June has officially arrived and with it the lead up to the trades around the NHL draft and also free agency.
A right of passage for this time of year is dealing with the influx crazy NHL trade possibilities that mostly make no sense. The general formula for these trades is that a team with salary cap issues to pawn off a player with a horrid contract, a player or draft pick of only modest value and then often some random draft pick (to make it all okay I guess?) in return for a good young player on a reasonable contract. With the Toronto Maple Leafs facing impossible salary cap math, the volume of bizarre trades proposed should hit record levels over the next couple weeks. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe gets in front of the chaos and considers what might or mostly might not be reasonable for trades between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs salary cap situation
The Maple Leafs will need to do something this summer left, so that basic driver of the speculation is on target. CapFriendly shows the Maple Leafs as having $74.2 million of salary already committed for the 2019-20 season. That includes a $5.3 million cap hit for Nathan Horton who is on long-term injured reserve. If one assumes a 2019-20 salary cap maximum of $83 million and then backs out Horton’s salary, the Maple Leafs have $14.1 million of cap space. If one arguably conservatively adds new contracts of $10 million for Mitch Marner, $3.5 million for Kasperi Kapanen and $2 million for Andreas Johnsson, the Maple Leafs are suddenly $1.4 million over the salary cap maximum. But here is the thing…That is with a blue line whose top 4 includes Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev and probably record levels of hoping and wishing everything turns out okay. Even just adding two $1 million depth defensemen to go with Travis Dermott and Justin Holl would push the Maple Leafs over by about $3.4 million.
Stating it directly, the Maple Leafs are over the salary cap by at least $3 million with their current roster, but the current version of the roster at a minimum needs to add a replacement for Jake Gardiner and ideally needs to be upgraded from 2018-19.
The Maple Leafs’ preferred cuts
In an ideal world the Leafs would at least partially remedy the situation by unloading a couple bad contracts. In today’s NHL, there is a market for unloading bad contracts, but it can be costly. The Hurricanes benefited significantly from this market when they obtained Teuvo Teravainen in exchange for taking the overpriced contract of Bryan Bickell.
In this regard, the Maple Leafs have two contracts that jump out:
Patrick Marleau at $6.5 million cap hit for only the 2019-20 season. The 39-year was adequate in a depth role in 2018-19 chipping in 37 points in 82 games. He should still be a serviceable depth forward who adds experience, but that just does not justify $6.5 million for a team that needs to cut costs. On the one hand, Marleau has a full no-movement clause that could stand in the way of any deal and force the Leafs to look elsewhere to solve their problems. But if Toronto can strong arm Marleau to concede, his contract is actually fairly trade friendly. Marleau’s actual salary is only $4.25 million, and $3 million of that comes in the form of a signing bonus due in early July. As such, a team that acquired Marleau in July would only have to pay $1.25 million out of pocket. No-movement clause aside, these terms could make Marleau fairly easy to move to a team with ample cap space with only a minimal cost to the Leafs.
Nikita Zaitsev at $4.5 million per year for five more years. Zaitsev is the bigger problem. After a capable rookie season as a 24-year old, the Maple Leafs went all in inking Zaitsev to a seven-year deal at $4.5 million per year. Zaitsev has since regressed. He is still a capable NHL defensemen, but he now looks more like a good depth defensemen somewhat similar to Trevor van Riemsdyk and not an every-game top 4. As such, he is overpriced by as much as $2 million per year. Trying to get a team to take that with five years of term will require some creativity and compensation.
Solving the current math brain teaser will likely require the Maple Leafs to part with at least one good NHL roster player (like the Teravainen trade to the Hurricanes), but the preferred salary cuts will undoubtedly be Marleau and Zaitsev.
The Carolina Hurricanes theoretically as an ideal trade partner
At least on the surface, the Hurricanes look like a great trade partner at least for one-sided trades that fix all of the Leafs’ problems at very little cost. At least on paper, the Hurricanes seem to have a ton of cap space. While the Hurricanes do have some wiggle room, the salary cap room is not as spacious as CapFriendly’s current tally of $29 million might indicate. If one adds Sebastian Aho at $9 million, a Justin Williams return at $4 million and three more inexpensive forwards to get to 13 forwards, the available cap space shrinks to $13 million. The team is also without a goalie right now, so that combined with buying out Scott Darling will likely use another $4-5 million. So at least for the 2019-20 season, the Hurricanes could wedge a bad contract into the equation, but the room is not as sizable as many believe. In addition, with Svechnikov and other young players scheduled to earn raises coming off of their entry-level contracts, the Hurricanes do not have much room to take bad contracts that extend past the 2019-20 season.
The other side of the equation is that the Hurricanes have a number of good young players on reasonable contracts who could simultaneously help the Leafs cap issues and at the same time reinforce or improve the blue line.
So in terms of being capable of helping the Maple Leafs, sure, the Hurricanes are financially positioned to do so. But the Hurricanes are not in existence to offer philanthropic help to struggling hockey teams. In fact, as the Hurricanes become a going concern in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, the team actually has some incentive to just let Toronto suffer in their financial struggles.
So at a basic level, the Hurricanes could fairly easily take the Marleau contract for the 2019-20 season if compensated for doing so (and if he would waive his no-movement clause), but I would be surprised to see the Hurricanes go anywhere near the five-year term of Zaitsev’s overpriced contract.
Points of interest on the Maple Leafs
So at this point it hopefully goes without saying that the myriad of trade proposals that fly across Twitter suggesting that Zaitsev has significant value and could be packaged up to return Brett Pesce are complete hogwash, and even proposals that try to net Justin Faulk or Dougie Hamilton who have less term on their contracts will be mostly far-fetched.
But the Maple Leafs do have a collection of good young forwards who could help the Carolina Hurricanes or any other team.
Kasperi Kapanen (Restricted Free Agent) – As I said on Twitter recently, Kapanen would be an incredibly good fit for the Rod Brind’Amour’s style and system. Kapanen brings a reasonable, not elite, amount of scoring capability, but his greatest strength is his speed and tenacity that would be absolutely perfect for how the Hurricanes play.
Nazem Kadri (3 years at $4.5 million per year) – Kadri is arguably the greatest fit for what the Hurricanes need. Kadri would be a capable #2 center who boosts the team offensively and is capable is driving a second scoring line. And the three-year term is potentially perfect to fill that void long enough for Martin Necas to develop or enough other help from within the organization to emerge. I suggested Faulk for Kadri awhile back, and I think the basics of that trade could still make sense. But I see two problems that make Kadri unlikely. First, his discipline issues raise questions about if/how he would fit in with a group where chemistry is critical. Second, his reasonable $4.5 million salary hit that would be appealing to the Hurricanes also makes him a player that the Leafs could try to keep.
William Nylander (5 years at $6.96 million per year) – Nylander is an odd case. He held out to get his current contract which is part of the problem, but Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas seems committed to somehow keeping Nylander. Nylanders is a bit of a mixed bag. On the positive side of the ledger, he is a 23-year old capable offensive player who can play center or wing. He would also add a needed right shot to the Hurricanes forward mix. But on the negative side, there are questions about whether his game is really well-rounded enough to be a good NHL center and whether he is just an ‘instant offense’ type player who does not project well as an all-around contributor.
Mitch Marner (Restricted Free Agent) – Mitch Marner will be one of the most talked about players over the coming weeks. Can Toronto get him re-signed at a discount or will a full price contract for Marner be the straw the broke the camel’s back? Will another team offer sheet him? Might Dubas make the biggest cut of all and trade Marner? I do not see the Hurricanes as a player in any scenario for Marner. As noted above, the Hurricanes do not have as much cap space as simple math suggests, and taking on Marner for $10 million plus would be difficult. In addition, the Hurricanes already have one slightly undersized scoring catalyst in Aho. So as fun as it might be to consider Marner for the Hurricanes, I would be shocked.
The Hurricanes side of the ledger
The starting point from the Hurricanes side is considering who might be available. In terms of at least considering trading a defenseman, I think what makes most sense is Justin Faulk or Dougie Hamilton. Faulk is due for a new contract next summer and Hamilton the following summer. I would be somewhat surprised (not shocked) to see the team retain both players long-term. More likely, I think one departs sometime between now and when their contracts expire. As much as anything, the reason is budget. The Hurricanes are currently paying five top 4 defensemen which will be harder to do as the forward group exits entry-level contracts and re-signs at pricier second deals. That being the case, this summer could be high time for the Hurricanes to make an early move to set up for the longer term. The two wild cards are the Hurricanes current injury situation on the blue line and also the impending Seattle expansion draft. With Calvin de Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk both potentially sidelined into the beginning of the 2019-20 season, the Hurricanes might prefer to wait until that schedule shakes out before further depleting the blue line. And the likelihood of losing a defenseman to Seattle in the future maybe encourages the team to just keep its current depth at the position.
Over the next few weeks, I suspect more of the trade rumblings will actually include Brett Pesce and even Jaccob Slavin. I would be absolutely shocked to see Slavin traded and nearly as surprised to see Pesce traded. Both players are young, established and locked in to reasonable long-term contracts. As such, I see both players as being part of the foundation that the organization will build around. As such, I would be surprised to see either included in a trade.
Another interesting part is that the Hurricanes have a few inexpensive players who could be a smaller part of a deal that helps Toronto cut costs but also back fill NHL slots. Brock McGinn is a top 9 forward with a reasonable salary, and when healthy van Riemsdyk could offer a #4/#5 type right shot defenseman at a modest $2.3 million salary cap hit.
Likes and don’t likes
Though I do not think he addresses the Hurricanes top need for another offensive catalyst ideally at center, I really like Kasperi Kapanen just because he is such an incredibly good fit for Brind’Amour’s style.
As a player and with baggage aside, I really like Nazem Kadri because he does address that need. The question for Brind’Amour is whether he thinks he could mesh within the group. If that is a no-go, then I would not compromise on chemistry.
Not so much a like but rather a ‘would do’ would be taking on Patrick Marleau‘s contract if it helps net a good young player for less.
I do not like any trade that includes Jaccob Slavin or Brett Pesce. For me, they are the core on the blue line.
I am not as high on William Karlsson as some. I just think he is riskier. I question whether he is well-rounded enough to be a top 6 type center, and I think his basically $7 million salary is high if he turns out to be only a good complementary player.
I do not at all like taking on Nikita Zaitsev‘s contract regardless of the reward for doing so. The NHL salary cap will come into play in the next few years for the Hurricanes as young forwards exit entry-level deals. Taking on five years of a bad contract is too much.
I will not get overly bogged down on which team needs to sweeten the deal with a draft pick or whatever. The focus is on identifying core components.
Core: Faulk for Kapanen (if Faulk is not part of long-term plan)
Again, chemistry is a consideration, but reasonably soon the Hurricanes have to make a decision on whether Faulk is part of the long-term plan including whether his next contract would fit into the equation. If the answer is that he is not likely to be re-signed before next summer, I think now is the time to sell high on him coming off a better 2018-19 season. I would begrudgingly pull from the blue line strength in trading one year of Faulk for longer-term rights to Kasperi Kapanen.
I would also consider a deal that saw the Hurricanes give up less for Kapanen but also take on Marleau’s contract as part of the deal. As noted above, especially since the out of pocket cost after July 1 would only be $1.25 million, I think the Hurricanes can make this work for a year.
Core: Futures for Kapanen and Marleau
This ends up being a pure salary cap dump for Toronto. The Leafs unload Marleau’s $6.25 million cap hit for the 2019-20 season but have to give up Kapanen to do so and receive only prospects or picks in return.
Core: Faulk + McGinn for Kadri + mid-round pick
The Hurricanes win on term by getting three years of Kadri at a very reasonable price. Toronto nets help for their blue line and a roster NHL forward to back fill for Kadri. Hard to say if the the Leafs would be interested in moving Kadri as his salary is more help than hindrance in terms of salary cap math, but they need help on the blue line. As noted above, the wild card here is how Brind’Amour and management feels about Kadri’s history and personality.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which players from the Maple Leafs would be of greatest interest to you in order of priority?
2) Which Hurricanes players, if any, would you consider trading to Toronto?
3) What do you think about the cores for the couple deals I would consider?
4) Who has proposed deals? Who would just skip Toronto as a trade partner altogether either for lack of interest in available players or a preference to keep the 2018-19 core together?