Maple Leafs Need Trade to Avoid Offer Sheet Crisis

When you do business the way the Toronto Maple Leafs do business, they open themselves up to certain risks. Thus far they haven’t been burned by it. But starting this year and beyond, this is going to be something to watch.

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What are we talking about? It’s the threat of an offer sheet. Why is this going to be something to watch now and over time? That’s because the closer they are to the cap, the more damaging an offer sheet could be.

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Offer sheets seem to be coming back some around the NHL. Prior to 2019, the last offer sheet in the league was made by Calgary to Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche. The two-year offer was matched by the Avalanche.

But since 2019, there have been two offer sheets presented with the same teams involved: the Montreal Canadians and the Carolina Hurricanes. First it was Sebastian Aho. Next it was Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The Canadiens chose not to match for Kotkaniemi. The offer sheet is slowly starting to creep its way back. From a Maple Leafs standpoint, they should be on high alert.

Maple Leafs & Offer Sheets

With less than a week to go until the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft, the Maple Leafs have just under $6.5 million in cap space. Considering who’s left to sign, that’s not a lot.

Among the business the Maple Leafs need to decide on are UFAs Colin Blackwell, Ilya Mikheyev, Ilya Lyubushkin and Jack Campbell. Among their RFA’s are Pierre Engvall, Ondrej Kase and Rasmus Sandin.

Related: 3 Most Logical Destinations For Maple Leafs’ Jack Campbell

Sandin is the one of concern right now from an offer sheet perspective. According to JFresh Hockey’s Player Card on Sandin, his projected WAR is 91%. He especially shines offensively.

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin is a prime target for an offer sheet. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Given the Maple Leafs just signed Timothy Liljegren to a two-year deal, it seems to give the ballpark of where Sandin would fill in. Here’s the thing. Teams are always looking for young defensemen that can slip right into their top-six.

Because of the cap crunch, the Maple Leafs have to be concerned that someone could swoop in and offer a one-year deal at up to $4.201 million. That would only cost the acquiring team a second-round pick. The Maple Leafs would have a major issue matching that. I don’t see how they could. Imagine the frustration if this actually did happen. A potential part of their future would be gone because of their cap situation.

The Maple Leafs’ Norm & Future

When your top-seven players by AAV combine for just under $60 million of your cap, this is the norm the Maple Leafs have to endure. It will be a yearly occurrence until something changes.

And it’s not just this year with Sandin. This applies to future years too especially with their extra dependence on their ELC’s and players reaching RFA status where an offer sheet is eligible. The Maple Leafs are an easy target when their young, good players become available. Rodion Amirov will be in this situation in two seasons once his ELC expires.

Rodion Amirov
Rodion Amirov will be in Sandin’s situation in two years. (photo credit: photo.khl.ru)

If you think the cap situation is going to get better soon, you better think again. Auston Matthews is up in two seasons and will be due a massive raise. There’s an argument to be made his AAV could come in higher than Connor McDavid’s AAV of $12.5. Matthews might become the first NHL player to top $13 million in AAV. While some other guys will have their contracts up within that time, the Maple Leafs still project to be a cap team.

A Solution

What can they do about this in the short-term? The answer is trade. Not only would that open up precious cap space, it would allow the Maple Leafs to keep some guys they probably couldn’t keep without a trade.

The obvious candidate seems to be William Nylander. He comes in at just under $7 million AAV and would provide major cap relief in the right deal. With the extra cap flexibility, the Maple Leafs would be better equipped to fight off an offer sheet. Finding a home for Petr Mrazek and his $3.8 million AAV would do wonders also.

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In the end, the reality of living at the cap limit will leave the Maple Leafs exposed to the threat of an offer sheet. Sandin could go. Others could go in future seasons.

If the Maple Leafs hope to avoid this fate, they will either need to make some good trades or change the way they do business. The latter doesn’t seem imminent given the current roster and what lies ahead.

The Maple Leafs need a trade to avoid an offer sheet crisis. They have to proceed knowing that an offer sheet could hit them at any point during the offseason when they’re at the salary cap. If the offer is too much, they won’t be able to do anything about it.

But that’s life with the current setup of these Maple Leafs.