The late Notorious B.I.G. claimed with more money comes more problems. Respectfully, he was a company owned by two telecommunications monopolies who certainly don’t share the same concerns as multi-platinum record selling rappers or you or I.
That’s partially why the modest increase of $1M in the salary cap for next season is a nice little benefit for the Leafs to operate with, even if more money would alleviate more of their problems.
So yeah, we’ll take it. Considering the Leafs have contracts for @Jack Campbell, @Ondrej Kase, @Ilya Mikheyev, @Jason Spezza, @Pierre Engvall, Kristians Rubins, Joseph Woll, @Rasmus Sandin, and @Timothy Liljegren to get sorted out, and only $5.3M (NOW $6.3M) worth of cap space to work with to fill at minimum six roster spots. So, yeah, there’s going to be more work that needs to be done, but potentially they’ve got the coin to at least get Jack Campbell signed. It also saves the Leafs from cutting one of their higher salaried players loose. Every little bit helps. That’s what we can get from the immediate increase.
So let’s get past the concept of the players being in debt to the owners, which is apparently a thing in a time when the salary cap is flat and there are more billion dollar team valuations than ever. Instead we’ll focus on the fact that 2024-25 is the magical season where the salary cap jumps up. That’s when we’ll finally see the Leafs reap the rewards of the new ESPN and TNT contracts, gambling revenue, the Seattle expansion, and it will dovetail nicely into the new Canadian TV contracts as well. Potentially we’ll see the salary cap hit $90M at that time, which doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch given that we’ll get two modest bump ups, followed by the cap correcting based on growth that the league is already experiencing, plus the league has shown capable of growing around $4-5M in good years previously.
The correction comes at a time that is fortunate or unfortunate for the Leafs depending on how you look at it. The cap is slated to go up right as @Auston Matthews and @William Nylander have their contracts expire.
On one hand, both of those players can now potentially ask for a hell of a lot more money in unrestricted free agency. On the other hand, the Leafs now have more money to match what their demand would be on the open market. Given that there always seem to be enough teams with enough cap space to take a serious run at unrestricted free agents, I’d be willing to bet that this is more of a benefit for the Leafs than an issue. Someone will offer Matthews a raise, and the Leafs could be that team. As for Nylander, well, I love him and all, but reality is there are limits to what the Leafs would be willing to pay him anyway beyond his current contract and the changing cap situation isn’t going to do much to impact how he’s valued internally at that time.
That season also coincides with the end of the Muzzin, Brodie, and Mrazek contracts. Basically, the magical year that cap flexibility becomes a thing again.
So while that seems like a far time off, it does also bring us back around to the upcoming offseason where there is a chance to gain some help with the cap in the short term too. Rather than going all in on the potential of Sandin and Liljegren, there is a chance to save some much needed cap space in the short term by looking at bridge deals. And let’s be honest, the bridge deals were happening anyway, but this probably makes it more palatable even if that means potentially going into a summer having to sign Sandin, Matthews, Nylander, and Liljegren.
Of course there’s no guarantee of 2024-25 being the timeframe for the players paying the owners to play for them. TLN’s cap guru, Earl Schwartz, has an excellent thread on how this is an optimistic view shared by Bettman:
I’d say give the whole thread a read, but the structure of contracts and cap increase eating into repayment efforts is certainly a strong point, even if I think we all might truly be underestimating how much gambling is lining pockets in the NHL.
Still, the idea of a NHL with an increasing salary cap, where the Leafs can truly go back to outbidding teams on players is a promising one and letting MLSE flex it’s financial muscles for the good of the Leafs might be one of the benefits of late stage capitalism.