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Photo Credit: © Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s cool it on LTIR as a solution for “cap hell”

Thursday morning started off with an article by Frank Seravalli of TSN suggesting the Leafs could again be pursuing long term injured players as a solution to their cap situation.

It’s almost time for Toronto Maple Leafs salary cap wizard Brandon Pridham to work his magic again.

Every penny will count for the Leafs, who will be feeling the cap crunch this off-season with hockey’s loss of revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic likely to keep the cap flat at $81.5 million.

The article cites that with the end of David Clarkson and Nathan Horton’s contracts the Leafs could be pursuing replacements for them. While I don’t doubt the Leafs may again turn into a storage facility for unofficially retired players, I’m not sure that Frank is right in his assessment that the Leafs gain any cap flexibility from this.

For one, the acquisition of Horton was based on the fact that when he signed his contract with the Blue Jackets, Columbus wasn’t able to injure it because of his concussion history. The result was that his injury history reemerged and the Blue Jackets were paying out of pocket rather than through insurance for him not to play for them. Bringing in Clarkson gave them someone they could use, and then ultimately someone who was less of a cash burden on the franchise.

Fast forward a few years, and when the Leafs reacquired Clarkson from the Golden Knights, they were doing so that they could carry an optimal lineup at the start of the season, and have the flexibility that they could bring Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott back into the lineup once they were ready to play. At this moment it’s premature to think the Leafs will require this kind of arrangement again, so aggressively seeking and paying to acquire LTIR contracts seems unnecessary and bad.

Elliotte Friedman also poured some cold water on Frank’s take in his 31 Thoughts column:

I’m also not sure the Maple Leafs are too eager to flirt with LTIR once again. They knew they were starting last year without Travis Dermott and Zach Hyman. It wasn’t an easy dance for them — or Vegas — last season.

In addition to what seems to be a largely unnecessary area to explore, this is seemingly a loophole the NHL is going to be aggressive in closing in the next collective agreement. The Leafs would be ill advised to have any LTIR contracts (that they can avoid) going beyond the 2021-22 season.

Of course there are exceptions

There is a very good chance that in a condensed end to the 2019-20 season and playoffs with a quick turnaround to the 2020-21 season that there could be long term injuries carrying forward in the 2020-21 season. Perhaps having LTIR contracts could provide a similar buffer, but there remain plenty of better options for handling this.

The other situation that still works for the Leafs are those situations where there aren’t fully insured contracts that are on the LTIR and teams not wanting to pay them. If the Leafs can get paid to take on LTIR contracts, that’s cool, but again with the philosophy that they probably won’t want to volunteer for anything exceeding two years as the CBA presents a lot of uncertainty over how those contracts will be dealt with and a clean slate is preferable.

So let’s cool our jets on the LTIR contract shopping for now. The fact that this is even being discussed probably points to the fact hockey writers are running out of content.