It’s no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs have had to perform some crazy tricks to stay within the NHL salary cap. Here are a couple ways in which the team could allow themselves some breathing room.
Let Frederik Andersen Walk
Veteran goaltender Frederik Andersen will become a free agent following the conclusion of the playoffs. His current salary cap hit is $5 million and he’ll likely be looking for the same amount or more in a new deal.
At the start of next season, he’ll be 32-years-old and has already shown signs of his performance declining. An aging goaltender on the decline is not a smart way to use $5 million of your cap space. Toronto should stick with Jack Campbell as their No. 1 and use the cap space saved from Andersen to bolster the lineup in front of the net.
The Maple Leafs have both Campbell and Michael Hutchinson, who have contracts signed through 2021-22. Hutchinson, 31-years-old, played fairly well when called upon this season. With a record of 4-21, he finished with a 2.42 gas and a .919 save percentage. The team could explore other options to attend to the backup role if Hutchinson doesn’t work out. Some of the money saved by letting Andersen hit the free agent market could be used to sign Campbell to an extension.
Trade Morgan Rielly
After an unproductive 2019-20 season, Morgan Rielly, 27-years-old, did see an improvement in his offensive production this season. In 55 games, he amassed five goals along with 30 assists, recording 35 points. Although his offensive output has improved, Rielly has struggled with his defensive play. A native of Vancouver, B.C., he was credited with 75 giveaways this season. Many thought that with Toronto bringing in T.J. Brodie, Rielly would finally have a legitimate defensive partner. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t looked like he is totally comfortable out there.
Rielly has one more year left on his deal, which carries a salary cap of $5 million. The Maple Leafs could trade Rielly to replace the first-round pick sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nick Foligno.
His spot on the Maple Leafs defence could be given to the younger and much cheaper Rasmus Sandin. Sandin has one more year left with a cap hit of $894,167 before becoming an RFA. I think Sandin would do well if he was given more ice time as well as power play minutes.
Trade Alexander Kerfoot
If the Toronto is able to re-sign Riley Nash, then they could trade Alexander Kerfoot and his $3.5 million contract. Nash is the better option for a third-line shutdown center. Out of the two players, Kerfoot offers more offence, but offence is something the Maple Leafs already have a lot of.
If the team wants to really save some cap space, they trade Kerfoot and let Nash leave as an unrestricted free agent in favour of giving the third line centre job to Adam Brooks. Brooks has one year remaining on his current deal worth $725,000 before becoming an RFA.
He recorded five points in 11 games for Toronto this season, but spent some very valuable playing time with Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza. The knowledge passed down from those two veterans can only help a young player improve his game.
Seattle Expansion Draft
When the Seattle Kraken select their picks during the NHL expansion draft, hopefully they will chose either Pierre Engvall or Travis Dermott.
Engvall has one more year left on his current deal, which is worth a cap hit of $1.25 million. Dermott, on the other hand, is an RFA this summer and could be seeking a salary close to what Engvall is making or more. So, if either of these two gets picked by the Kraken, it would do the Maple Leafs a favour as it pertains to the salary cap.
If Rielly, Kerfoot and Engvall are removed from next year’s salary cap, the Toronto Maple Leafs will have $22.25 million in cap space available. If the team promotes younger and cheaper players like Brooks and Nick Robertson, they will have plenty of cap space to fill needs.
One of those needs should be re-signing winger Zach Hyman. Most figure that Hyman will want a new deal with a cap hit somewhere close to $4 million per season. That kind of deal would be much easier to do with some of the bold moves I have suggested.