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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter

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With the biggest ticket item still to solve, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ salary cap picture came into clearer focus over the weekend.
 
With wingers Andreas Johnsson ($3.4 million) and Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2 million) reportedly agreed to multi-year contracts extensions, and the salary cap upper limit set at $81.5 million, what is clear is the Leafs still have salary to shed.

It only takes simple back-of-the-napkin math.

Be an optimistic and pencil in Mitch Marner at a $10 million AAV moving forward. If Kapanen and Johnsson sign for those reported amounts, the Maple Leafs would still be north of $84 million – or $2.5 million over the limit. Place Nathan Horton's $5.3 million on LTIR and that brings the number below the cap, but the Leafs would still need to round out their roster.

(And that $10 million projection sounds optimistic at the moment.)

In other words, that’s why defenceman Nikita Zaitsev remains atop the latest TSN Trade Bait board, with winger Connor Brown following closely behind at No. 6. There is work to be done.

There’s more than one way to cut salary – as GM Kyle Dubas has indeed explored this summer – but one of the cleanest and most cost efficient revolves around granting Zaitsev’s trade request. The problem is, as Dubas has stated, that the Leafs also need a defenceman back in return to fill his void, plus a seventh (extra) man.

To make it happen, the Maple Leafs may need to add a sweetener with five years remaining on Zaitsev’s deal. It won’t be a first-round pick-type sweetener, like the one the Leafs were forced to part with in order to shed Patrick Marleau’s contract, but that deal underlined the value in cap flexibility for the Leafs moving forward. Another possibility, of course, is to trade centre Nazem Kadri (No. 17) – and there would be no shortage of interest there with his productivity in light of his cap hit.

Following last weekend’s Draft in Vancouver, the only new addition to the condensed Trade Bait board is Islanders project Josh Ho-Sang. Multiple names fell off the board now absent of a pressure point like Draft weekend when so many names are in play.

Pending free agent Artemi Panarin was one of the players dropped from the board because now that we’ve reached the interview period, the likelihood of a potential sign and trade has diminished.

Other deals became more likely. Take the Vegas Golden Knights, who find themselves in a position not all that dissimilar to Toronto. They have already exceeded the salary cap, well into the available 10 per cent summer cushion.

Vegas made the first step in solving some of those woes by dealing Erik Haula to Carolina on Wednesday night in exchange for prospect Nicolas Roy.

There is still more work to be done. Vegas can sneak under the $81.5 million cap by moving David Clarkson's contract – also a potential trade option – to the long-term injury list. But they still need to sign RFA Nikita Gusev, who led the KHL in scoring last season.

Defenceman Colin Miller remains the most likely to go as a serviceable blueliner making $3.88 million. Plus, Ryan Reaves has made the list through no fault of his play, but purely because his $2.77 million salary seems like a luxury the Golden Knights probably can’t afford.

Focus this week has been almost entirely on this summer’s free agent class, but there is still roster jockeying to be done.

Here is TSN Hockey’s latest Trade Bait board, which always seeks to blend a player’s prominence with his likelihood of a trade:

 

The Top 30

 
Trend Player Pos Age GP G PTS Cap Hit Years
  1. Nikita Zaitsev, Tor RD 27 81 3 14 $4.5M 5
  2. Jason Zucker, Min LW 27 81 21 42 $5.5M 4
  3. Phil Kessel, Pit RW 31 82 27 82 $6.8M 3
  4. Ryan Murray, CBJ LD 25 56 1 29 $2.85M RFA
Embedded Image 5. Colin Miller, VGK RD 26 65 3 29 $3.88M 3
  6. Connor Brown, Tor RW   82 8 29 $2.1M 1
  7. Chris Kreider, NYR LW 28 79 28 54 $4.63M 1
  8. Shayne Gostisbehere, Phi LD 26 78 9 37 $4.5M 4
  9. Jimmy Vesey, NYR LW 26 81 17 35 $2.28M 1
  10. Michael Frolik, Cgy LW 31 65 16 34 $4.3M 1
Embedded Image 11. Nikolaj Ehlers, Wpg LW 23 62 21 37 $6M 6
  12. Travis Hamonic, Cgy RD 28 69 7 19 $3.86M 1
  13. David Clarkson, VGK RW 35 0 0 LTIR $5.25M 1
  14. Justin Faulk, Car RD 27 82 11 35 $4.83M 1
  15. Kyle Turris, Nsh C 29 55 7 23 $6M 5
Embedded Image 16. Tyson Barrie, Col RD 27 78 14 59 $5.5M 1
  17. Nazem Kadri, Tor C 28 73 16 44 $4.5M 3
  18. Mathieu Perreault, Wpg LW 31 82 15 30 $4.13M 2
  19. Garret Sparks, Tor G 25 20 3.15 .902 $750K 1
Embedded Image 20. Josh Ho-Sang, NYI RW 23 10 1 2 $863K RFA
  21. Jesse Puljujarvi, Edm RW 21 46 4 9 $925K RFA
  22. Kevin Shattenkirk, NYR RD 30 73 2 28 $6.65M 2
  23. Ryan Reaves, VGK RW 32 80 9 20 $2.78M 1
  24. James Neal, Cgy RW 31 63 7 19 $5.75M 4
  25. Milan Lucic, Edm LW 30 79 6 20 $6M 4
  26. Loui Eriksson, Van LW 33 81 11 29 $6M 3
  27. Artemi Anisimov, Chi C 30 78 15 37 $4.55M 2
  28. Jack Johnson, Pit LD 32 82 1 13 $3.25M 4
  29. Adam Henrique, Ana C 29 82 18 42 $5.83M 5
  30. Mitch Marner, Tor RW 22 82 26 94 $894K RFA
 

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli