For any team looking at being a buyer at the NHL Trade Deadline, it’s not just about whether your franchise has the assets another team would want in any potential deal, but whether or not your organization has the salary cap space in which to add whatever player you’re shopping for. That’s often overlooked when fans and members of the media throw out names like candy at a parade while discussing trade speculation.
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One writer took a closer look at whether the Toronto Maple Leafs have the means or flexibility to make the moves many have linked them to as the trade deadline nears. Currently, sitting at just over $1 million in deadline cap space, the answer on the surface would appear to be no. But, after taking a deep dive, James Mirtle of The Athletic suggests there are two ways the Maple Leafs can find the cap room they need and potentially add two significant pieces for their stretch run.
Demoting Players Is An Option
One of the first arguments Mirtle makes is that Toronto has been running with a loaded roster. Outside of demoting Conor Timmins — whose need to clear waivers makes things complicated –, there are a handful of players GM Kyle Dubas can send down without worrying about the consequences of doing so.
Assuming good health, what the Leafs will do before the deadline is demote as many players as possible to create additional cap space. Using LTIR, they can exceed the cap by $6.42 million (the combination of [Jake] Muzzin and [Nic] Robertson’s cap hits), but they’ve been eating into a lot of that by carrying extra players on the roster.source – ‘Mirtle: How the Maple Leafs can find a way to make a blockbuster deadline trade’ – James Mirtle – The Athletic – 02/08/2023
Mirtle names Jordie Benn, Wayne Simmonds, and Joey Anderson as the most obvious candidates. He adds that the Leafs can add another $2.4 million in cap room with just those three demotions alone. From there, moving Pontus Holmberg and goaltender Joseph Woll, the Leafs’ roster would drop to 19 players with a total of roughly $5.1 million in cap space. Mirtle argues that $5.1 million in cap space “should be enough for the Leafs to accomplish whatever they want at the deadline”.
What Else Can The Leafs Do?
The other avenue Mirtle explored was the combination of sending players the other way in trades while getting selling clubs to retain salary on those who come to Toronto. Specifically, Mirtle used Patrick Kane as an example. If Toronto can get Chicago to retain, then find another team to act as a third-party broker, Kane’s salary drops all the way to $2.625 million.
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The issue for Toronto here is that they need to be willing to pay the price required for teams to retain salary and for another team to get involved. As they learned from the Nick Foligno trade, that can often get pricey.
Not only that, but Toronto might consider sending Alexander Kerfoot’s $3.5 million contract or Pierre Engvall’s $2.25 million deal out the door in any pending deal. It’s not clear if a team like Chicago would want either player, but his example of Kane is just one of many names the Leafs have been connected to in the rumor mill. Perhaps another team would have an interest if Chicago doesn’t.
Who Would The Leafs Target?
Mirtle imagined a scenario where the Maple Leafs could do all of what they needed to while finding two players who could really help them. He came to the conclusion that Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues and Jake McCabe of the Chicago Blackhawks might be the two best targets. He said that combination would provide the Leafs with a player with term on their blue line, will add offense and playoff experience, and physicality.
Admittedly, he said, “Given what is available at the deadline, this is probably the home-run version of what the Leafs can do by March 3.” That said, it’s not impossible.