31 Takes: Maple Leafs need smart GM work now more than ever

A lot of Toronto Maple Leafs fans — at least the noisy ones on Twitter — are very mad at Mitch Marner for going out and getting paid like an elite forward.

He is, of course, an elite forward. The odds that he delivers more value over the life of his contract than any of the other players who got locked into eight-figure AAVs this summer are quite high. But people are mad because RFAs aren’t “supposed to” be paid like UFAs, even if there’s an understanding that giving a 27-year-old $11-plus million over seven years is going to lead to a lot of dead weight on the back end of such a deal.

You’re allowed to love or hate the deal or, now, the player. That’s fine. It does not change the Maple Leafs’ financial reality, which is that they have close to half their entire salary cap tied up in four forwards, all of whom signed since the start of last summer. That changes the math for their success going forward in a very real way.

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Even with a big revenue infusion from a new U.S. TV deal and Seattle’s entry into the league, they’re still going to take up 40-something per cent of the cap at the very least for the life of their collective deals, which run until either 2023-24 (Matthews and Nylander) or 2024-25 (Tavares and Marner). And that’s if the CBA doesn’t change in the months ahead, which we’ll know more about at some point soon.

Tavares, by the way, will be into his mid-30s at the end of the deal, which is not a problem for the rest of these guys.

What it means for the Leafs, and specifically Kyle Dubas and the rest of the front office, is that there is now no more room for mistakes. Every guy on the roster has to deliver on his expected value pretty much every season for the foreseeable future. Which is fine; the new-look Leafs have proven themselves pretty shrewd negotiators, talent identifiers, and so on.

And while no team has a perfect salary cap allocation, it at least feels as though Toronto is inching closer to that, having rid themselves of most of the bad money on its books over the last two summers. If Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur are the worst of it these days (and they absolutely are), you can deal with that. Especially because they’re both off the books after this season.

The problem, obviously, is that apart from Morgan Rielly, the team turns over its entire defence next summer and will have to work hard to retain even one of Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie, let alone both of them. Unless they really buy into taking a discount — which none of Marner, Nylander, Tavares, or Matthews did, as is their obligation to themselves as workers — then things get real tight real fast.

Not that it matters this season. Barring any notable transactions (tradececiforpeanutssobabcockcan’tplayhim23minutesanight) this roster is what the Leafs will go with for 2019-20. And with Marner back in the fold — at any price tag — they should once again be formidable. But unless the team keeps buying up every player in the league who’s spending the rest of his deal on Robidas Island, the numbers start to get real tricky real quick.

Because the team has done such a good job attracting, developing, and retaining talent of late, Dubas just signed himself up for a job in which he has to hit at least three home runs next summer.

It’s a nice problem to have when you employ three of the 10 best forward talents in the league, but the trickle-down of those problems demands borderline perfection for several years to come.

Kyle Dubas and the Leafs have no more room for mistakes. (CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)
Kyle Dubas and the Leafs have no more room for mistakes. (CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

31 Takes

Anaheim Ducks: That Kesler contract is one of the worst given out in the cap era.

Arizona Coyotes: Man, if you say so.

Boston Bruins: Charlie McAvoy coming in cheaper than Zach Werenski is insane but hey, the Bruins aren’t complaining. McAvoy is significantly better than Werenski, especially at 5-on-5.

Buffalo Sabres: Tage Thompson spent the summer eating between 3,000 and 5,000 calories a day. That’s like that diet The Rock eats where he just consumes like half a school of fish and a whole rice paddy every day.

Calgary Flames: I’m crying. They’re beautiful.

Carolina Hurricanes: Nice to have more NHL-calibre players than you have NHL roster spots. Not always the case in Carolina over the past several years.

Chicago: ………. cool.

Colorado Avalanche: Sorry to Hughes and Kakko but this is your frontrunner for rookie of the year.

Columbus Blue Jackets: I really don’t get it with all this, but okay.

Dallas Stars: Great start for the “Corey Perry isn’t washed” train everyone tried to fire up this summer.

Detroit Red Wings: Bro I love to put the cart before the horse.

Edmonton Oilers: Connor, I’m begging you, demand a trade.

Florida Panthers: I tend to agree with the sentiment here and I’m still like, “maybe don’t say this kind of thing right now.”

Los Angeles Kings: It will indeed be interesting to see where Todd McLellan puts Ilya Kovalchuk in the lineup. He might be washed but he also had two bad coaches last season, so maybe not?

Minnesota Wild: I like that Jared Spurgeon is the highest-paid player in Wild history by AAV and I think he’s really good but that’s a lot of term for a guy who’s gonna be 30 in November.

Montreal Canadiens: I mean, Honka can’t be worse than the bottom of their defence right now, can he?

Nashville PredatorsThis will be interesting to keep an eye on: Seems like there are more super-old players in the league than ever, and even a lockout-shortened season could torpedo their careers.

New Jersey Devils: This is a very real question the Devils have to ask themselves every time they lose this season. Very smart take here.

New York Islanders: How exactly is Mat Barzal going to score like he did before Trotz arrived with those linemates?

New York Rangers: Is it because they’re definitely going to trade him?

Ottawa Senators: You really can’t make it up anymore.

Philadelphia Flyers: *pronouncing it like “Joel Embiid”* Joel Farabee.

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is what happens if you make your team trade Phil Kessel.

San Jose Sharks: Is the motivation, “I still want to be an NHL player after this season,” because…

St. Louis Blues: At least the NHL is getting closer to being the NBA in that star players don’t re-sign a year before their contracts are up. Soon, we might never have to hear about how that’s a “distraction” again.

Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s also cool that we’re less than five years away from teams’ advertising campaigns being, “This sport is almost totally random, just show up and see what happens.” I should say: I think that’s cool.

Toronto Maple Leafs: “The guy who just signed for the seventh-highest cap hit in the league and will be a UFA again before he’s 30 blew it big time!!!!!” is some kind of take.

Vancouver Canucks: Things are going great for Jake Virtanen.

Vegas Golden Knights: I think there’s a real good chance Max Pacioretty goes off for 30-plus goals this year. This is my prediction.

Washington Capitals: The Capitals are still over the salary cap and have to make a trade but few will discuss this.

Winnipeg Jets: This is cool, actually.

Play of the Weekend

First period of the first pre-season game of the year and we have a legit Save of the Year candidate. You gotta love it.

Gold Star Award

There was a pre-season game last night. What a time to be alive!!!!!

Minus of the Weekend

I’m sorry but this jersey is freakin’ awful after how good their thirds were last year.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “avsfan9” seems confused.

AVS: Carey Price

Habs: Bowen Byram

Phillip Grubauer

2020 first round pick

Signoff

Milhouse what’s going on? You said you just needed to use the bathroom, now I find you buying comics?


Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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