We’re into the dog days of summer now, but these quiet days make for plenty of speculation amongst fans and insiders alike.
Last night, Elliotte Friedman appeared on NHL Tonight and tossed around the idea of the Leafs being interested in Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin. 2017-18 saw Panarin put up a career-best 82 points in 81 games (27G 55A) with the Blue Jackets, though Panarin has also made it known that he is not willing to negotiate an extension with the Blue Jackets, meaning that one of two scenarios are possible: Panarin plays out the 2018-19 season with Columbus before becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent, or he is traded.
So now, the question that is always posed is asked once more…
How Does This Affect The Leafs?
Particularly with the acquisition of John Tavares this summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs have entered Win Now mode. It’s official.
A trade to acquire Artemi Panarin, if cheap enough, would put an already hilarious group of forwards thoroughly over the top for next season. Beyond what any other team could hope to compete with. Full-stop.
Beyond that, there’s the aforementioned fact that Panarin has just one year remaining on his $6M AAV deal, meaning that the Leafs could use him as a season-long rental before letting him walk when they need to allocate that money towards their budding stars like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Panarin As A Leaf, At A Glance:
Look at this beautiful cap-compliant forward group!
This hypothetical includes a $6M annual cap hit for current RFA William Nylander, with Panarin slotting in on the “first-line” left wing, while Zach Hyman drops down to a beautifully annoying shutdown line with Nazem Kadri and Kasperi “That’s Kappy” Kapanen.
This team would also still possess $2,700,000, without Nathan Horton going to LTIR.
The downside to this is, of course, the fact that the Big Three will likely all have big seasons playing with this cast of forwards, and thus will all likely hit their performance bonuses. Which is great; success is something we should want.
However, the added bonuses would likely easily exceed this year’s salary cap, thus resulting in Nathan Horton having to hit LTIR once again. Once that’s said and done, this year’s bonuses would be applied to next year’s salary cap, per the CBA, thus making things dicier once the Leafs will be paying all of the Big Three the Big Bucks.
TL;DR: Can the Leafs make it work cap-wise? Yes. Without future risk? Not likely.
The above risks, of course, hypotheticals. What’s not a hypothetical is that the Leafs remain scary thin on the back end. An injury or an off-season to a defenseman could spell real trouble, even with the stacked group they already boast up front. At the end of the day, the Leafs would be wise to be shopping for an affordable steady defenseman to bolster the back end if Kyle Dubas is looking to make any moves at this time.
We can dream about Artemi Panarin. We can have fun. After all, it’s the offseason. That being said, even Silly Season must be approached with caution and a more balanced outlook. While Artemi Panarin as a Toronto Maple Leaf would likely lead to an even greater explosion of offense, the cap implications and risks on defense could spell danger.