This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the Toronto Maple Leafs edged out the Winnipeg Jets for second place and are up next.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Maple Leafs currently have nine forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season at a price tag of $75,708,533. Additionally, the club is still on the hook for $1.2 million of Phil Kessel's retained salary. Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $4,571,467 in cap space and six spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: Malgin was acquired by the club in a swap of minor-league players and didn't offer much in limited NHL action, as he posted zero points in eight appearances while logging 10:21 of ice time per night. As such, his one-year, $787,500 qualifying offer should get the job done. In the case of Gauthier, he has seemingly cemented himself as a fourth-line mainstay, having played in 60-plus games in each of the previous two seasons. Given his limited offensive contributions, he likely won't command more than $800,000 AAV, though he might want to get a little term on his deal in the neighborhood of 2-3 years. Prior to suffering his wrist injury in late-December, the 25-year-old Mikheyev was putting together a fantastic rookie campaign with 23 points in 39 games. While the injury will no doubt cost him some money, he'll still look at the extension teammate Pierre Engvall signed in February (two-year, $2.5 million) and set that as his floor. Finally, in the case of Dermott, a fair comparable in terms of games played and points produced is Vancouver's Troy Stecher, though Dermott has never topped the 20-point mark in a season. In July of 2018, Stecher signed a two-year, $4.65 million contract. Shave some AAV off, perhaps around $2.1 million, and you have a fair market deal for Dermott, though where that would fit under the cap could be tough.
Kyle Riley: Mikheyev was thriving in a middle-six role for the Leafs before suffering a long-term wrist injury Dec. 27 against New Jersey, so he'll be considered a must re-sign for Toronto this offseason. Still, despite his early success, the former KHLer is still somewhat unproven as an NHL commodity, so I think a two-year, $3.5 million deal should get it done. Malgin and Gauthier have both been solid bottom-six options for the Leafs this year, but they're both extremely limited from an offensive standpoint, so I think their QOs should do the trick. With Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie both undoubtedly on their way out, re-signing Dermott will also be a necessity for Toronto. He isn't arbitration eligible, so I'd simply try to sign him to his QO with the expectation that the 23-year-old blueliner will be able to cash in next offseason when he'll be arbitration eligible.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: Let's start with the two that aren't even decisions, Clarkson and Horton have been unofficially retired and on long-term injured reserve for a while, their contracts will simply be coming off the books for Toronto. Clifford is a solid veteran and depth player to have for a playoff run, but he was always going to be a rental. In fact, the Kings retained half of his $1.6 million cap hit simply to make the numbers work for the Maple Leafs this season. Even with a diminished role and being limited to just 58 games, Spezza was still able to reach the 25-point mark for the 15th time in his 17-year NHL career. If he's willing to come back on another veteran minimum deal, he's not a bad guy to have in the locker room and in a bottom-six role. With Barrie pretty much shutting the door on a return to Toronto, that leaves Ceci, who was limited to just eight points but registered his first positive plus-minus rating in the last four seasons. Still, the 26-year-old blueliner isn't worth $4.5 million and should be allowed to hit the open market. With the Leafs' cap crunch, even Ceci taking a 50 percent pay cut, which he almost certainly wouldn't do, I still don't see how he fits under the cap.
Kyle Riley: As AJ mentioned, Clifford will go down as a pure rental for the Maple Leafs, which means he'll be playing elsewhere next season. Spezza has already expressed interest in sticking with Toronto on a team-friendly deal next year, and he's still a solid bottom-six/power-play contributor despite his age, so I'd sign him to another one-year, vet minimum contract. Ceci isn't worth anywhere near what he made this year and likely won't be interested in taking a major pay cut, and Barrie will fetch a pretty penny on the open market, so they'll both be suiting up for new clubs in 2020-21. As AJ mentioned, for all intents and purposes, Horton and Clarkson have both been retired for years, so their contracts will both be coming off the books this offseason.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: While he has NHL experience, only five of Aberg's 132 games have come with the Leafs and the fact that he is with his fifth organization in four years speaks volumes. The 26-year-old should be content to sign a qualifying offer that lets him stay with one organization for more than a year. Both Gravel and Kaskisuo are players the organization would no doubt be happy to bring back into the fold on two-way deals for minimal raises, though whether the pair is willing to spend the bulk of the upcoming year in the minors remains to be seen. This could be especially true of Kaskisuo who should rightfully view the acquisition of Jack Campbell as a clear barrier to breaking into the league with the Leafs.
Kyle Riley: These should all be straight forward deals for Toronto. All of the players in this category are at least 26 years old and none of them have shown anything that would indicate they have a future as an NHL regular, so cheap, two-way deals should do the trick across the board.
AJ Scholz: Somehow, the Leafs are going to need to clear some cap space next season. It's just the nature of the game when you have three players making over $10 million against the cap. While trading Travis Dermott could offer some decent return and let the club avoid a decision about his next contract, it leaves them too thin on the blue line, especially after letting Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie depart. I think the more likely piece moving is going to be either Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson. Toronto has just one pick in the first three rounds of the 2020 NHL Draft and either player could help bolster the trade stock while shedding $3.2-3.4 million off the books. It would also create a spot on the 23-man for a player like youngster Jeremy Bracco to get an extended look.
Kyle Riley: The deals I outlined above would put Toronto right up against the cap with one roster spot left to fill heading into next season. Because the Maple Leafs have the luxury of having their AHL affiliate located in the same city, they should be able to get away with rolling with 22 players on the roster, but general manager Kyle Dubas will no doubt have to get creative when injuries inevitably strike throughout the campaign.