The Cap vs. The Leafs, The sad reality

The salary cap is more of a harsh reality than some people realize. I will use the Leafs as an example because they are the most oft-discussed team around here and the team I am most familiar with.

The first thing to understand is that teams probably shouldn’t just “race to the cap” level of 39 million. If you have come up with a fantasy Leafs team that totals out at 39 million, you should probably erase your spreadsheet now. I have no doubt that the Leafs can, and will spend 39 million a year but you need some room to move!

What about injuries? There are some injury provisions on the cap for injuries, no doubt. Are they enough to protect a team with no cap space left though? What about trades? What happens, if the Leafs somehow *are* in contention near the trade deadline? With no cap room there is nothing they can do to get a key final piece. Trade deadlines may not be as exciting from now on, but there WILL be buyers and sellers… if you cap out, you are in tough shape. Consider the problems the Raptors have had for a couple years… ‘nuff said.

You also can’t just “buy out” all your veterans and let all your free agents go. You need to ice a team at some point and, while there may be *some* upgrades, it is not like you can dump everyone and upgrade everywhere. Also, all your unsigned guys are not signing for the league minimum. A *few* may stay in Toronto for that, but others will receive some interest from other teams. Think Ottawa wouldn’t love to have a Gary Roberts?! Think there are not more than a few teams that would like to have Joe Nieuwendyk around for a little more than the minimum? Even Tie Domi has been courted by Lemieux. Laugh all you want, but if you watched the Flyers/Leafs series last year, you would know that Domi *can* actually be an effective player. Not much is coming from the farm. Two players perhaps, 3 players at the very outside.

I expect that you will see the Leafs take one more crack this year with the same basic core as last year… Next year a lot of interesting free agents will be around. I think they plan on trying to make 1 (read: ONE!) major aquisition then. With all this in mind, I am betting the Leafs Roster would look something like this:

O’Neil (2) Sundin (6.3) Mogilny (1.5) (health is the obvious question)

Tucker (1.6) Nieuwendyk (1.0-1.5) Roberts (1.0-1.5)

Ponikarovski (.6) Antropov (1.2) Wellwood (.45)

Kilger (.45) stajan (.8) Domi (1.0)

Kaberle (2.2) McCabe (3.45)

Colaiacovo (.8) Klee (1.9)

Pliar (.5-.75) Berg (.5-.75)

Belfour (4.6)

Tellqvist (.45)

Think about it, they lose Nolan and Leetch. They pick up only Jeff O’neil, by no means a franchise player… and the total payroll is already 32.3 – 33.8!

Maybe they get one more D-man for a couple million… but who is much better available that they can afford? If they want to come in around 35-36 million to leave themselves some CRITICAL wiggle room, they might have another 1.7-3.2 maybe to spend. If Mogilny retires, maybe they spend his salary + that money on Satan or Kariya? Maybe they drop an Antropov and take a gamble on Allison or Lindros at around the same price or a little more?

The point is, there are no franchise players coming to the Leafs this year. Forget Neidermayer (unless they buyout McCabe, get lucky with their free agent signings, replace Mogilny cheap etc etc. etc… ain’t happening), Forget Pronger (they have nothing to offer St. Louis). Forget Bertuzzi, Forget Naslund, forget trading up to get Anaheim’s pick… forget ALL your big dreams. They will compete this year, maybe even seriously (if they get real lucky with injuries)… but they won’t win.

Next year, there will be a lot more changes… but don’t expect Thornton + Hossa + etc. etc. … at 39 million you just cant afford more than one or two big names and buy the rest of a team that can compete. The cap changes everything. We will need to accept that.