- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Re-signing Cody Franson obviously makes the Toronto Maple Leafs a better team. But the moment the one-year, $2 million deal was agreed upon late Wednesday night, it also created a bit of salary-cap hell for the Blue and White.
According to capgeek.com, the Leafs sit at $64.816 million with 23 players, a bit above the $64.3 million cap. Mind you, it’s really tough to put a precise number on things until you see who gets demoted and who makes the team.
Either way, things are tight with Toronto's cap.
So what now? No question there will be trade talks, but it’s a tough time of year to move money with teams cutting down to opening-day rosters.
"Believe me, they’ll be getting lots of calls from teams now," a rival team executive told ESPN.com on Thursday, "but they won’t be getting any favors."
The Leafs have until Monday to get cap compliant before opening day.
Toronto could pull it off without necessarily having to trade anyone, but it would mean beginning the season with a thin roster, likely around 20 players. That’s because David Clarkson’s $5.25 million cap hit stays on the books for the duration of his 10-game, 24-day suspension.
The better route would be to pull off some cap-relieving trade with another team.
The guy the Leafs would love to move is veteran blueliner John-Michael Liles, but given that he has three years left at a $3.875 million cap hit, there may not be a market out there for him unless the Leafs eat part of his deal or move another asset with him to entice a trade.
It just so happens that the Calgary Flames are now run by former Leafs GM Brian Burke (now president of hockey operations in Calgary), who brought Liles to Toronto to begin with. And the Flames have oodles of cap space.
Thing is, why would a rebuilding Flames have any interest in a veteran player at this point? They likely wouldn't unless the Leafs were willing to throw in a young player in the mix, such as Joe Colborne. His name has been in the rumor mill of late, and he’s the kind of young center the Flames could use.
If the Leafs don’t see anything that makes sense trade-wise, they can pull off the math gymnastics by demoting a few players Sunday, like Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser.
In the previous collective bargaining agreement, the Leafs could have solved this with one stroke by sending Liles and his big salary down to the AHL and it wouldn’t count against the cap. But after what happened to Wade Redden in the previous CBA when the veteran blueliner was stuck in the AHL for a couple of years so the Rangers could hide his cap hit, the league and NHLPA changed the rule. Now, the only cap savings from sending a player like Liles down would be $925,000. But the Leafs may well do that anyway.
Either way, Sunday should prove to be an interesting day around the NHL, because the Leafs are hardly alone around the league in being up against the cap. A number of teams have some tough decisions to make, and it will involve putting players on waivers that they would much rather not lose with the hope they get to the AHL and aren’t claimed.
Other teams with cap room will no doubt sit back Sunday and see who’s available in that regard. So watching who gets claimed off Monday’s waiver report will be just as fascinating.
In the end, while the Franson signing gives Toronto cap fits for now, it’s a no-brainer decision. He was arguably their second-best defenseman last season, his 29 points tied for sixth among NHL defensemen.
Credit both sides for giving in to make the deal happen. The Leafs said they wanted no fewer than two years for term, and it was important for Franson to do a one-year deal so he can get a better deal next summer when the cap goes up. The Leafs gave in on term, but Franson took way less money than market value. He wanted around $3.5 million and settled for $2 million. The Leafs get a real bargain for one year.
Franson, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, just adds to Toronto’s offseason list of chores, as contracts for Dion Phaneuf (UFA), Phil Kessel (UFA), James Reimer (RFA), Dave Bolland (UFA) and emerging blueliner Jake Gardiner (RFA) are also expiring at the end of the season.
Right now, though, it’s all about figuring out the cap before Monday’s roster deadline.
Take out your calculators, folks.
8dScott Burnside and Craig Custance