Cap crunch: Toronto Maple Leafs amnesty buyout options

As published by James Mirtle at the Globe’s website yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs have 13 players signed for $41.5M for the 2013-14 season. General belief is that the cap should fall around $60M, so that gives the Leafs plenty of space going forward in efforts to sign some good hockey players.

Whether or not the Leafs actually spend the money on good hockey players, well that’s another discussion. One of the ideas that’s been discussed to help teams at the top end of the chart comply with the smaller cap is an amnesty buyout that counts against the players’ share of hockey-related revenue but not the salary cap. Now, it seems, there’s the possibility of two amnesty buyouts per team.

So how does this help Toronto? Well, not all that much, since the Leafs don’t have a lot of players signed on long deals, as I’ll show below. The main reason this helps the Leafs is that if there are two amnesty buyouts, it could lead to a much bigger pool of free agents. Remember, just because hockey players are overpaid, don’t mean they’re bad.

Who are Toronto’s buyout candidates? Well…

Here’s how the team stacks up for contracts, according to Capgeek, over the next few years. Note that this is in player salaries not average adjusted value:

  2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Grabovski $6,000,000.00 $6,000,000.00 $5,000,000.00 $4,500,000.00  
Kessel $5,400,000.00        
van Riemsdyk $3,750,000.00 $4,500,000.00 $4,750,000.00 $5,000,000.00 $5,000,000.00
Kulemin $3,000,000.00        
McClement $1,500,000.00        
Frattin $950,000.00        
Brown $725,000.00        
Phaneuf $5,500,000.00        
Komisarek $3,500,000.00        
Liles $4,250,000.00 $4,250,000.00 $2,750,000.00    
Gardiner $875,000.00        
Reimer $1,600,000.00        
Scrivens $625,000.00        

Only Mikhail Grabovski, James van Riemsdyk and John-Michael Liles are signed beyond the 2014 season, which means the Leafs have a lot of green to work for their next rebuild and spending spree.

Who would you buyout among that group? I think Grabovski and van Riemsdyk are partially off the table. We’ll see what the salary cap looks like for 2015, but if the NHL is determinant on keeping it set for 2014 to a lower number, there’s the possibility of it jumping up in the third year of the CBA. It’s therefore hard to guess whether a top centreman like Grabovski deserves $6M, like he would under the previous CBA.

As for van Riemsdyk, his deal is long, but it doesn’t look particularly problematic. I wouldn’t be opposed to looking at it again once we get a better sense of the rules, but if there are amnesty buyouts to be had, I’d rather concentrate on the defence:

John-Michael Liles

This deal was a disaster from the moment it was signed. Liles cost the Leafs a second round pick and it was a good trade at the time, for a year of a middle-aged player you could potentially re-sign during the year for cheapness and stability. Unfortunately, he got concussed during the first half of the season when the Leafs had a pretty good run and it looked, to an outsider anyway, like a core you’d want to keep together for some years. Liles wasn’t particularly good coming back from his concussion, finishing fourth among TOI per game, fifth in quality of competition and fourth in Corsi [BTN]. This is a deal that’s simply too large for a fourth defenceman.

Mike Komisarek

With Komisarek, the Leafs would be buying out a single year of the deal, but if it’s an amnesty buyout that doesn’t count against the cap, it may be worth looking into to shed as much salary prior to making a big pitch to Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf, sure to be two of the biggest names on the free agent market next summer. Komisarek turned from an All-Star defenceman playing alongside Andrei Markov to a player who went below 12 minutes a night in 2011, putting up consecutive seasons of gaudy puck possession numbers and is the most liable among his defensive group to take penalties. In an era where the Jake Gardiners and Morgan Riellys of the world roam free from their own end, Komisarek is an anachronism, a relic of the days when defencemen could get away from being big and tough.

Dion Phaneuf

No-go. If the Leafs can re-sign their captain on a somewhat cheaper contract it could be a big win for the franchise and establish a modicum of continuity between the first Brian Burke era and whatever follows, whether it be the second Brian Burke era or with somebody else at the helm. Phaneuf’s a good defenceman who plays top minutes and that ought to continue for three or four or five years. I think you want to be able to convince to young players coming to Toronto that it’s a place you can plan on sticking around.

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  • BarnYardBarry

    The leafs are in a decent position going into this new deal. On the other hand I’ve been following some Canuck fans and they seem to think there in great shape I remember how Chicago bled deep when there roaster was gutted.

  • BarnYardBarry

    There’s a good case to made for Liles: hes on the books for a while, for a lot of money and he doesn’t fit into the direction the team’s headed. I’d like to see him bought out,.

    I do wonder a bit about Grabovski, though, especially if the cap goes down. That’s a big deal and it’s a long one, too.

  • BarnYardBarry

    If the final contracts stipulates two contract amnesties the Leafs should be looking to deal. Given their great financial resources (further increased since the proposed new CBA) the Leafs could also take on a large salary from a team looking to shed salary but can’t afford a buy out.