What Does a Salary Cap Increase Mean for the Leafs?

On Friday, it was announced that the NHL salary cap is expected to rise from the current $75 million limit. The increase will have the cap set anywhere from $78-$82 million next season and it will have some implications on different teams around the league.

The question is, does this mean teams will have more freedom to go out and sign players that they may not have had room for, or will players needing a new contract just expect more money than normal? Either way, the salary cap rising is sure to have an effect in Toronto.

Players in Need of Re-Signing

The first thing that comes to mind in this scenario is what a cap raise will mean to the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. If the salary cap does only rise by $3 million, there’s a case to be made that the players’ payouts shouldn’t be inflated. However, if it were to jump to $82 million, that’s a pretty noticeable five percent increase.

Mitch Marner Leafs 2017
(Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

For players like Nylander and Marner, who are expected to make around $6 million per year on their first long-term contract, the question becomes, will their payout rise along with the cap? If expected contracts were to rise by 5 percent, there’s a good chance the contracts would too. A $6 million contract would, by that standard, look more like $6.3 million per year (to be less precise, probably between $6.25-$6.50 million per season) instead of $6 million per season.

Auston Matthews, who realistically, shouldn’t make Connor McDavid money, may come close, just in comparison to what percentage of the cap his contract takes up. When you look at Matthews’ production, it is quite a bit lower so far than McDavid’s was in his first two seasons. McDavid scored at roughly 1.17 points per game in his first two seasons, while Matthews sits at just 0.88 points per game so far in his career. But if there’s a significant rise in the cap, Matthews could also find himself in the $12 million range.

Can the Maple Leafs Afford New Players?

A cap increase could give Toronto some breathing room, creating the option to add someone or keep a player for future seasons. James van Riemsdyk, whose time in Toronto seems to be limited, would have a better chance at finding a contract in Toronto. Instead of a shorter five or six-year deal worth $6 million per year, the Leafs could sign him for a longer term such as seven years, at somewhere between the $5-5.5 million range. A long-term lower money deal would keep the winger on the team while they chase for the Stanley Cup, while still keeping them under the cap. This means that even when van Riemsdyk starts to decline in his early/mid-thirties, the cap would likely continue to rise to the point that it wouldn’t be much of a dead weight contract.

Maple Leafs, James van Riemsdyk, NHL
(Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The cap raise also means that Toronto could go out and sign a player instead of re-signing van Riemsdyk. One target could be John Carlson, who would be a great right-handed shot defenceman who could play a top-pair role for the Leafs. Though unlikely that the Leafs would add anyone new long-term solely based on the cap raise, it is a possibility. The more likely situation, however, could be seeing van Riemsdyk stick around.

Divisional Rivals

It won’t be just the Leafs who are impacted by the cap raise. Unfortunately for Toronto, divisional rivals like Tampa Bay are also going to greatly benefit from the rise in the salary cap. With Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman signed long-term, it means that both contracts will look smaller and smaller as the cap raises. It also means that Steve Yzerman will have even more space to make sure he’s able to re-sign Vladislav Namestnikov, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov when the time comes. Why does this matter to the Leafs? It means that Tampa Bay as an Atlantic Division competitor to the Leafs is not going to be short-term— the Lightning will be battling for the Division title for years to come.

Lou Lamoriello Maple Leafs
(Photo by Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Though it’s great that Toronto will have the luxury of keeping the majority of their key pieces around, it also means other teams will be able to do the same. On top of that, if contract payouts do naturally increase along with the cap, the Leafs will be one of the teams affected. So, of course, the salary cap rise is going to help the Leafs in the coming years, it may not be as big of a benefit as some may expect.