The projected salary cap increases are coming at the perfect time for the cap space poor Leafs

Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
The Leafs always have money to spend, the problem is they are never allowed to. The flat cap seemed to arrive at the worst time for the Leafs, and Toronto has been riding out the pandemic years with a cap that wouldn’t budge after the ink on the Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Tavares deals dried. It’s been less than ideal.
The salary cap increasing (finally) offers some relief, as it does to all the other teams looking to get stupid with their cheque books again, but with the contracts expiring for Matthews, Marner, and Nylander during this time period, there is an opportunity to keep the players fans want to keep around and actually improve the team around them.
Elliotte Friedman and Rory Boylen are reporting what the projected numbers will look like for the next few seasons:
According to multiple sources NHL teams have been given some guidance on where the cap could be going over the next few seasons. Please understand these are projections and possibilities and an educated guess on where we could be going, not a guarantee of where things will be.
$82.5 million
$83.5 million
$87.5 million – $88 million
Approximately $92 million
So not a lot of relief coming next season, but that’s not when the Leafs need it the most we’ll go year by year through the process to see the benefit for the Leafs.

2023-24 $83.5 Million

Like I just said, not a lot of relief. The key contract that will need to be dealt with is Michael Bunting’s and while it might not be a back breaker, it’s certainly going to require more than an extra million dollars to make it work.
A lot of the Leafs supporting cast find themselves on expiring contracts. Pierre Engvall, Alex Kerfoot, Justin Holl, and David Kampf are all notable UFAs and if things go right for the Leafs, Ilya Samsonov’s contract could very well end up being the priority. The Leafs would find themselves working with approximately $15M to address 8+ roster vacancies.
Unless the Leafs do something significant trade wise, this is very much another status quo year, but does have the potential for decisions to be made on Matthews and Nylander, so that could make it exciting.

2024-25 $87.5-$88 Million

There’s the first big bump up, and really I think we can just take that extra $4M and assume it’s being added to Matthews current contract. That’s going to be the priority for this cap space, and consider it spent. If things go well with Matthews, there could be some money to bring back Nylander too.
Beyond the big two here there is also the Muzzin, Murray, and Brodie contracts that will be expiring. Unless we see something spectacular from Murray, that looks like about $15M of money to play with, but money that will be needed for the blueline and in goal, especially with Giordano’s discount deal also expiring. It might also be time for Liljegren to get paid. Presently the Leafs only have $31.5M committed for that season leaving them $56M to work with. Obviously what happens in 2023-24 will cut into that, but with a rising cap and five very substantial contracts off the books, this looks like an interesting time for the Leafs to be aggressive.
In contrast, if things go sideways for the Leafs with their stars, this also has the potential for being a period of a very aggressive retooling.

2025-26 $92 Million (give or take)

Dang, that seems like a lot of money. Of course Mitch Marner is going to try to get it all as his contract expires. It will be interesting to see if the Leafs are still wanting to commit to their core group and Marner will probably want a least a couple million more than he’s already getting.
Tavares on the other hand will be taking a little less and that would pay for Marner right there, even if the plan is to keep Tavares around, there will be some savings and a lot of that cap growth can go to other areas of need around the Leafs.
As it sits right now the only two Leafs under contract for the 2025-26 season are Morgan Rielly and Calle Jarnkrok, so I don’t think we need to get into the wide open possibilities of what the Leafs could be doing at this point, and how much situations can change over three years, but getting approximately $4M extra to work with while having Tavares contract come off the books will definitely be meaningful for the Leafs.

Obviously it’s not as simple as free money

Quite simply whenever players like Bunting, Samsonov, Sandin, Liljegren, Robertson, basically anyone who takes a leap forward is due for a raise, that complicates things in a good way. There’s also the matter of recent history has taught us that it’s not as simple as draw a line upward and all the money problems will go away. There’s plenty that can still happen in the world to complicate things. There’s also the matter of the CBA that is expiring before the start of the 2026-27 season and the fact that there could be a new head of the NHLPA as soon as this season. The impact of the new PA boss could be felt immediately if they encourage the players to push back on increases (unlikely) and if the NHLPA is preparing for a labour battle (as they probably should) the approach taken with contracts going forward over the next few seasons needs to be handled more carefully than just blindly throwing money around.
There is also the potential for fewer teams to be able to keep up with the rising salary cap and the Leafs could once again have their financial advantage. It’s unlikely it will be significant, but with a number of teams already uncomfortable with the $82.5M number, being a few seasons removed from from $92M could create a greater have/have nots divide that would benefit Toronto (if they are smart about it.)
For now, as Leafs fans try to figure out how Toronto ices a 20 player roster while dealing with injuries to Liljegren and Tavares that will carry into the season, and still having Rasmus Sandin unsigned, it seems nice to day dream about the rising cap and how it makes all the troubles disappear.
Salary data from PuckPedia
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