Since shooting themselves in the foot with some recent contract signings, the Leafs have been held accountable and theorized as a team approaching the hell that is a cap crunch. But other teams around the NHL are coming to their need and helping them by acquiring some of those contracts.
The Leafs and its management team was facing some tough decisions this offseason — among many contract negotiations with Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, two not favourable contracts are sitting there taking up a sizeable portion of their cap.
The likely Hall-of-Famer Patrick Marleau has one year left on his three-year deal, holding a $6.25-million hit to his legendary name. On the other end of the legend spectrum, former European free agent acquisition Nikita Zaitsev has a total of five years left with a $4.5-million hit.
Knowing the current cap situation of the Leafs — around $8.5-million in space for next season — they will need to make some moves and they are already on-track to do so.
Since the league was made aware this morning of Zaitsev’s availability, there have been multiple inquiries but it remains to be seen how many teams expect TOR to retain salary or make a soft/limited return deal because of the term/$ owed him.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 30, 2019
Last week it was released that the Leafs and Zaitsev are working together to find a new home for the Russian right-handed defenceman. Teams are apparently chomping at the bit to get just a little taste of that long-term contract.
He might want out for personal reasons, but Zaitsev will find a new home and then get trashed by their fanbase just as quickly. Unfortunately for him, his contract will hover over his head while he’s on the ice like an EA NHL video game and his reputation will sully because of that.
The Leafs will most likely not retain any salary in this trade, meaning that the team acquiring the defenceman will take all of that $4.5-million cap per year and love every second of it because they are helping the most important franchise in the league.
Knowing they will help a deep playoff run for the team that runs this league will be enough for them — feeding them scraps from NHL’s table.
Another valuable scrap that is just an unfortunate victim of the hard cap system will be Marleau.
Nick Kypreos on HNIC adding to the narrative that Leafs and Marleau will part. Family moving back to California. An expected development, but Leafs still have to get creative with shedding his salary.
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) June 2, 2019
It looks like his time in Toronto is over, whether that be in a fair trade with another team or one that looks like a giant cap dump. This will most likely involve some retained salary and some maneuvering around the cap structure — buyouts, LTIRs, whatever it takes to re-sign some key depth for the Leafs.
His steep decline in play on the ice was evident, but that should not deafen the impact he had off the ice. Probably the most ideal mentor for young players like Marner and Matthews to have on their team, Marleau’s Christmas sweaters will be missed.
It can be hard to swallow, but this can be seen as a necessity to be able to retain some of the key players for the Leafs’ future success. A move like this would guarantee some more possible trades and flexibility on their cap structure, cementing a deep playoff run in the near future and therefore bringing fortunes to the entire league.
Why wouldn’t other teams want this for the Leafs? A league like this needs one franchise to be the focus and that has always been the Toronto Maple Leafs.
When fortunes come for the Leafs and Toronto, they trickle down to the rest of the other lesser teams. By taking on these contracts, they will get in return the knowledge that they helped the entire league as a result.