As Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans well know, the team under team president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Kyle Dubas has engaged in a financial plan to field a team where the star core earns a majority of the team’s salary. That plan was initiated prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Pandemic Has Created Tough Times for the Maple Leafs’ Plan
In truth, the pandemic and the loss of NHL revenue have put a damper on that plan working smoothly. There’s no doubt the upper limits of the NHL’s salary cap would have gone up – who knows by how much each season, but a conservative guess would be about $3 million per annum.
Suddenly, the Maple Leafs and other NHL teams are scrambling to fit a 23-player roster under that salary cap. The result, because contracts cannot be un-signed, is that the Maple Leafs have had to augment the highly-paid core by adding complementary pieces.
At the Same Time, the Maple Leafs Are Re-Signing Key Players
At the same time, not only have the Maple Leafs committed to that idea, but they’ve also added to the team’s core of highly-paid players. Starting next season, Morgan Rielly is at $7.5 million per season.
What was a situation where the top four players on the roster earned 49.7 percent of their total cap space, next season they’ll have five players earning 58.9 percent of their cap space if the salary cap remains at the present $81.5 million salary cap. To make this plan work, Dubas is forced to sign talented players for as little money as possible. The players who end up on the roster have to play above their pay grade.
Fortunately, the Maple Leafs Have Made Some Wise Signings
Fortunately, the Maple Leafs – whether they are playing Money Ball or not – have used their collective brain trust to find really good players at cheap contracts. First, a number of veteran players – usually from the Toronto area – have come back to add value at NHL league-minimum deals. Two of those players have been Jason Spezza (who played two seasons with the team). This season former Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano has signed for the steal of a deal at $800,000.
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There Have Also Been Bargain Contracts Who Added Great Value
As well, the Maple Leafs have been fortunate to find really solid NHL players at bargain contracts. Last season, Michael Bunting signed with the team and became an integral part of the first line’s success with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. He came in third in the Calder Trophy voting as the NHL’s best rookie.
David Kampf also signed after not being qualified by the Chicago Blackhawks. During the 2020-21 NHL season, Kampf had scored only one goal. Few Maple Leafs’ fans believed the team benefitted from his presence. What a surprise.
Kampf was one of the (a) best defensive five-on-five players in the NHL; (b) was one of the best defensive-zone face-off winners in the NHL; and, (c) was one of the best NHL players on the penalty kill. He helped turn the Maple Leafs’ third line into a true shutdown line.
Sure, there were signees who didn’t pan out; but, finding two keepers among the inexpensive signees is a great benefit going forward. Bunting and Kampf might be part of the Maple Leafs’ team for many seasons to come.
More Signees Will Start 2022-23 with the Maple Leafs
A number of new signees will suit up for the first time with the Maple Leafs this season. Nicolas Aube-Kubel has the makings of a physical fourth-line winger (perhaps playing even further up the lineup). Adam Gaudette’s career has been on a bit of a downturn recently, but he once showed great promise with the Vancouver Canucks. Can he successfully center the team’s fourth line?
Calle Jarnkrok has been added to replace Ilya Mikheyev on the team’s third line. While he’s a bit more pricey than Aube-Kubel or Gaudette, his salary-cap hit is reasonable.
There Will Be Some Keepers Among the New Players
If the Maple Leafs’ history repeats itself, some of these players will likely earn full-time spots. They might even become fixtures on the Maple Leafs’ roster as the team moves into the future.
All in all, it promises to be an exciting season for the Blue and White.