It is, by far, the most neglected element when it comes to the notion the Toronto Maple Leafs pursuit of a veteran goaltender.
His cap hit.
And, more specifically, the Leafs cap situation next season.
Now, the salary cap is expected to drop to $64.3-million for 2013-14, which will put a lot of teams in a bind and needing to shed salary. At first glance, Toronto looks fairly safe from all that with roughly $19-million in space and a buyout-in-waiting for Mike Komisarek, but the tricky part is the number of free agents they’ll have to sign.
Cody Franson needs a contract, and he’s having a breakout season. Carl Gunnarsson also needs a contract, and he’s played big, important minutes for this team the past two years.
And, most significantly, Nazem Kadri is due a huge raise given the incredible season he is having.
By my estimates, those three are all probably going to sign in the $3-million a season range, give or take $500,000 either way depending on the term in the deal.
If you then fill in the organization’s other restricted free agents with cheap deals and you add Miikka Kiprusoff’s $5.83-million cap hit next season, you’re left with about $6.7-million in cap space and four or five roster spots to fill – including two gaping holes in your forward lineup where Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur (both UFAs) once were:
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That is only a skeleton roster of 18 players so for argument’s sake let’s add in the two extra bodies at $1.5-million.
That leaves about $4.5- to 5-million to either re-sign Bozak or MacArthur (not both) or replace those two 50-point players to bring the team’s skaters basically back to the level they were at last season.
That likely means no upgrades on the blueline, other than from within, and no significant upgrades down the middle, other than whatever improvements Kadri can bring after a dream first full season.
Adding Kiprusoff (or Luongo) in other words, comes at the direct expense of upgrading elsewhere on the roster via trade or free agency. The Leafs would be able to replace Bozak or MacArthur with perhaps a better player, but they wouldn’t be able to add to what they have.
And given one of the team’s most pressing needs is a top four defenceman, which can get pricey, it would leave likely as many question marks as they had this season.
(There’s a reason most contending teams have more than one blueliner committed to a big contract.)
Add in the fact that Kiprusoff may not be that big of an upgrade over Scrivens and that you may lose that young goaltender, and there are more than enough warning signs against adding a big ticket in goal.
There are other ways to free the necessary salary room to make improvements, with trades for Mikhail Grabovski or John-Michael Liles two ways to accomplish that. But, in both cases, that would be selling low and would open other holes in the lineup.
If the goal here is to progress this team up the Eastern Conference in the next two or three years, GM Dave Nonis has to pick a window to win in and go with that. The summer is the perfect time to add another key piece to the blueline or up front to help them take the next step before Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf’s contracts come up for renewal.
The cap is likely to rise quickly starting in 2014-15 and beyond, but especially for next season, it makes little sense to commit so much to an area (goaltending) where the Leafs have had stability this season.
The better bet is to continue to go cheap in goal, hope that both youngsters continue to develop into No. 1 goalies and spend the available cap space elsewhere.
Because, for all of the Leafs success this season, the rest of the roster could certainly use the upgrades.