With the Toronto Maple Leafs signing defenceman Mark Fraser to a one-year, $1.275 million contract, the franchise finds itself in an immense squeeze with just under $4.6 million in cap space left to sign two key restricted free agents in Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri.
The Leafs, as well as representatives from both sides, have suggested they are not close to a deal with either player.
We know the difficulty that comes with assessing Kadri’s value.
He was a top-10 performer for much of the year and finished just outside the top-20 in scoring. It was a shortened season so assessing if he can sustain that level of success is tricky.
A new wrinkle showed up in assessing Franson’s worth. The Jets just signed defenceman Zach Bogosian to a seven-year, $36 million contract — which could be a comparable for Franson’s agent.
Both players fulfilled similar roles last season with Bogosian averaging just over four more minutes per game in ice-time, while Franson played playing 12 more games.
For argument’s sake, if Franson settles on a high $3 million salary, and Kadri gets somewhere around the same, the Leafs will need to make a move to accommodate both players under the cap.
They could move Franson if they could yield a decent return in a trade but so far there has been no movement on that front.
Last season, Franson and Fraser found chemistry that brought the best out of both players. They were a pairing head coach Carlyle wouldn’t break up. Once they started playing together, they weren’t separated until Fraser took a puck to the face in the playoffs, forcing him to sit out for the rest of the series.
Now that the Leafs’ last arbitration case was settled, they have an opportunity (should they choose to take it) to create cap room by way of a regular, non-compliance buyout.
That window starts the morning of Aug. 2 and will expire on the morning of Aug .4. In that time, they could very well decide to buy out the remainder of Liles’ contract should they not be able to find a taker for his services.
Liles fell out of favour with Carlyle last season. At one point, Liles spent a career-high 12 straight games sitting in the press box, waiting to play.
At a cap hit of $3,875,000 for the next three seasons, the Leafs have a plethora of defencemen ready to play, as well others in the system. While a traditional buyout may be a route that teams will try to avoid, the Leafs could be left with no choice.
The Leafs could try to trade Liles while retaining part of his salary, but they have to try and find a willing partner and a lot of teams are squeezed for cap space, just like the Leafs are.
If Toronto can’t pull off another move, they only have until Aug. 4 to pull the trigger on a traditional buyout.
They would pay Liles two-thirds of his remaining balance owed and his cap hit to the team would be $1,291,666.67 annually for six years. This would, however, give the Leafs an additional $2,583,333.33 in cap space for this season, which would give them just under $7.2 million to work with.
There is no doubt the Leafs would need to dip into a majority of that cap savings if they have any intention of retaining both Franson and Kadri.