In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll once again collaborate with long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith to review and comment on some of the news and rumors emerging from the team. Two rumors seem to persistently pop up in different places: one is that Zach Hyman will be leaving the team and the second is that Dougie Hamilton might be coming to Toronto. We’ll comment on both.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Prospects Abramov & Kallgren
Item One: The Maple Leafs Are Following Precedent by Front-Loading Salaries
Over the past week or so, we’ve been trying to take a more critical look at some of the problems that hockey pundits and fans have ascribed to the Maple Leafs. Our research has suggested that another take might might offer different insights. Specifically, we’ve looked critically at the assertion that the Maple Leafs or any other team can’t win a Stanley Cup with the salary balance the Maple Leafs have engaged by signing the team’s Core Four of John Tavares, William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner.
In yesterday’s post, we shared that the Tampa Bay Lightning actually – because of the team’s unique and favorable income tax situation in Florida – have a $5 million advantage over the Maple Leafs that they can use to add extra players. Our further research shows that other teams have, similar to the Lightning and the Maple Leafs, successfully won the Stanley Cup with a similar percentage of their salary-cap expenditures wrapped up in a few players.
For example, when the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2015-16, they had $32,250,000 wrapped up in their top four players (and the salary-cap that season was $71.4 million). That was 45 percent of the Penguins’ payroll. Further to the Lightning, when we expanded our look at the Lightning dollar vs. dollar against the salary-cap, the top 10 highest-paid players on the Lightning are paid $69.5 million against the cap, while the 10 highest-paid Maple Leafs are paid $65.5 million against the salary cap.
Related: Canadiens’ Biggest Draft Busts of the Last Decade
By the way, one commenter on yesterday’s post wisely added that Maple Leafs’ players had an advantage in Toronto-based endorsements that Florida players didn’t have. That’s true; and, it’s a great advantage for playing in Canada and specifically in Toronto. However, our calculations are only pointed at the salary-cap implications not specifically player’s take-home salaries.
The whole issue is complex; however, it points to the fact that the salary-cap structure is a problem, but it isn’t THE problem per se. The higher correlation to team success in the playoffs is – as it should be – the production of the players who earn the money. That’s shown in how successful the Montreal Canadiens (the tax rate in Quebec is 49.69) have been against the Vegas Golden Knights (the tax rate in Nevada is 31.92). The Canadiens’ players are simply playing better hockey and have shut down the Golden Knight’s offense.
Item Two: What Could Be Happening with Zach Hyman
This is a funny year for contract negotiations because the Seattle Kraken expansion draft will take place on July 21st. Technically, and legally, teams cannot sign UFA’s before the expansion draft. If they do, the team must add that player to its protection list. Otherwise, they must allow them to become UFA’s and allow them to talk and negotiate with other teams. Only after that can they negotiate and possibly sign them. If the team wants to re-sign its own UFAs, it must be careful not to contravene the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement or the expansion draft rules.
There’s no way the Maple Leafs and Zach Hyman’s agent have not yet spoken with each other. Hyman knows exactly what the Maple Leafs are willing to pay and the team knows what Hyman expects. Furthermore, the Maple Leafs know they can’t sign him before the expansion draft.
As it stands, even if Hyman knew he wanted to come back at the amount of money the team offered, if he followed the rules he’d be unable to say. And the team surely wouldn’t reveal they had a hand-shake agreement. As a result, we can see that both sides might be happy enough to stay silent. Hyman would talk to Seattle or other teams to see how much they were willing to offer, then he’d sit down to see if he could work a deal that would make both sides happy and would keep him as a Maple Leaf.
Related: NWHL Roundup: Beauts Trade No. 1 Pick, Signings Galore, Whale Name New GM
If that were the case, there’d be no reason to quiet any of the rumors that Hyman would likely depart or that he’s willing to play for another team. These rumors and the speculation that exists only support the fact that everything has been engaged by the book. There’s no hint in our comments that there’s been subterfuge in these negotiations, just that both sides benefit because rumors exist.
Item Three: Dougie Hamilton Has Set a Price
Earlier this week, Elliotte Friedman reported on Sportsnet’s 590 The Fan’s radio “Lead Off” show that there was mutual interest between Dougie Hamilton and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then we learned from two Sportsnet sources (Chris Johnston and Luke Fox) that Hamilton’s agent J.P. Barry was in conversation with a number of NHL clubs and that Hamilton was looking for a long-term deal starting at about $8 million per season.
Although Hamilton’s a great offensive defenseman who might also be growing into a good defensive defenseman, his $8 million ask seems to have priced himself past the Maple Leafs’ ability to sign him. To sign him at $8 million, general manager Dubas would likely have to hope Alex Kerfoot goes to Seattle in the expansion draft, let Zach Hyman sign somewhere else, and trade Morgan Rielly during the offseason. Given that Luke Fox of Sportsnet believes Rielly is a “heart-and-soul” part of the team’s roster, that’s a lot to give up.
If he were to become part of the Maple Leafs’ roster, he’d have to be willing to sign for about $6 million and his desire to play for the Mape Leafs would have to supersede his desire for money. It is possible that Hamilton might be a better fit for the Maple Leafs than Rielly. If Hamilton were to play on the right side, the team could use Hamilton, Holl, and Liljigren on the right and Muzzin, Sandin, and Dermott on the left. Brodie can play effectively on either side. For the past few seasons, the team has been left-side heavy, and replacing Rielly with Hamilton would balance the sides.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
There’s been a load of energy spent blaming Mitch Marner and to a lesser extent Auston Matthews for their lack of production in the playoffs. Until last night’s 4-1 Canadiens’ victory over the Golden Knights, I hadn’t really appreciated the Canadiens’ preparation for the playoffs. They have completely bottled up the offenses of the Maple Leafs, the Winnipeg Jets, and now the Golden Knights.
Related: Maple Leafs News: Grading Playoff Production, Who Showed Up?
It’s time for me to give credit where credit is due. Carey Price is simply Carey Price, but the Canadiens are balanced, prepared, and suffocating. They’re proving that the team with the best players doesn’t always win. I’m wondering what the Maple Leafs’ off-ice leadership is learning and how they’ll respond.