TORONTO — You won’t be getting an apology from Kyle Dubas.
To any of the cash flow-challenged, smaller-market teams who don’t like the way the Toronto Maple Leafs flex their financial muscle come contract time, the general manager says this: Deal with it.
Toronto’s unrivalled ability to front-load contracts with hefty signing bonuses helped secure new deals for Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson on Friday. Those were signed before either player could test the waters for an offer sheet and came in at a reasonable $6.6-million in total — tremendous value when you consider that it’s only a hair more than the since-departed Patrick Marleau would have cost them next season.
Had the Leafs not been comfortable forking over exactly 65 per cent of both deals in July 1 bonus payments, they likely would have had more difficulty getting them done so quickly and at such competitive annual values.
Rivals will look on with envy … or something worse.
However, in Dubas’s eyes, it’s no different than the Florida-based teams trumping up their favourable tax status when chasing free agents or some of the NHL’s smaller-market clubs boasting about their low cost of living.
“We’re pretty fortunate in terms of the revenue that we’re able to draw in,” he said. “So I think for us to sit back and have the taxation argument used against us, but then not to be able to use any advantages that we have would be foolish on our part. I hear people bicker about it and make comments about it, but other teams aren’t apologizing for using taxation or cost of living to aid their argument.
“So I don’t think we should apologize either. And we won’t.”
Johnsson’s $13.6-million, four-year extension will see $8.8 million paid out across four signing bonuses. The first one arrives Monday and is valued at $4.3 million. That’s a bonanza for a guy who had $1.37 million in career NHL earnings to this point, according to capfriendly.com.
Kapanen’s $9.6-million, three-year deal includes $6.24 million in bonuses. The first cheque arrives Monday and is worth $3.7 million — more than double the $1.8 million he pulled in while playing 133 career NHL games these last four years.
“I think it’s a good way of doing it,” said Kapanen, and it’s hard to imagine any of his 800 peers would disagree.
The only problem is that a small handful of teams would be willing to do it for second-line players on RFA deals. Therein lies Toronto’s advantage.
The practice of regularly handing out signing bonuses dates back to Lou Lamoriello’s tenure as Leafs GM — they were included in 2016 extensions for Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly, among several others — but they’ve gone to a whole new level since Dubas took over.
More than 90 per cent of the total value of contracts given to John Tavares and Auston Matthews will be paid in bonuses, with that pair due to receive in excess of $30 million combined on Monday alone.
That can be a tremendous advantage for players, who get to reap the benefits when making personal investments but are also protected in case of a lockout because those payments wouldn’t be halted during a season affected by a work stoppage.
Where it also benefits the Leafs is that the players become more tradable once their bonuses are paid out. It’s not a coincidence that Toronto was able to move Matt Martin to the New York Islanders last July 3 — two days after he received a $1.5-million cheque.
Similarly, it’s reasonable to expect that trade action will pick up around Nikita Zaistev once he’s cashed his $3-million bonus on Monday. In terms of actual money due, he becomes a $3.9-million player for the remaining five years of his deal at that point.
The Leafs may be feeling the salary cap squeeze right now, but they’ve also been able to keep some of their recent contracts lower because they don’t have to battle over the structure once the overall framework is agreed upon. They’ve found players willing to make some financial concessions in exchange for signing-bonus payouts.
“Some of it is to do with the present value of money and they’re willing to forego some of the average if the bonus structure is split up in various different ways,” said Dubas. “For us, we get it used against as a lot — like the taxation part of it: ‘If you play elsewhere, you play in the lower tax bracket.’ Other teams use that.
“We’re fortunate here because of our fanbase and because of the coverage and because of our corporate partners.”
The players certainly appreciate it.
Johnsson plans to buy an apartment in his hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden, with a balcony or rooftop space now that he’s got a new contract. The up-front money will make it possible. Kapanen acknowledged that he’ll probably be refreshing his bank account on July 1 until his signing-bonus money arrives.
“I’m excited about that, too,” he said.