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Photo Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

How the Leafs can afford Alex Pietrangelo

For months I’ve been telling myself not to get my hopes up on Pietrangelo, but the tides seem to be turning and I’m allowing myself to believe it may be possible for the Leafs to sign him.

Yesterday, Pierre LeBrun had an article at The Athletic summarizing the importance of family in Pietrangelo’s decision, and given his wife’s family being in St. Louis, but his being in Ontario, Toronto likely has to be viewed as his Plan B.

There was also this from LeBrun on the radio:

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And more importantly this in that LeBrun article:

The real question is whether the Maple Leafs could perform the salary cap gymnastics required to fit in his deal. It would probably require another significant trade up front to make clear room. But can you think of a single player available either in free agency or trade that would help answer Toronto’s most pressing need than Pietrangelo?

While the Leafs seem to be interested, and Pietrangelo seems to be at least considering Toronto, there is the small matter of finding the cap space to get it done.

For that I turned to PuckPedia

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Forwards Defense Goalies Dead Cap Space
1 Matthews 11.634 Muzzin 5.625 Andersen 5 Kessel 1.2
2 Tavares 11 Rielly 5 Campbell 1.65
3 Marner 10.893 Holl 2
4 Nylander 6.962 Lehtonen 0.925
5 Hyman 2.25 Pietrangelo 9
6 Engvall 1.25
7 Barabanov 0.925
8 Robertson 0.822
9
10
11
12 Total: 76.136 Cap Space Available: 5.364

So, assuming Pietrangelo commands $9M (the upper limit I’d be willing to consider if I was Kyle Dubas), the Leafs can bring him in and have $5.36M to spend on filling five roster spots, if they choose to go without reserves.

For arguments sake I’m assume that Kerfoot, Johnsson, and Dermott are the expendables in this situation, and even if the Leafs do move on from Andersen, they will be committing roughly $5M to his replacement as well. If they can go cheaper that only further helps the Leafs cause.

If the Leafs manage to bring back Spezza at $800k, and Ilya Mikheyev for $1.5M, they’d be sitting at $3M and would be down to 3 roster spots to fill, but with the issue of needing to replace a third line center still.

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There’s also the matter of the Leafs somehow needing to deal Alex Kerfoot, Andreas Johnsson, and Travis Dermott and not take any salary back.

Back to the optimism, it’s likely that either Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren can take the final defensive vacancy, and do so for $900k.

The Leafs have $2.1M to spend on two players, but unfortunately one of those players needs to be a 3rd line center.

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Now the Leafs can either hope that somehow they get the bottom six taken care of between Engvall, Spezza, and possibly Nylander reprising the role he clearly hates so much. There’s hope that Joe Thornton is so moved by what is going on in Toronto that he signs for $1M and he’s capable of handling that workload. Or maybe Filip Hallinder will take us all by surprise. The point is there is a position the Leafs can commit no more than $1.3M to open, and another easy league minimum spot on the 4th line that isn’t worth worrying about, until you start looking at the entirety of the bottom six forward group and realizing there are a lot of question marks.

Forwards Defense Goalies Dead Cap Space
1 Matthews 11.634 Muzzin 5.625 Andersen 5 Kessel 1.2
2 Tavares 11 Rielly 5 Campbell 1.65
3 Marner 10.893 Holl 2
4 Nylander 6.962 Lehtonen 0.925
5 Hyman 2.25 Pietrangelo 9
6 Engvall 1.25 Sandin 0.894
7 Barabanov 0.925
8 Robertson 0.822
9 Mikheyev 1.5
10 Spezza 0.8
11
12 Total: 79.33 Cap Space Available: 2.17

Now even there you can find some wiggle room, and it may come in the form of trading Andersen and taking the chance on a lesser goaltender, or at least a goaltender with a lesser cap hit.

There’s the chance that Pietrangelo signs for less. The Leafs are one of the few teams that can front load and pay out ridiculous bonuses this year, that might give them an edge in keeping Pietrangelo’s contract around $8-8.5M instead, and that small difference will matter for the Leafs.

They could also prioritize NHL readiness with their 15th overall pick, and perhaps that will address the talent issue on the third line.

The point remains, the Leafs can afford Alex Pietrangelo. It may mean sacrificing some wing depth and going cheap at the 3C position, but it can be done. And it can be done without trading Nylander or Marner, which honestly would be the easy way out.

So get your hopes up Leafs fans. As long as the return is minimal on the Johnsson, Dermott, and Kerfoot trades this would require, it’s entirely possible to enjoy a team with $50M committed to 5 players.