Quick Leaf Considerations
Some bits and bites on the Leafs for a Tuesday morning:
--Tom Brady's new contract with the New England Patriots, one that pays him half the going rate for star NFL quarterbacks, will have many NFL teams thinking about getting their players to think less about maxing their salaries and more about finding ways to give teams flexibility under the cap. Problem is, of course, that few players have the trust in ownership and management that Brady enjoys with the Patriots.
So what's this got to do with the Leafs? Well, to this point, the Leafs have been one of the better NHL clubs when it comes to managing the cap. They have no forwards north of $5.5 million, and only Dion Phaneuf on the back end ($6.5 million cap hit) comes in above $4.5 million. The cap drops to $64.3 million next season, and right now the Leafs are in a solid position with about $47.1 million committed to 13 players.
The trick will be to successfully maintain cap flexibility as the team improves, assuming it does. Young players will want more, with Nazem Kadri (restricted free agent this summer) at the top of the list. The key will be finding ways to satisfy Phaneuf and winger Phil Kessel (assuming both remain Leafs) after their deals expire after next season. Joffrey Lupul has already signed a five-year cap friendly arrangment, so the tone has been set.
Detroit and New Jersey are two teams that have successfully convinced players to take a little less to stay in successful organizations. Can the Leafs become one of those teams?
--Ben Scrivens hasn't established himself as an NHL starting goalie. Not yet. The sample size is too small.
But Scrivens, at 26, has established himself as an NHL-calibre goaltender, a remarkable story given that it was only 2 1/2 years ago he signed for a $67,500 AHL salary and $90,000 salary bonus as a free agent out of Cornell University. Remember, the Leafs has signed Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson the summer before, in the summer of 2010, were more focussed on getting Jussi Rynnas under contract. Scrivens was an afterthought, and even though he started out a distant fifth on the team's depth chart and far from the NHL on the roster of the ECHL team in Reading, here he is, having outlasted all those who once stood above him in the organization. Impressive.
--Just the Leafs luck. They finally have their act together, it would seem, and now they emerge from years of struggling to find themselves playing in what is currently the NHL's best division, the Northeast. The Leafs, Habs, Bruins and Senators all reside in the top nine of the NHL's overall standings this morning.
--It's popular to say Phaneuf isn't worth the $6.5 million cap hit off a contract he actually signed in Calgary. And maybe that's true. But only four NHL defencemen - Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Mike Green and Ryan Suter - are logging more ice time this season than Phaneuf's average of 26:27. Phaneuf has the sixth highest cap hit among NHL blueliners and nine defencemen will earn more in salary this season. Across the league, 37 players will make more in salary this season, and 32 come with a higher cap hit.
So is Phaneuf overpaid? Maybe. But the comparisons would say not wildly so, particularly given the extra burden he carries as captain, and given what he does for the Leafs on a deal that was signed with another team, they can't be unhappy.
--Mark Fraser is back on top of the NHL plus-minus chart at plus-13 for the season. Most impressively, Fraser is plus-11 on the road. It will be one year tomorrow that the Leafs acquired Fraser from the Anaheim Ducks for forward Dale Mitchell, a deal that at this moment looks very good from a Leaf perspective as Mitchell has left North America and gone to Austria to ply his trade. Why did Anaheim move him? They wanted to dump his small, one-way contract, worth $600,000 this season.
In fact, the Fraser acquisition was barely mentioned at all when it happened. The big news that day for Leafs was trading defenceman Keith Aulie to Tampa for winger Carter Ashton.