worry.
So moral of the story, as much as it is made to seem like the Leafs are in extreme danger of falling apart, it’s much closer than it is made to appear, and all it would take is one solid move to bring themselves back into a comfortable spot above the cap when next season rolls around. Let’s just forget about the notion of offer sheets that is so confidently stated on TV and watch this spectacularly built team play.