At a time when the Leafs are potentially looking to spend $50M on 5 players, assuming Alex Pietrangelo is brought in, there probably needs to be some discussion about what the supporting cast looks like and honestly I don’t think the Leafs are in too bad of shape.
The reality of the core isn’t really limited to Tavares, Marner, Matthews, Nylander, and potentially Pietrangelo though, and it when factoring in Rielly and Muzzin, the Leafs would be committing $60M to 7 players for next season, would be filling out at minimum 13 more roster spots with around $20M, including finding space for a starting goaltender, and third line center in there. Two pretty important positions.
This scenario leaves players like Johnsson, Kerfoot, Andersen, and even Justin Holl most vulnerable to not being back next year, but additionally caps what the Leafs should be looking to spend on players like Ilya Mikheyev and Travis Dermott on their restricted free agent contracts. Arguably neither of them has shown anything that warrants breaking the $2M cap hit barrier, and it may be in both of their best interest to take a short term deal to see if they can prove the Leafs wrong and that they deserve more. For the sake of argument however we’ll include them in the potential crop of under $2M players that the Leafs have at their disposal heading into next season.
|The All Filler Team|
|Pierre Engvall ($1.25M)||Ilya Mikheyev (RFA)||Mikko Lehtonen ($925k)||Jack Campbell ($1.65M)|
|Evan Rodrigues (RFA)||Alex Barabanov ($925k)||Travis Dermott (RFA)|
|Adam Brooks ($725k)||Nick Robertson ($821k)||Rasmus Sandin ($894k)|
|Frederik Gauthier (RFA)||Egor Korshkov ($925k)||Timothy Liljegren ($864k)|
|Filip Hallinder ($764k)||Kenny Agostino ($737k)||Martin Marincin ($700k)|
|Nic Petan ($775k)||Calle Rosen ($750k)|
|Teemu Kivihalme ($725k)|
So the most important thing to note is the Leafs will need to find another goaltender if Andersen isn’t back and if Andersen is back he’ll eat up a significant part of that remaining cap space. Also as not previously noted anywhere else, the Leafs have Zach Hyman and his team friendly $2.25M cap hit that will take up a roster spot, but also reduce the money to spend on the rest of the lineup. There’s also the small matter of the $1.2M salary retained from the Kessel trade.
Using the players the Leafs have the rights to and assuming Pietrangelo is part of the plan, this is a potential 20 person roster for the Leafs:
|Cap Space Available||$4,714,634||data from puckpedia.com|
(trying to assume higher than ideal cap hits for Mikheyev, Dermott, Rodrigues, and Pietrangelo)
So in this situation the Leafs can spend $4.7M on a starting goaltender, or if they move on from either one of or both of Dermott and Holl they’d have some additional flexibility to upgrade in net and possibly have a reserve player in their press box.
There’s also the small matter of the 3rd line center position, which is a pretty important position in hockey. Trusting that to someone of Pierre Engvall’s abilities is by far the biggest concern with this roster as rolling the dice on other bottom six forwards doesn’t seem nearly as impactful as the downgrade from Alex Kerfoot.
Of course there is that cap space available and rather than chasing a premium starter the Leafs could go the Cam Talbot route, which gives them a perfectly fine netminder and the opportunity to spend at center.
There’s also the issue of in the scenario I’ve outlined the Leafs didn’t take back anything for Johnsson, Kerfoot, and Andersen. They are simply gone from the roster, and it’s hard to imagine that will truly be the case. Sending them out likely means something is coming back and that return cannot really exceed $7M, and it would have to address the goaltending situation and third line center situation in the process.
We can also raise questions of the readiness of players like Korshkov, Robertson, and Brooks, although at this point I haven’t factored in the possible return of Jason Spezza, or players of a similar mindset who want to close out their days in Toronto on a discount deal.
Pietrangelo obviously addresses a lot of the defensive concerns around the Leafs. Whether he completely eliminates those concerns, we’ll see, but by bringing him in the Leafs are accepting a downgrade in goal or at the third line center position as part of that transaction. While the reward does seem to outweigh the risk, Toronto will be moving mountains to make this all come together and then will be require significant performances from their entry level contract players to make them a top team in the league. While there seems to be a lot of wishful thinking involved, exploring the potential of top prospects throughout the season isn’t a bad idea and there’s always hope in a cash poor league that there will be some decent deals to be had both in free agency and trades that improves the situation for the Leafs.