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Evaluating the Leafs’ 2021 free agent signings by projected contract value

The Leafs, like every other team in the NHL, went into the 2021 offseason hoping to improve their team. There are many ways to evaluate if they acheived their goal: one of those is by regular counting stats; another way would be by Wins Above Replacement.

Another way is to build a model to project what a player should be getting paid on their contract, and see if the Leafs’ new signings are underpaid or overpaid. Of course, I’m not smart enough to do that, so we’ll use the contract projection models of others, specifically Evolving Hockey and Dobber Hockey.

Toronto did make a number of changes this offseason, but instead of comparing the additions (players who joined) to the subtractions (players who aren’t returning) like in the previous posts I linked above, today is only about the the contracts that the Leafs signed. Specifically, it’s about whether those new additions, and the other players Toronto re-signed, have contracts that are a positive value.

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As we well know, in the salary cap era, it’s as important to identify good players as it is to manage their cap hit. We also know that while Dubas and company did everything but break the bank on Matthews, Marner and Tavares, they’ve been reasonably good at finding cheap depth to surround them, and have it really good with Nylander’s deal.

Below you’ll see a table of how each newly signed player, of those who played in the NHL last season. Beside the players you’ll see their projected cap hits from Evolving Hockey (EH) and Dobber Hockey (DH), the average of those two, their actual cap hit, and the difference (delta) between the actual and the former three, respectively. Finally, at the bottom row, you’ll see the total of the deltas, giving us an idea of how much “contract value” the Leafs added.

Player Projected Contract (EH) Projected Contract (DH) Actual Contract Delta (EH) Delta (DH)
Travis Dermott 1.183 2.182 1.5 -0.317 0.682
Jason Spezza 1.632 0.764 0.75 0.882 0.014
Wayne Simmonds 1.174 1.060 0.9 0.274 0.160
Petr Mrazek 4.453 3.8 0.653
Nick Ritchie 3.591 1.478 2.5 1.091 -1.022
Michael Bunting 1.069 0.75 0.9 0.169 -0.2
David Kampf 1.28 0.921 1.5 -0.22 -0.579
Ondrej Kase 0.795 2.211 1.25 -0.455 0.961
Kurtis Gabriel 0.75 0.75 0.75 0 0
Michael Amadio 0.7714 1.054 0.75 0.0214 0.304
TOTAL 1.4454 0.973

Unfortunately, the Evolving Hockey model doesn’t include goalies, so Mrazek is blank there. Also, the Dobber Hockey article only lists the top 200, which bottoms out at $750k, and doesn’t include Kurtis Gabriel or Michael Bunting on the list. So I’ve assumed that those two project at $750k (which is the league minimum cap hit this upcoming season).

We can see that in each of the three columns we summed up, the Leafs did add positive value, but Evolving Hockey gives them a slightly better review than Dobber Hockey does. There were big differences between the two models on Nick Ritchie,  Ondrej Kase, and Travis Dermott, but overall they align pretty closely.

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At a macro level, from the Evolving Hockey model, we can see how Toronto fared compared to other teams:

Finishing near the top of the league, we can see again that this model asserts that the Leafs did well this offseason in terms of dollars spent. Of course, they have to, with how much money is spent on their top-4 forwards, getting good value for money in the rest of the roster is imperative.

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Final Thoughts

The other two summations of the Leafs’ offseason generally concluded that they improved marginally at best in terms of on-ice ability. But we’ve seen here today that when looking at value added against the salary cap, the Leafs did perform well.

Even though that’s a positive, it’s hard to give them too much credit for succeeding at something that the salary cap forced them to do as a consequence of the other big contracts. Obviously, at this point, the Leafs literally cannot afford to bring in overpriced players (at least not to any significant degree). So, assuming that they have good talent evaluation which we’ve seen lots of evidence of, the only contracts they can sign now are those that are good value.

All in all, I’m happy with most of what the Leafs did this offseason, but not enthralled. The core of this roster is where it fell apart last season, and they weren’t going to address that this offseason, so there’s only so much changing we could expect.

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