The uncertainty surrounding the continuation of the 2019-2020 season, and our day-to-day lives for that matter, has made it easy to forget about the inventive though precarious Leafs roster and salary distribution. The growing unlikelihood of an increasing salary cap in the coming years, given the hit to revenue from the pandemic, while make these discussions even more relevant and real for Leafs fans. The Leafs salary distribution is notoriously top-heavy, with an unprecedented amount of dollars going to their top stars. The purpose of this post is not to critique this strategy, but to simply provide context within the rest of the division, which helps us envision a potential path forward.
The Leafs are in a league of their own when it comes to their salary distribution – the below chart shows players cap hit on the x-axis versus their P/GP on the y axis for each team in the Atlantic (GP>30 in 2019-2020).
The Leafs are alone with 3 players highlighted with salaries above $8M. Tampa Bay and Buffalo each have 2 in Kucherov and Stamkos, and Eichel and Skinner, while Florida and Montreal have paid handsomely for their starting goaltenders. Tampa Bay and Boston are the comparisons that everyone cares about – and both have managed to avoid paying their stars to the extend the Leafs have. In the case of Tampa, while they have paid reasonable amounts for Kucherov and Stamkos, they’re still both below a $10M cap hit, and they have solid contributions from the middle and bottom of their salary distribution. Boston is notorious for their ability to get bargains on their big contracts and have no players above the $8M threshold, despite high-end P/GP numbers.
The top 15 contracts in the Atlantic can be seen here:
The Path Forward
While this appears problematic – some optimism can be found in comparisons to the other Atlantic teams besides Boston and Tampa. Talent is not easy to find and hold onto in the NHL, and while the salaries are eye-watering, it is much preferable to the contracts given to players like Price and Bobrovsky who have provided less value. It’s also encouraging that these contracts have largely been productive – in comparison to a player like Jeff Skinner – who is making big bucks but failing to produce (on the scoresheet, specifically).
So the Leafs will need to find other ways to get value out of their contracts – Dubas is already known for trying to pick up bargain contracts in free agency (i.e Jason Spezza) and signing overseas players (Mikheyev, Lehtonen) to fill out the bottom of the lineup. Having contributors on their ELCs will also help, and the Leafs have a few players worth noting that have been written about on this website.
A lot of these tactics will only get them even with the likes of Boston in particular, and some question marks remain about some of mid-level salaries like Kapanen and Johnsson and their value to the Leafs. All in all, the Leafs will have to craft the rest of their lineup pretty optimally in order to negate the pretty penny being made by the big 3.
Data is from CapFriendly and charts/table by Mackinaw Stats