NHL Salaries

And yet no one understands the Maple Leafs’ salary cap strategy


The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Montreal Canadiens and suddenly their salary cap strategy went nuts again.

As the Toronto Maple Leafs sailed through the Canadian division, it was a perfect plan that people were finally starting to embrace. But then Tavares got injured, Auston Matthews had the coldest streak of his career, and here they are.

The Leafs have frozen one of, if not the strongest teams in the NHL this year. No team has the depth to replace their injured elite players. In hockey, “depth” means you have more NHL players than you can use. This team has scratched Rasmus Sandin and Nick Robertson and Timothy Liljegren and Travis Dermott and Adam Brooks and Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre Engvall on multiple occasions, so don’t tell me they didn’t have enough money to freeze a great team.

Ignore the President’s near-trophy, division title and injuries and pretend it’s because of that thing you were complaining about a year ago … Lose three games and suddenly you can’t. win by being the smartest team in the NHL. . Your best bet is to do what everyone else is doing and hope you get lucky like the Montreal Canadiens… or something like that.

I’d like to believe people are just emotional, but really, they’ll always go for the lowest fruit, and since the Leafs cap the salary differently than 30 other teams, it’s the lowest fruit there is.

Toronto Maple Leafs and the NHL salary cap

The reason the Leafs’ plan is not only smart, but in fact the way every team should operate is pretty straightforward: In the NHL, it only makes sense to spend money on top players. elite.

About 90% of NHL players contribute between zero and one win over a replacement over a full season. 10% of players contribute between One and Five WAR.

Since non-star players are more or less interchangeable, it doesn’t make sense to pay them more than minimum wage. For example, the real difference between Alex Kerfoot and Pierre Engvall is not enough to justify the difference in their salaries.

Real life isn’t static and players will switch between levels, but this strategy is all about probability: you pay for players who are sure to be elite and try to bet on mid-range guys who can be elite, while going cheap everywhere else.

The main bar to success in the NHL salary cap is overpaying mid-range players. While the Leafs have been lucky with guys like Muzzin and Brodie, it’s the dangerous contracts – not the big ones. Every NHL team except Toronto has bad midrange contracts that hurt them far more than the alleged overpayments the Leafs gave Tavares and Marner.

The Leafs did well despite unpredictable events

If you don’t believe me about the Leafs’ salary cap, consider this: Despite the salary cap not increasing as expected, the Leafs still managed to hire TJ Brodie and make it to the top three teams in the league. the NHL, a team that competed for the President’s Trophy until the last games of the season and entered the playoffs as big favorites.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs devised this strategy, they were betting on an increase in the cap because of gambling, expansion and television. They couldn’t have foreseen a pandemic and a flat cap, but if it hadn’t happened, they would look geniuses right now.

The other thing that took a toll on their strategy was that Mark Hunter’s draft didn’t really produce any NHL players. With a lack of ELC contracts to help them, they were pushed to the limit this year (but again, they still managed to freeze one of the best teams in hockey and were the only team without a single bad touch. ).

In the future, the ceiling will go up. Of course, the NHL lost money during the pandemic, but realistically, the expansion team’s money and the TV deal will have to be shared with the players at some point.

But best of all, the Leafs have a whole bunch of useful entry-level contracts to compensate their expensive players now. Nick Robertson and Rasmus Sandin will be the main players from next season. Timothy Liljegren, Filip Hallander, Topi Niemela, Mikhail Abramov will all be competing for jobs in the training camp.

Ultimately, I realize that most people will continue to criticize anyone who does something different until the proof, in the form of a championship, becomes indisputable. The Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t a perfect team, but they’re on the right track. Replacing vets (Thornton, Simmonds, Bogosian) with children will make them faster, more dynamic and give them a lot more ceiling.

While fans are upset, and rightly so, the Leafs are going to stick to the math and it will pay off.