Good news for the Leafs today, or potentially good news as the salary cap projections in season tend to shrink back to reality by the summer, the league is going to let Toronto spend more money…
#NHL cap projection for 2020-21: $84 to $88.2 million, up from current $81.5 million, but it’s dependent on negotiations with NHLPA.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) March 4, 2020
So that would be a jump up from the $81.5M the league is currently using and a welcome event for the Leafs who already have nearly $78M committed to their roster for next season (as per PuckPedia).
The Leafs have Dermott and Mikheyev as restricted free agents they are very likely to re-sign, as well as they will have decisions to make on Gauthier and Malgin, who wouldn’t cost them nearly as much. As for unrestricted free agents, we can assume that Cody Ceci is as good as gone, but Kyle Clifford, Jason Spezza, and Tyson Barrie are three players they probably wouldn’t mind bringing back, and Barrie’s salary alone would likely push Toronto to $84M on his own before dealing with the other free agents and hopefully upgrading their roster.
More cap space is definitely a good thing for the Leafs, but even if it’s at $88M they aren’t free from having to make some tough decisions.
Potentially the cap space could also be used for chasing any potential defensive free agents this summer such as Pietrangelo, Hamonic, Gudas, or Tanev, but again, that comes with having to get the Leafs own house in order first.
As for the likelihood of the cap going up, there is no doubt that a good chunk of the league wants this. Teams like Ottawa and Florida, decidedly less so, but with loopholes like becoming storage facilities from long term injury reserve contracts, they’ll somehow manage much to the chagrin of everyone wanting to see good teams anchored to bad contracts.
The NHLPA side is where it gets more interesting. The cap going up tends to lead to more money being lost to escrow, and when they’ve slowed the salary cap growth, escrow has caught up. The league also hasn’t done the PA too many favours after the NHLPA opted not to open the collective agreement early, and might not feel like doing any more favours this summer, and gear up for their labour relations fight.
My guess is that $88M number is a pipe dream, but we can probably begin planning for something on the lower end of that range around $84-85M, which is still a bit of help. Not the kind of help that guarantees everyone on the Leafs roster today will be there in 2020-21, but a bit of help.