Late Tuesday night, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas made a deal that left everyone asking questions. David Clarkson and a fourth-round pick were acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights for back-up goaltender Garrett Sparks.
This deal was unexpected and very questionable. It does seem odd that the Maple Leafs would re-acquire a player that they got rid of because of cap space and the inevitable youth movement. But this deal makes a lot of sense considering that they only have one free-agent left to sign: Mitch Marner.
Dubas Uses CBA to His Advantage
There’s no doubt that during the off-season, Dubas and cap genius Brandon Pridham have used the Collective Bargaining Agreement to their advantage. It may seem peculiar to acquire a big contract at $5.25 million, even though it’s for one year, given that the Maple Leafs were already close to the salary cap.
However, given that Clarkson’s career-ending back injury has kept him out of the lineup for the Golden Knights, the Maple Leafs’ option is to place him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) with Nathan Horton. Both players have been out of the league for extended periods of time and both have nothing to give career-wise. Both contracts alone are a combined $10.55 million in salary that will be used towards alleviating their cap situation.
Dubas could’ve found a better return or trade partner, but he needed more space. Going after an injured player to give the team more space makes sense. It will no doubt be used in order to sign Marner if and when he agrees to a contract.
Yes, acquiring Clarkson doesn’t make any sense at face value. It was surprising considering he was traded due to said cap restraints in the past, but his contract is considered an asset in helping the Maple Leafs out along with Horton’s at $5.3 million.
Good News For Marner’s Contract
No matter how you look at this deal, it was another precursor to the potential signing of Marner. Although the Maple Leafs haven’t improved on their current roster, this has helped them clear up as much cap space as possible for the future signing.
Earl Schwartz, who breaks down the CBA on Twitter, had an excellent social media thread about this deal and the implications it had. Schwartz explains that with Horton on LTIR, he alone wouldn’t help out with the Marner contract situation, assuming that Marner’s camp is asking for more than $10 million. While Horton’s contract is a big price, it’s only over half of what Marner is asking for.
Dubas going out and trading for another big contract for the purpose of placing it on LTIR was a smart move. If everything goes according to Dubas’ plan, placing Horton and Clarkson on LTIR, their combined contracts come into the double digits, where Marner has been rumoured to be asking for something similar to Auston Matthews for quite some time.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. The Maple Leafs value Marner the same as Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov and Golden Knights’ Mark Stone at $9.5 million, but not exceeding what Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane makes. Marner’s side sees him as valuable as a franchise centreman.
Dubas now has spending money that’s in between what Matthews makes and a little over what Kane makes. Could common ground be met between the two sides? It’s possible. I don’t have any inside sources, but after this Clarkson deal, I get a sense that a deal could be in the works. This would only work if Marner signs anywhere within the value. Dubas made this deal in hopes that a contract would be signed, otherwise, it would be the William Nylander saga all over again.
Recent Signings Still Play a Factor
Hours after the Clarkson deal, the Maple Leafs signed seven players to at or just over league minimum. Most of these players will be sent down freeing up even more space for when Marner signs. Out of those signings, Pontus Aberg and Kenny Agostino seem to have the best chances to stay with the team. If everyone else gets sent down, that’s at least an additional $3.575 million gained in cap space. The value of these contracts will barely impact Dubas’ plan.
The Maple Leafs’ GM went into this trade with the purpose of gaining more cap flexibility and he did. While it may seem confusing at first, Dubas and Pridham know more about the CBA and the ways to circumvent it to their advantage than any of us know. If and when Marner signs, Dubas did whatever he could to manage the cap as best as possible to sign his one of his star forwards.
Salary numbers from CapFriendly.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.