BOSTON - The cap will fall to $64 million next season and Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis wants to be prepared for the fallout this summer.
"With this situation it's the first time where teams are going to have to look to cut back and to pare maybe off their current roster or buy people out or not qualify [them]," Nonis explained, following the GM meetings in Boston on Wednesday afternoon. "From that standpoint it's going to be a different summer."
Nonis wants to be prepared to take advantage. While he and the Leafs still have a number of significant free agents still to sign or decide on, the opportunity to capitalize on those teams bumping up against the cap or in salary peril is one that the Toronto general manager clearly wants to be ready for, careful to allocate dollars in the coming months.
If a rival team is forced to shed a significant asset because of the cap, Nonis wants to be in position to strike and thus improve his current roster. "You want to make sure that you have the flexibility to act on an opportunity if it does present itself," he said. "The cap coming down is going to play a significant role. There's no way around that."
Toronto has nearly $19 million in cap space available for the coming season with Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson and Tyler Bozak among the most prominent still to sign.
"We haven't moved along very far with any of our [unrestricted free agents] or [restricted free agents]," Nonis said, "but we'll probably pick up some dialogue, in terms of frequency, in the next week or so. We have to evaluate what we have and what may be available and obviously there's the issue of the cap coming down which I don't think can be understated."
Pinning a proper price-point and term, especially in the case of Kadri and Bozak, could prove challenging.
"It's two-fold," Nonis said of the process for determining their value. "One is how good you think that they are. Is there room for improvement? And that'll dictate how much money you think you're willing to pay them. And then the term is how long are they going to keep at that level?
"[Then] there's the cap issue," he continued. "We want to make sure that we have the ability to take advantage of opportunities that come your way and if you don't have any cap space, you're locked into players that may be eating too much of that cap space and then you're going to put yourself in a difficult situation."
While they signed Colton Orr to a modest two-year deal recently, the Leafs could free up some of that cap space in the days ahead by utilizing one or perhaps both of their compliance buyouts, almost certain in the case of veteran defender Mike Komisarek, who concluded this season in the American Hockey League. Nonis called the likelihood of such a move, while not specific to Komisarek, a "distinct possibility".
As for speculation that the Leafs could be in the hunt for a goaltender, perhaps Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, Nonis rehashed a familiar refrain. "My position hasn't changed," he said. "We're going to look to upgrade at every position. It doesn't mean that we're unhappy with the people we have at centre, at wing, or in net. I think its incumbent upon every team to look at what's available and if there's an ability to improve you look to do it.
"I think our goaltending was solid last year," he continued. "It's not a situation where we feel compelled to do something, but if there's an opportunity to improve then we'll look to do it."
Having lost Dallas Eakins to the Edmonton Oilers, Nonis said he also expected to have a head coach in place for the Toronto Marlies by July 1.