Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Dermott, Salary Cap & Hockey Obsessives

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at the Maple Leafs final player to be signed – Travis Dermott. I’ll also share some insights TSN’s Frank Seravalli outlined for how the team might use their unique player situation to manipulate the salary cap.

Related: What Happens if the Maple Leafs’ Nick Robertson Is Really Good?

Finally, I’ll speculate about whether Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has created a rubric to target particular types of players for the team – experienced or not. These would be “hockey obsessives.”

Item One: All Eyes on Travis Dermott’s Signing

Now that the Maple Leafs have successfully signed Ilya Mikheyev, the next task on the team’s agenda is to sign restricted free agent defenseman Dermott. He has shown flashes of great play, and he scored four goals and totaled 11 points in 56 games last season. He also averaged 17:19 minutes in 2019-20.

Travis Dermott Toronto Maple Leafs
Travis Dermott, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He’s probably worth a little more than the Maple Leafs want to pay, but he’s not going to break the bank. Furthermore, Dermott does not have the option of seeking arbitration. Still, the Maple Leafs are a bit over the cap and, although the team can exceed the cap by 10% in the offseason, it’s tight.

Several questions remain: are there enough creative ways to keep the team to under the salary-cap limitations by wisely using the rules? Or, will the team make another trade prior to next season? These are just a few small complications, but Toronto and Dermott should be able to agree to terms. Maple Leafs fans might expect an announcement soon. (from “Maple Leafs sign Ilya Mikheyev to two-year extension,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 21/10/20)

Item Two: Have the Maple Leafs Figured Out How to Use the Rules to Ease the Salary-Cap Crunch?

The global pandemic has accelerated almost every team’s salary cap issues, and the Maple Leafs are no exception. That said, pandemic or not, the team always seems to flirt with salary-cap issues. However, there are rumors that the always-creative Maple Leafs have figured out a way to play by the rules but to utilize them to the team’s best advantage.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Forgotten Ones: Glen Wesley

At least TSN’s Frank Seravalli believes that might be the case. He thinks the Maple Leafs have figured out a way to have their cake and eat it too – although perhaps not eat that cake every day. It just takes a lot of almost-daily paperwork. Specifically, by utilizing waiver-exempt players and carrying a reduced roster for many days during the season, he believes the team has learned how to navigate the flat salary cap of $81.5 million over the course of this highly irregular upcoming season.

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

In Tuesday’s article by TSN staff, Seravalli outlined his take on Dubas’ specific plan:

“Maybe carrying 21 players on game day, shuttling a waiver exempt player down to the minors to accrue salary cap space at the beginning of the season on off days. And then after that, once they have some space banked up, then they can begin to get creative if need be later in the season.”

Seravalli added: “If there was going to be any point in which you want to try and budget to the minimum of the cap possible, it’s in this season because of the roster space considerations and the COVID-19 crunch. And who knows what next season is going to look like? You’re probably going to have some exempt cap players that are going to be travelling with your team at all times. So smart move by the Leafs in that case and that’s how they play to attack this at the moment.”

As Maple Leafs fans well know, the organization put itself in this spot trying to build the best team it could. Because four forwards are paid almost half the team’s salary-cap limit, Dubas and his team of number crunchers (a term of endearment) need to creatively keep the team below the upper limits of the salary cap.

The rules are simple enough: although the NHL allows teams to carry as many as 23 players on the roster at one time, teams are only allowed to dress 20 on game days. The Maple Leafs might choose to only carry 19 players at times and could shuttle players who aren’t waiver eligible back and forth frequently to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies to keep the team under the salary-cap limits on non-game days.

One example might be Rasmus Sandin. I like Sandin and predict the young defenceman will become a future star for the Maple Leafs; however, given Dubas’ recent moves, that stardom might not happen this season. Because Sandin is still on an entry-level contract, he’s waiver-exempt.

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Perhaps a “victim” of circumstances, even if Sandin were ready for a full-time NHL role, and even if head coach Sheldon Keefe wanted to play him more, he might be a “piece” Dubas could shuttle back and forth. Given that both the Marlies and the Maple Leafs share the same practice facility, it’s only paperwork.

Item Three: Is Dubas Targeting Specific “Types” of Players for Signing?

Yesterday, in a longer TSN article considering Joe Thornton’s “fit” with the Maple Leafs, Justin Bourne nailed something I believe I’d been watching since the first part of October when Dubas began making trades and signing players. I believe Dubas is targeting and signing a particular “kind” of a player.

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In my mind, as I’ve been watching and chatting back and forth with readers of my posts, I’ve been speculating whether the Maple Leafs under Dubas’ direction had created a category that “measured” character. He seemed to be signing those kinds of players.

Bourne put it a bit differently but focused it better than I had. He called the players Dubas has brought to the team “hockey obsessives.” Specifically, he noted these as “intangibles.”

He wrote, “The Leafs have dedicated their off-season to finding one thing: hockey obsessives. I thought that was one of the reasons they kept Kerfoot over Johnsson – he’s a serious hockey diehard, extremely passionate about his craft. That was the stated reason they wanted Joey Anderson from the Devils, too – he’s a hardcore, committed, hockey obsessive.”

Alexander Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alexander Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He went on, “Y’know who else is? Leafs’ rising star Nicholas Robertson. Also motivated? Simmonds, come home to prove his last season was a blip and not the end. Vesey wants to do the same, saying he’s ‘going to come out with his hair on fire.’ Thornton – Cup-chasing and hungry – fits that mold, too, as the type of desperate player the Leafs want to put around their core.”

Nicely said. Interestingly, Bourne saw similar things to what I’d been seeing. I thank him for putting it so well.

What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?

I’m sure many other hockey fans of all NHL teams feel the same way, but given all the interesting moves the Maple Leafs have made during the offseason, I’m anxious to see how a season would unfold.

So far, there’s no certainty about what the upcoming season might look like. Rumor suggests there’s a January target for a season’s beginning. That seems like such a long time away.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marlies News & Player Signings

In the meantime, and perhaps I’m feeling a bit mellow, we all live in the shadow of COVID-19 and all of our lives have been changed. Be well. Be safe. Be cautious. Take care of each other.

Just seems that, every once in a while, an old guy like me should be ending a hockey post by wishing everyone good health.