There has been plenty of debate already regarding Dave Bolland and whether or not he should be re-signed, a subject that will only continue to gain steam once Bolland returns after the Olympic Break and plays out the stretch on an expiring contract (as it stands).
The first part to the question revolves around something nobody can possibly know the answer to at the moment: is he healthy and will he be able to return to be the same player he was to start the year? Obviously, all bets are off if he can’t.
Now, if he is able to recover properly, the discussion will turn to how much money should he be making as the team’s third line center going forward.
A few weeks ago, I discussed Bolland in regards to developing Holland and not locking up the majority of this team to long term deals. In an effort to build on that post, or at least delve into it deeper, I thought it would be interesting to look at what teams are paying their top three centers on the whole to establish a good gauge of what kind of money and space space teams are allocating down the middle.
Here is said chart:
|Team||Top Three Centers||Cap Hits||Total Cap Hit|
|Anaheim Ducks||Ryan Getzlaf||8,250,000||12,450,000|
|Boston Bruins||Patrice Bergeron||5,000,000||13,250,000|
|Buffalo Sabres||Cody Hodgson||4,250,000||8,350,000|
|Calgary Flames||Matt Stajan||3,500,000||6,700,000|
|Carolina Hurricanes||Eric Staal||8,250,000||14,950,000|
|Chicago Blackhawks||Jonathon Toews||6,300,000||8,177,000|
|Colorado Avalanche||Matt Duchene||3,500,000||13,800,000|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||Artem Anisimov||3,200,000||9,300,000|
|Dallas Stars||Tyler Seguin||5,750,000||11,887,000|
|Detroit Red Wings||Pavel Datsyuk||6,700,000||13,700,000|
|Edmonton OIlers||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||3,700,000||11,500,000|
|Florida Panthers||Alex Barkov||3,500,000||6,300,000|
|Los Angeles Kings||Anze Kopitar||6,800,000||15,800,000|
|Minnesota Wild||Mikko Koivu||6,750,000||11,650,000|
|Montreal Canadiens||Thomas Plekanec||5,000,000||9,800,000|
|Nashville Predators||Mike Fisher||4,200,000||12,200,000|
|New Jersey Devils||Travis Zajac||5,750,000||10,475,000|
|New York Islanders||John Tavares||5,500,000||11,075,000|
|New York Rangers||Derek Stepan||3,000,000||12,800,000|
|Ottawa Senators||Jason Spezza||7,000,000||12,200,000|
|Philadelphia Flyers||Claude Giroux||3,750,000||9,625,000|
|Phoenix Coyotes||Martin Hanzal||3,100,000||12,350,000|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||Sidney Crosby||8,700,000||19,400,000|
|St. Louis Blues||David Backes||4,500,000||11,750,000|
|San Jose Sharks||Joe Thornton||7,000,000||13,875,000|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||Steven Stamkos||7,500,000||13,400,000|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Tyler Bozak||4,250,000||10,525,000|
|Vancouver Canucks||Henrik Sedin||6,100,000||11,600,000|
|Washington Capitals||Niklas Backstrom||6,700,000||14,200,000|
|Winnipeg Jets||Bryan Little||4,700,000||10,700,000|
Some notes and takeaways from looking at this:
- Back in August, I took a look at the salaries and production of top six wingers throughout the league and found the Leafs are currently spending the fourth most on their top-six wingers. If we add in the $2.6M raise Kessel is getting starting next season, it vaults them into second.
- The Leafs aren’t spending a ton on their top three centers overall currently, and even if Bolland receives a $1M raise they still wouldn’t be spending a ton in the grand scheme of things. The concern is really after next season (2014-15) when Kadri is due a new contract. Kadri’s on pace for 57 points right now; if he surpasses 60 next season, he can easily ask for $5M+ (and we already know he wanted to get paid last summer, so what will he want after two strong seasons showing he can produce in full 82-game seasons?). Even if Kadri is traded, it’s likely his replacement will come at around the same price tag unless the Leafs inexplicably trade him for cheap youth.
- For the sake of keeping things simple and using nice, round numbers, if Bolland’s making $4M, Bozak’s making $4.2M and Kadri’s making $5M, the Leafs would be paying over $13M overall. Here are the other team’s currently spending at least $13M on their top three centers: Boston, Carolina, Colorado, Detroit, LA, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Tampa Bay, and Washington. So, if you add in the fact that they have the second most expensive top six winger group in the league going into next year (at the moment at least), the Leafs will have one of the most expensive forward groups in the league in a few years time.
- The other looming factor: Bernier, too, will be eligible to get paid after next season. Looking around around the goaltending market (if he continues his strong play next season), he can easily ask for $5.5M. Right now, the Leafs are spending $4.7M on their goaltending overall, but that number will also see a raise of roughly $2M when we factor in a backup once Bernier is paid (and that’s if they spend relatively cheaply on their backup).
- It’s also noteworthy that the Leafs don’t have any big contracts coming off of their books until two seasons after this one when Tim Gleason and Carl Gunnarsson become UFAs. That means the Leafs will be going into both this summer and the next one after knowing that the only cap relief they will be getting is from the cap going up, not from anyone coming off the books. So, in other words, the Leafs won’t be subtracting much money from expiring contracts, but they’ll have to start paying their good young players in the upcoming timeframe.
- One thing most teams do to not get cap squeezed is fill their roster with cheap ELC contracts. Right now, Gardiner, Rielly, Holland and Ashton are on ELCs and on the Leafs. Troy Bodie, Trevor Smith and Colton Orr are all at least semi-regulars on cheap deals. To my eye, this is something the management team has wanted to do but the coaching staff has been reluctant to implement. We saw Holland get sent down after not being played, only to be called back up, while Ashton has similarly bounced around. As I said before, if the Leafs are going to lock up the majority of the top forwards they need to use their fourth line as a development vehicle. The top of the roster is pretty much locked right in, so they won’t develop otherwise. Chicago, for example, groomed Marcus Kruger on their fourth line and his development there made them comfortable enough to trade Dave Bolland in the summer. It would have been nice if the Leafs were able to create a similar succession plan with D’Amigo or Ashton on the fourth line this season (to grow one to play on L3 next season), but both have received limited minutes/opportunities and have been yo-yoed between the Marlies and the Leafs.
- The only teams that do not have a center at least 30 years old (or turning 30 this year) are Buffalo, Chicago, Colorado, CBJ, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Toronto. That’s noteworthy and something to keep in mind; the Leafs wouldn’t be committing to three veterans riding out their careers, but to two guys in their supposed primes and a young center who is still emerging. The questions/concerns surround the numbers working cap wise in the long run and whether or not they will still be able to develop Holland (or someone else).
- The elephant in the room here is whether or not there will be enough cap room to improve the defense. The Leafs are strong in net and they are deep at forward when healthy, but their defense is still weak and needs to be upgraded. Many fans will point to the young defensemen in the organization, but we’re seeing right now with Gardiner and Rielly how there are growing pains with young defensemen and it’s hard to ask these young D to just step right in and supply good minutes right away. It’s a really long process when it comes to developing good defensemen in the NHL. The Leafs are on their way to a second straight season in the top ten for goals scored. We know they can do that. The next step is upgrading their defense and they are going to need cap space to do that.
- If you play with the Leafs cap numbers on Capgeek for next season (you can do so here.. and I apologize for booking the rest of your workday), the Leafs actually have the space to resign Bolland and Kulemin to good deals and still add to their team. They could be fine for next season and actually add another piece to their defense. The bigger concern is the following years and not developing the young players. With the top of the roster locked up, they need to use that bottom portion to get their young guys ice time and real opportunities. We’ve noted here before how Holland is a good young player with potential. They have to give kids like this real opportunities to succeed in the league. Again, in my opinion, I think this is something the management staff has been pushing for, too.
The main things I took away from this exercise:
- The Leafs are, in fact, very young at center in the grand scheme of things.
- There will be some responses saying, “you don’t win Cups with a center group of Bozak-Kadri-Bolland,” but I’ll say this: Kessel and JVR are elite. They are the heart of this team at forward and it really doesn’t matter who their center is on the top line; even so, they do very well with Bozak.
- Bolland has won a Cup as a third line center. I don’t think any reasonable person can look around at the league’s other second line center and tell me Kadri’s at the least not in the top half.
- The Leafs will be spending a ton on their forward group over the next few years –possibly more than any other team in the top nine– and that makes me wonder who will eventually get squeezed out (dare I say Lupul?).
- Of course, as stated a few times here, I also wonder how the defense will improve. Is it as easy Rielly developing into a top pairing guy, which would finally push Gunnarsson down the depth chart? The UFA market is pretty weak on defense and the trade market has yet to be established. Their defense has gotten a little better since adding Gleason, so imagine if they were able to add a true top pairing guy to go along with Dion?
- Other than taking care of the in-house guys (Kulemin, possibly Bolland, resigning D’Amigo, Ashton, Holland), the Leafs will be limited to maybe adding a depth guy or two at forward this summer unless they seek drastic changes yet again. They will also have two key RFAs to deal with in Franson and Reimer. I don’t think Reimer has any bargaining power with the Leafs as an RFA who is clearly the number two. I hope he can be retained on the cheap. Conversely, Franson will be able to ask for serious money. While he has been lights out on the power play, he hasn’t been a good top four D-man 5v5. Are the Leafs really going to dish out the cash for him when they have youngsters like Rielly and Gardiner who can step onto the power play? Their summer could be as simple as resigning their key guys, trading Franson, and adding a top four D-man. Whatever they do, they need to maintain an eye on the future because some of their young guys are going to start getting paid and they’re going to want to be paid well.