While today’s news that the Maple Leafs would be placing goaltender Matt Murray on LTIR to start the season helps to alleviate Toronto’s salary cap situation, they still have some work to do. Using CapFriendly’s numbers, they still sit a little more than $2MM above the Upper Limit of the salary cap (even with Jake Muzzin being LTIR-bound himself) which means they have some paring down to do.
The recent arbitration award to Ilya Samsonov has opened up a second buyout window that they can utilize within the next 48 hours. However, there are specific rules in place as to who can be bought out in this second window. The player must make at least $4MM and have been on the roster last season. Most of the other Toronto players that meet the criteria (and there aren’t many) have a zero percent chance of being bought out.
One possible exception is defenseman T.J. Brodie. While they certainly wouldn’t want to part with the 33-year-old, the back-loaded structure of his contract would actually see the Maple Leafs clear the full $5MM AAV off the books for next season, clearing that gap and actually giving them some flexibility to add. On the flip side, it would add $2.5MM onto the books for 2024-25 which certainly isn’t ideal with Auston Matthews and William Nylander needing pricey new deals next summer. Speculatively, if they were open to parting with Brodie, a trade with 50% retention would free up $2.5MM in cap room and could yield a positive-value return, even in a market that doesn’t have a lot of financial wiggle room.
Assuming that’s not a route Toronto wants to take, let’s move on to some of the smaller cost-cutting options, sticking with the defense first. Conor Timmins has a two-year deal that begins next season, one that carries a $1.1MM AAV. While it’s generally viewed as bad form to trade a player that soon after signing an extension, Treliving wasn’t the one that gave him that deal. Even if a trade option isn’t available, the contract can be fully buried in the minors without a lingering cap charge. That might be their best option, actually, allowing them to keep Timmins in the organization a little longer and if another LTIR-eligible injury arises, he could then be brought up.
However, if head coach Sheldon Keefe wants to hold onto Timmins in the NHL, then Timothy Liljegren could become a cost-cutting candidate. Signed for a reasonable $1.4MM next season, the 24-year-old has shown enough that they could get a solid return for his services although it would take another perceived part of their long-term plans out of the system, joining Rasmus Sandin who was moved at the deadline last season.
If Toronto parts with Brodie, it becomes much less likely that they’ll do something with Timmins or Liljegren as they’ll need them in the lineup on a regular basis.
Up front, there are presently 14 forwards on their projected roster. They only need 12 so some savings can come from here. Nicholas Robertson is coming off another shoulder injury and is waiver-exempt so his $797K is an easy one to pare down.
The other one isn’t as easy. Sam Lafferty ($1.15MM) could be a luxury they could no longer afford and his contract could be fully buried in the minors if he was to clear waivers. With the year he had, there could be a taker in training camp but with several capable role players still unsigned, his trade value right now would be limited. Dylan Gambrell ($750K) is someone who might pass through unclaimed but he’d yield the fewest cap savings. Pontus Holmberg ($800K) and Matthew Knies ($925K) are waiver-exempt and would save a bit more money than Gambrell but in a perfect world, they’re both in the opening lineup.
The other possible cap casualty could be winger Calle Jarnkrok. At $2.1MM, his cap hit is hardly above market value but it might be a value that they can’t afford anymore while moving him outright would get them back into compliance. However, the trade market for him might not be the best right now with other bottom-six players available in free agency and not necessarily needing the three years that Jarnkrok has left on his deal.
As you can see, there are certainly multiple paths that the Maple Leafs can take to get compliant. But one way or the other, they will need to either part with some serviceable veterans or carry a minimum-sized roster to get there. Treliving has added some pieces this summer including veterans John Klingberg, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Max Domi but some subtraction should now be coming.