Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Salary Cap, Babcock & Matthews

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some potential good news that might help the Maple Leafs address the team’s salary-cap situation. It’s been projected that the salary cap might rise substantially for the 2024-25 season. 

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Second, I’ll share the news that former Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock has resigned as head coach at the University of Saskatchewan. What’s next for him? 

Related: Did Maple Leafs’ Coach Mike Babcock Throw Nylander to the Wolves?

Finally, I’ll look at some questions about where Auston Matthews might end up on the Maple Leafs’ all-time list of greatest players. What would it take for him to be universally recognized as the greatest player in Maple Leafs’ history?

Item One: NHL’s Salary Cap Projected to Grow Quickly in 2024-25

One of the biggest issues for the Maple Leafs has been the impact of the pandemic on the team’s salary structure. Although most NHL teams face difficult salary-cap issues, the Maple Leafs are unique because so much of its salary-cap budget has been focused on four players – those players being dubbed the Core Four. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Many Maple Leafs’ fans have been critical of those signings at such high salaries; and, in retrospect, those choices have harmed the team’s ability to field a solid roster. However, had the salary cap continued in the upward trajectory it was on, the salaries for Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander would have been mediated by the influx of more salary-cap funding. 

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From my perspective, it’s hard for me to blame Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas or team President Brendan Shanahan for not anticipating a pandemic and the historical impact COVID-19 brought with the disruption of everyday life. It hasn’t been the same for anyone.

Related: Tim Horton: A Legacy of Hockey, Donuts, & Coffee

Apparently, there’s finally some good news about the salary cap. Since the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, when revenues hit the skids, the salary cap has only been inching upward only very slowly. For the 2020-21 and the 2021-22 seasons, there was no upward movement at all. Each team’s upper limit was stuck at $81.5 million).

In 2022-23, the salary cap will slide up $1 million to $82.5 million. For the 2023-24 season, the NHL estimate is $83.5 million. However, it seems the salary cap might be heading upward, and perhaps by a bigger jump than anticipated. 

Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr
File photo – Jan. 24, 2015 NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Donald Fehr (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was reported to say that the salary cap could jump for the 2024-25 season. In speaking with both Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek yesterday during the NHL’s media tour in Europe, Daly suggested that the salary cap could be going up earlier than expected. 

Daly commented that “I’ve seen some preliminary estimates recently which would make me more optimistic on the cap going up sooner whether that’s in two seasons or three seasons, I think it’s more likely than not two seasons rather than three.”

Related: The Rise & Fall of Andrew Raycroft

At the bottom line rests the NHL players’ escrow payments. According to the NHL’s CBA, the players and the owners split revenue 50/50. However, when the 2019-20 NHL regular season abruptly ended, NHL players’ paydays continued. That created an imbalance in the revenue split. The owners were able to “claw back” some of their losses by keeping the salary cap low and through the players’ escrow payments.

Those payments will continue until the NHL players’ combined debts are paid off. And, that’s happening. Although numbers of where the salary cap might land are little more than guesstimates, that Daily noted the possibility publicly is a good sign. NHL brass is usually pretty hush-hush about such things. 

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner carry a lot of the Maple Leafs’ salary cap.
(Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

At the same time as the NHL players’ debts are being paid by escrow collected, other NHL revenue streams are rising. It’s now believed there’s sufficient growth in the NHL’s business revenues to make a larger jump than estimated for the 2024-25 season. One guess is that the salary cap might rise to about $88.7 million (or $6.2 million more than for the 2022-23 season, which is almost William Nylander’s salary.) 

Item Two: Item Three: Mike Babcock Resigns at the University of Saskatchewan

It was announced yesterday that former Maple Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock had resigned as Head Coach of the University of Saskatchewan Men’s Hockey team. Babcock had been serving as a volunteer head coach at the Canadian university. The University of Saskatchewan announced yesterday that Babcock’s associate coach Brandin Cote had become the interim coach. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Puljujärvi, Murray, Marner & Mete

Babcock joined the Saskatchewan Huskies in February 2021, on a “full-time, volunteer basis.” Babcock “volunteered” because he was still on the receiving end of an eight-year contract worth a reported $50 million he had signed in May 2015. 

Although it isn’t yet clear what plans Babcock might have for the future, it’s hard not to think there’s a plan being put in place. The resignation and the fact that the Maple Leafs’ contract end is in sight seem almost too coincidental.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs/

Yesterday’s player review of Auston Matthews raised interesting questions about the multi-talented Maple Leafs’ center. The questions revolved around what it would take for Matthews to become the greatest Maple Leafs’ player of all time. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s an interesting question. There’s little question that Matthews might be the most skilled and talented player ever in franchise history. But is he the greatest? And, if not, what would it take?

Does he need to lead his team to postseason success? Does he need to re-up with the team when his contract runs out? 

That’s a post worth writing.

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