The William Nylander saga finally concluded last week with the Toronto Maple Leafs signing the 22-year-old to a six-year extension, worth $41.77 million.
It was a relief for many Leafs' fans to see number 29 back in uniform. But moving forward there is still plenty of work to be done for general manager Kyle Dubas and the management staff.
This includes contract negotiations with pending restricted free agents Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The after-effects of those contracts may force the team to make some tough decisions with other roster players.
Here is a look at what might happen in the near future and which players might be gone after this season.
As of now, the Leafs have a projected cap-hit of $56,275,699 next year, committed to 12 players. When the cap-ceiling increases to $83,000,000, this will leave them with about $26,000,000 to fill out the rest of their roster.
With their young-stars (Matthews, Marner, Nylander) being locked up to long-term deals as the main priority:
1. Auston Matthews
Matthews is the most obvious place to start. A key franchise player for the Leafs for years to come. Given his upside and what he has accomplished so far, we can expect him to sign a long-term deal anywhere from $9,500,000 to $11,000,000 (similar to John Tavares) per year.
It is still uncertain what Matthew’s exact cap-hit will be, but somewhere around the $10,000,000 mark might be a good estimate.
2. Mitch Marner
Mitch Marner is another focal point of the Leafs’ franchise going forward. He is having an incredible season and is on pace to set a new career-high in points.
A cap-hit similar to Nylander’s $6,962,366 may be in place.
But if Marner does hit the 85-90 point plateau this season he might be able to demand even more. Nonetheless, a $7,000,000 to $8,000,000 cap-hit should be a good estimate for Marner from 2020 and beyond.
With that said, the budget for the Leafs will be very tight moving forward and here is a look at some of the key concerns.
Other questions to ask
Will the Leafs bring back Jake Gardiner?
Jake Gardiner will be turning 29 next year and is likely looking for a long-term contract to cash in on his prime.
The Minnesota native would likely cost the Leafs around $6 million per season for the next five to seven years. Whether the Leafs can fit him onto their roster is another question.
Obviously, a lot of that depends on how much Matthews and Marner sign for. Another factor would be if the cap increases to $83,000,000 as mentioned by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Otherwise, Gardiner might be a cap casualty or could just simply leave to another team willing to offer more money.
What will the Leafs do with Patrick Marleau?
As of now, Patrick Marleau comes at a $6,250,000 cap-hit for one more season. But he is 39-years-old and is in the twilight of his career.
In a lot of ways moving out Marleau’s contract will give the Leafs a little more financial freedom to take care of other priorities, like getting Jake Gardiner signed.
Since Marleau is over 35, there will be little cap relief if he gets bought out.
The best situation might be for a cap-floor team to take on his contract, and the Leafs could possibly bring him back on a cheaper deal (similar to what Brooks Orpik and the Washington Capitals did last summer).
But obviously that is easier said than done, and whether the Leafs want to bring Marleau back next season is another question.
Who will stay or and who will go?
Aside from the players mentioned above, the Leafs will have to make some tough decisions with players like Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Igor Ozhiganov and Garret Sparks, who all become RFA's after this season.
Meanwhile, players like Ron Hainsey, Tyler Ennis, Par Lindholm, and Martin Marincin will become pending UFA's.
Out of everyone on that list, names like Kapanen and Johnsson might be the main priority for the Leafs to re-sign. Aside from that, players like Hainsey, Ennis, Lindholm, and Marincin may be gone after this season.
Looking further down the road
If we look further into the future, players like Connor Brown and Travis Dermott will need new deals after 2020, making things even more complicated.
Meanwhile, a player like Zach Hyman may be too expensive ($2,250,000) to keep on their roster after this season.
Needless to say, it is very difficult for the Leafs to keep their current roster intact from 2019 and beyond. Aside from players like Tavares, Matthews, Marner, and Nylander, the surrounding core could look very different in the next few seasons.
Do you think Matthews’ and Marner’s next contracts will cripple the Leafs’ financial future? Who will stay and who will go? Let us know in the comment section below.