At this point most fans are aware that the NHL trade deadline falls on April 12th, and it’s no secret the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to add. The mystery is who, and we have some parameters on that. The general consensus is that the Leafs are targeting a middle 6 forward, most likely on an expiring contract. Many names have already been proposed, and the majority of them make over $3m, more cap space than the Leafs have.
I know at the deadline it can sometimes seem like cap space is made up, you hear things like a player with a $6m cap hit “only costing $2m” at the deadline. This has to do with the way cap space is calculated, I’ll try to explain without getting too technical. Cap space is counted on a daily basis, and unused space “accrues” to be used later in the season. A team that has $2m in cap space every day for the first two thirds of the season can spend $4m over the cap for the final third of the season, because their average daily cap space over the course of the season would then be 0.
There is a distinction to be made between “accrued” cap space, and “daily” cap space. Daily space is the upper limit ($81.5m), minus the sum of all cap hits on the team (including retained salary, buyouts, buried…). When determining deadline space, it is very important to put these into two separate categories.
Right now, the Leafs can build a roster of 19 players that has $2,100,259 in daily cap space. To be clear the minimum roster is 20, but the assumption is that they’re trading for someone here. That does not equate to $6m in functional cap space, because the Leafs were using LTIR for the majority of the season and not accruing space. That begs the question, just how much functional cap space do the Leafs have? What is the most expensive player they can afford? Before any consideration of retained salary, let’s find out.
Dollars and Cents
In addition to the ~$2.1m in daily space, the Leafs have been accruing since Wayne Simmonds was activated from LTIR on March 19th. That day the Leafs had a roster $350k under the cap, so that money was banked for use later in the season. Considering the season is 116 days long, that $350k of daily salary averages out to a little over $3k in cap space accrued.
We use this averaged out number to represent accrued cap space, because the effective cap space it creates (how much a team can spend) depends on the number of days remaining in the season. The same amount of accrued cap space can buy a player twice as expensive with 50 days remaining, than it can with 100 days remaining. I hope that helped explain the concept of accrued space versus daily space, but it’s a tough to understand fully. That is why I am going to do the math for you.
Since activating Simmonds from LTIR the Leafs have averaged over $400k in daily cap space, and accrued just over $50k as of April 2nd. If they continue to carry a 21 man roster, that will build up to between $80k and $100k by the trade deadline. If the Leafs really wanted to they could have stretched that to $300k, instead they chose to get some players on 2-way deals a couple days of NHL pay. That tells me whatever trades the Leafs make, they know they won’t need more than $2.5m.
Today, the Leafs can acquire a $2.3m cap hit without sending any money back. On the trade deadline, there is 27 days remaining in the NHL regular season. That means $80-$100k accrued allows the Leafs to spend ~$400k over the cap before their average on the season hits $81.5m. Add that on to $2.1m in daily cap space with a 19 man roster, and you find that $2.5m in cap space.
On the topic of sending money out, it seems unlikely at this point. I know there was some appetite amongst fans to move Alexander Kerfoot or Frederik Andersen for the cap space to make a big trade, but it would have been unnecessary to waive Travis Boyd in that scenario. The Boyd move really signaled to me something was imminent, I know the Leafs weren’t keen on losing him.
Another option for the Leafs is to get a player in the $2m range so they can continue accruing salary, in order to carry a 21st man as the regular season winds down. Since the Leafs don’t have any Performance Bonuses to pay out this year, there is no reason to sit on accrued space. Part of me thinks that the Leafs already had a guy in mind because they didn’t try to accrue more. That doesn’t necessarily mean getting a player with a $2m contract though.
Getting back to who the Leafs might target, they have the assets to get almost any player on the market. A pair of high end prospects on both forward and D, nearly all of their draft picks, and deeper prospect pool than they’ve had in years. I get the feeling they don’t want to shake up the dressing room too much, but it’s impossible to know how any one player will change the chemistry. With all those assets the Leafs can convince teams to not only retain 50%, but get a 3rd team involved to pick up a quarter more.
The Detroit Red Wings seem like a perfect target for such a trade, but that’s just speculation. More importantly, double retentions are absolutely allowed, as evidenced by Toronto picking up a 5th round pick to retain 44% of Robin Lehner’s contract. Fun fact, in the gears of the CBA, retaining salary technically creates a new “retained salary SPC” with the receiving team. This means when the first team retains 50% of the original contract, the middle man still technically can retain up to 50% of the SPC they received, rather than 25% of the original contract.
That means Taylor Hall is still very much in play, as well as just about any other available player on an expiring contract. The Leafs could also end up getting a player in the $3.5-$4m range at 50% retained so they can keep a 21st man on the roster. To make a long story short, if the Leafs see a player they want, they can and they will.
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