Why the minimal salary cap increase benefits the Maple Leafs

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
It’s a rare thing to see a Gary Bettman press conference as a chance to takeaway a positive, but here we are. During his press conference before Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals, Gary Bettman noted that there is still escrow to be settled with the players and that would derail any attempt to increase the salary cap. Generally not what you want to hear if you are a Maple Leafs fan given the history of attempting to spend to the salary cap and beyond, and while this is not as good news as the Leafs being able to magically blank cheque players again, but there are some positives, most notably the negotiation with Auston Matthews.
With the Leafs forward likely looking to become highest paid player in the league, the limited cap growth potentially slows that roll a little bit. Matthews is still going to get paid and paid a lot, but if there was more money around and not just in the Leafs account, but around the league, the potential suitors for Matthews would certainly grow.
Matthews will still be a $13M player. Worst case scenario you see him push toward $14M, but this should give a little more leverage to the Leafs.
The other piece that is worth considering how the Leafs have fewer salary commitments than in previous years, some promising backfill options coming up through their prospect and AHL ranks, and there isn’t a shortage of teams in worth situations than the Leafs.
The Leafs are very much in the middle of the pack when it comes to their commitments for next season, but they also have a lot more to work with than a lot of the teams with more money. There aren’t going to be elite options walking through the door to help teams like Buffalo and Detroit, but the Leafs can find some perfectly good middle of the roster options.
With a Matt Murray buyout that leaves Toronto with $18M to add Ilya Samsonov, Pontus Holmberg, and presumably three forwards and one defenseman. Assuming Samsonov and Holmberg combine for around $5M, that’s $13M to spend on upgrades.
There’s also something to be said for the potential selloffs that are coming in Calgary, Boston, and other markets that should make trading for salary the best path forward for the Leafs rather than exploring free agency.
The Flames especially present an interesting option with Treliving’s knowledge of the roster. There are a number of players that will be UFAs in 2024-25 and if the Flames are ready to move on from the earlier to build the roster that Conroy wants now, players like Hanifin, Tanev, Toffoli, Backlund, Lindholm, and even Zadorov are all potential upgrades for the Leafs that might not cost as much as they should because Calgary needs the cap space. Markstrom is another interesting option if the Flames want to go another direction in goal. One rough season doesn’t necessarily make him a bad goaltender.
I’m pump the brakes on speculating what the Leafs will do with the cap space but the Leafs having more flexibility than a lot of other playoff teams is a plus and the fact that Brandon Pridham is here for now to at least navigate the Leafs through the early days of that cap management is encouraging too.
While a lot of extra money would have been fun, this might be the best situation for the Leafs this summer.

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