This summer there are a few teams with lots of cap space and the requisite available roster spots to utilize that space. Most notably, the Toronto Maple Leafs have over $24 million in cap space with 18 roster spots already spoken for. However, this includes Nathan Horton at $5.3 million who will not be on the roster. With that much room and with their organizational depth, nearly anything is possible.
Even if the Leafs made zero external signings and re-signed their restricted free agents (RFAs) at reasonable rates, they would have a team very capable of winning the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, the Leafs potential seems accurately accounted for in their current price, and only a massive signing or trade would cause their price to win the 2019 Stanley Cup to go down before the season starts.
Current odds to win the 2019 Stanley Cup:
- Toronto Maple Leafs +1000
Below is what the 2018-2019 team could look like with zero signings or trades beyond re-signing current RFAs. It’s unlikely the roster will look anything like this in October – this is just for informational purposes to show where the team currently stands:
In a league where the top teams almost always spend to within 1% of the upper limit of the cap, every dollar is significant to team building. When a team enters the off season with tons of cap room and a competent general manager, they have a real opportunity to improve their roster significantly.
On the other hand, it’s not hard to find recent examples of teams with solid cores undone by mismanagement, particularly around the July 1st window to sign unrestricted free agents. Those decisions can hinder a team for years to come and ruin the chances of otherwise good cores.
Oilers Nation entered the summer of 2016 fresh off of Connor McDavid’s injury shortened rookie campaign with the 4th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft in hand, and a roster with very good top end skill. In an ill advised attempt to re-shape the roster into a “heavy” team built to take on the bullies of past years in the Western Conference, a series of moves were made that are still being lamented today. In fact, it’s very possible that just two seasons later the biggest acquisition of 2016, Milan Lucic, is shipped out of town with very little in return heading to Edmonton.
It’s a unique circumstance this summer in Toronto. Kyle Dubas, the newly appointed general manager, has a one year window with an unprecedented amount of cap space for a contending team in a major market. Starting in 2019-2020 the financial commitments to the Leafs best offensive players – Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander – will make adding significant talent much more difficult.
On July 1st, Dubas could make the equivalent of a max offer for one year to the seasons most coveted free agent John Tavares, formerly of the New York Islanders, in the amount of $15 million. If such an offer were accepted it would change the landscape of the Eastern Conference, and install the Leafs as a clear cut Stanley Cup favourite for the coming season. A price somewhere in the range of +600 would be an educated guess should they land the big fish.
Even if he doesn’t land Tavares, it’s unlikely Dubas makes mistakes like Chiarelli in Edmonton. He is an internal hire from the newly minted AHL Calder Cup Champion Toronto Marlies, a team which boasted many NHL ready pieces who will surely get their chance on the ever improving Leafs roster.
It is much harder to predict what the opening night roster will look like without Tavares accounting for $10 million (long term deal) or $15 million (one year deal), but they won’t leave $20 million dollars in the bank. With a lack of superstar talent on the free agent market they will likely offer to take on bad short term deals from other teams and bury them in the AHL, or use them as depth pieces. In exchange for that they would also receive additional assets in the form of young roster players or draft picks.
Expiring unrestricted free agents in 2019 that could be dealt as a cap dump are generally on teams that think they can compete, but that need cap space to add additional pieces this summer. Players that fit that criteria are:
- Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars – $7 million
- Jori Lehtera, Philadelphia Flyers – $4.7 million
- Tyler Ennis, Minnesota Wild – $4.6 million
- Carl Hagelin, Pittsburgh Penguins $4 million
The week ahead in Toronto will end either with the home coming of a true NHL superstar, or a fan base lamenting another near miss. Either way the future is bright and the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a threat for the Stanley Cup. If you fancy a bet on the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the 2019 Stanley Cup, right now – before the spending spree begins – might be the best price you’re going to get.