Lost in a flurry of trades last week was a subtle but important point: NHL front offices are trying to improve their rosters but are doing so under the auspice of flat or slow salary cap growth for the foreseeable future.
It’s is a rather unique wrinkle for a league that, by and large, has seen the salary cap increase year over year by about 4.5 per cent. In a hard-cap league that doesn’t allow for overruns and luxury tax payments, that sort of cap growth is critical for big-market teams that spend aggressively each off-season.
Much of the focus in this realm has fixated on the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, an organization that has been operating on razor-thin margins against the cap ceiling for some time. (Some believe they have been increasingly creative in how they’ve managed that.)
The Toronto Maple Leafs are another big-market team that’s been dealt a difficult blow through slowed revenues and the associated flat cap. Toronto has about $9-million in cap space, but the roster is still incomplete – the goaltending position behind Jack Campbell is bare and will wipe away some of that room. It’s a big issue for a Maple Leafs organization that’s under increased scrutiny due to repeated postseason failures.
To that end, general manager Kyle Dubas’ recent comments were impossible to ignore – he believes in the core of this roster, but the approaching season surely has a “Last Dance” feel to it.
Based on Dubas’ comments, I don’t expect much from the Maple Leafs this off-season beyond tinkering at the periphery and bringing in another goaltender. But it is interesting to consider how the Maple Leafs could be opportunistic here.
One of the biggest challenges they have right now is a top-heavy roster on the cap front – not an issue for teams winning through their stars, but again, that hasn’t been the case in Toronto. Although Auston Matthews appears worth every penny, players like Mitch Marner ($10.9-million AAV) continue to be evaluated.