UPDATE - The Maple Leafs confirmed what was widely reported at the NHL Draft in Vancouver last weekend, the signing of wingers Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson to multi-year contract extensions. Kapanen signed a three-year, $9.6 Million extension ($3.2 Million AAV), while Johnsson has signed a four-year, $13.6 Million extension ($3.4 Million AAV).
The Toronto Maple Leafs enter the weekend prior to the July 1 free agent frenzy with the difficult scenario of getting Mitch Marner signed to a contract extension and at the same time needing to bolster a blueline which at full strength was average at best last season and will be more of a liability with losses in free agency.
The Marner situation appears to be a battle not only of whether the 22-year-old will be paid close to or as much as Auston Matthews or John Tavares, but for how long. Reports indicate that the Leafs would like to get their leading scorer signed to a long-term extension of six-to-eight years, where the Marner camp is looking for a shorter deal of five years (similar to Matthews).
The problem with a shorter deal is that there does not appear to be any benefit for the Leafs in terms of a significantly lower AAV and a five-year deal would have Marner becoming an unrestricted free agent the same summer as Matthews and William Nylander.
In his “31 Thoughts” podcast and an appearance on Fan 590 on Friday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman indicated that a potential solution could be a two-year bridge deal at an AAV of $8 Million per season.
There would be benefits for both sides in this type of deal. The league salary cap of $81.5 Million was lower than expected because the NHLPA was not willing to use the full escalator clause. This is likely to happen again next season in the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement before escrow can be addressed in negotiations for a new CBA, with a healthy increase in the cap for 2021-22 with expansion money from Seattle coming in and a boost of revenue from new US television contracts.
If Marner would be amenable to a bridge, a lower cap hit would allow them the cap flexibility to make upgrades in other areas and improve their chances of being a Stanley Cup contender. With the expected cap increase in two years, GM Kyle Dubas would have more wiggle room to get Marner signed to a number that he is expecting.
For the Marner side, an amount of $8 Million would be unprecedented on a short-term bridge deal (the highest to this point is Nikita Kucherov’s $4.766 Million deal for three years in 2016) and if he puts up another two seasons of leading the Leafs in scoring, it sets the crafty winger up to make more than Matthews or Tavares on a long-term extension.
One factor with potential trades involving the Leafs might be signing bonuses due on July 1. Two-thirds of Nikita Zaitsev’s $4.5 Million salary will be paid as a bonus on Monday, which would make him a $1.5 Million bargain for next season and possibly easier to trade.
William Nylander is being paid $9 Million in the second year of his six-year deal, but $8.3 Million of that is signing bonus, which means he would be owed only $700,000 for 2019-20 if Toronto dealt him after July 1.
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