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The Maple Leafs Being Hit Hard by Flat Salary Cap Era

Are there any free agent players willing to sign with the Leafs for a one year deal at team-friendly cap hit?

How many of the NHL teams hardest hit by the flat salary cap era are supposed contenders for the 2021 Stanley Cup? Are the Maple Leafs part of a group that includes the St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburg Penguins, and Washington Capitals?

Are there any UFA’s, including RFA’s players not receiving a qualified offer and players bought out of their contracts, that are willing to bet on himself by signing a one-year team-friendly deal with a 2021 Stanley Cup contender? Do any of these players consider the Toronto Maple Leafs to be a contender?  

It Happened in 2003 When Kariya Signed with the Avalanche

In 2003 the NHL was in the pre-salary cap era. The NHLPA’s agreement to a hard salary cap based on hockey related revenue, which resolved the lockout that cancelled the entire 2004/05 season, started in 2005/06.

Much like we have seen in the days leading up to the start of free agency in 2020, in 2003 the Anaheim Ducks did not offer a qualifying offer to RFA center Paul Kariya. The decision made by then Ducks GM Bryan Murray gave Kariya UFA status.

Coincidently, Kariya’s close friend and Ducks’ teammate Teemu Selanne had a player option to re-sign with Anaheim. Selanne’s decision to decline his option to re-sign with the Ducks gave him the same UFA status given to his close friend Kariya.

A Kariya/Selanne collaboration resulted in both of them signing with the Colorado Avalanche. Kariya placed a huge bet on himself, and the Avalanche, when he signed for $1.0 million, 88% less than he made the previous year.

Pierre-Luc Dubois hat trick versus Maple Leafs
Pierre-Luc Dubois helps eliminate Maple Leafs

There is a parallel between the 2002/03 Avalanche season that ended before Kariya signed and the 2019/20 Leafs. Both exited the playoffs when eliminated by a lower seeded team in the first round. Colorado lost to the Minnesota Wild. The Leafs lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Sometimes It Works Out, Sometimes It Doesn’t

The Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas declared he is working hard to add pieces that will take the team to the next level. He wants the Leafs to be incredibly hard to play against. It’s the Leafs bottom six forwards and defense that need to better compliment the highly skilled core of the top six.

Related: Mitch Marner: An Indispensable Piece of the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Has the view of players around the NHL changed since the fall of 2018 when many saw the Maple Leafs as a contender for the Stanley Cup? For some, maybe it has. For others, maybe it hasn’t.

The Leafs don’t need to add players possessing Kariya’s skill. They do need a player, like Kariya, who has enough confidence to bet on himself, and one that believes the probability is high that the Leafs are a contender for the 2021 Stanley Cup.

The 2004 playoffs did not go as Kariya, and Selanne, had hoped. The Ducks were eliminated in the second round by the San Jose Sharks. Like we just saw in 2020, the Lightning won the 2004 Stanly Cup.

In the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs things did work out for Brad Richards. Bought out by the New York Rangers, Richards signed a one-year, $2.0 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. His previous contract with the Rangers had a $6.67 million cap hit. It was a good bet by Richards; the Blackhawks won the 2015 Stanley Cup.

Any Free Agents Willing to Bet on Themselves, and Sign with the Leafs?

There are a number of free agent players GM Dubas could add to the Leafs bottom six forwards and defense that would make them incredibly harder to play against since the assembly of Matthews, Tavares, Marner, and Nylander was completed.

Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner - NHL Trade Rumors
Maple Leafs Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner

The motivation by the player might be an inkling that they are worth more than the flat cap era allows teams to pay them. They may believe things will be different in a year or two, and that’s when they can look forward to cashing in on a nice salary with term.

Conversely, the motivation may be linked to having limited years left in their career. They may see the Leafs as a 2021 Stanley Cup contender. They may have made a boatload of money already and deeply want to be a part of the team they were raised to love. They may want to be a part of the next ’67 team, and the legacy that follows.

Who Are Some of the Names Where There May Be a Mutual Interest?

Wayne Simmonds is already on-board. He signed a one-year deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. He is exactly the type of player Dubas wanted to sign.

Cory Perry: A Peterborough lad to line-up alongside Scarborough’s born and raised Simmonds. What is the hold-up here? It’s a 2020/21 match made in Leafs Nation heaven. Is it Dubas, or is it Perry? I have a hard time believing these two parties are not talking to each other. Come on boys, get the deal done.

TJ Brodie collapses during Flames practice
TJ Brodie has been on Leafs radar

T.J. Brodie: An Ontario boy from Chatham. He’s well aware of the legacy that will come to those who suit up for a Leafs team that wins the Stanley Cup. Brodie’s experience and skill would be a good fit to play on the defense top four. And we know they previously had interest in him when looking to trade Nazem Kadri.   

Trevor van Riemsdyk: He’s not a local boy. He’s not even Canadian. But James played for the Leafs and the younger sibling must have some good memories from his brother’s time in Toronto. Surely there are some emotional strings to tug on here. A right shot defenseman standing 6’ 2” tall. He’s had shoulder issues that caused him to exit the 2019 playoffs before the Carolina Hurricanes were done. He was also in and out of the Hurricanes during the 2020 playoffs. He seems to fit the profile of a player who may want to bet on himself, for one-year.

The players listed above are only a few of the candidates/possibilities for the Leafs to sign during this 2020 free agent season. It’s an interesting time in the NHL. There are a lot of UFA players looking for a job. The supply may be greater than the demand. It may be the perfect storm for the Maple Leafs to find one or more players who are willing to bet on themselves while the Leafs are willing to do the same.

Next: Maple Leafs Kyle Dubas Must Waiver to Pursue Alex Pietrangelo

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