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Report: Leafs only NHL team to finish season over the salary cap

The team will be forced to carry a significant cap hit in 2018-19, how will this affect their offseason plans?

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According to a report from Sportsnet’s senior writer and Toronto Maple Leafs insider Chris Johnston, the Leafs finished the 2017-18 season with $2.55 million in salary cap overages, an amount that they’ll have to carry over into 2018-19. However, with more than $20 million coming off the team’s payroll and the NHL’s salary cap expected to rise by as much as $5 million, the team will have some serious dollars to spend both in free-agency and in re-signing their young guns.

According to SB Nation’s Katya Knappe, the Leafs are the only team in the NHL to finish the 2017-18 season with exactly $0 in cap space. Capfriendly.com shows that the next closest team is the Chicago Blackhawks with just $6,671 in cap space. Talk about a razor thin budget… that’s a day’s salary for most NHLers. Our only question is… where can we sign up for a gig like that?

In any case, adding an additional $2.55 million shouldn’t hurt the Leafs too much in the short term, as big ticket players like James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and Tomas Plekanec will all come off the books, freeing up tens of millions of dollars. The problem comes in replacing these players and potentially negotiating new deals for players like William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Jake Gardiner. While the Leafs have the potential to add some big ticket players in the VERY short term, meaning nothing longer than a season, there’s a very good chance that they’ll be feeling the pinch come 2019-20. 

So, while it may make sense to throw $6 million or $7 million to a pending free-agent like JVR for next season, or even pursue a top free agent like New York Islanders captain John Tavares for upwards of $10 million or $12 million, extensions for Nylander, Matthews and Marner will put the team in a serious cap crunch two seasons from now. Let’s face it… the Leafs have dined out on cheap deals for their young players for a couple seasons now and the bill is almost due. When it finally hits the table, the Leafs’ management group wants to ensure that they’re in a good position to fit everyone under the salary cap.

So… what to do? This much we know, the Leafs will have roughly $25 million to spend on at least five forwards and they’ll also have to negotiate new contracts for Nylander, Andreas Johnsson and Connor Carrick. We can assume that Dominic Moore and Roman Polak are likely history, right? Do the Leafs go long-term with Nylander? Or get him to sign a two or three year deal? The speculation is that he’ll be looking for $6 million or $7 million, like JVR, per season. 

So many puzzle pieces for the Leafs to sort out this offseason… it will be interesting to see how it all fits together.