The Toronto Maple Leafs have settled two of their three remaining RFA situations, locking up Alex Kerfoot to a four-year, $14 million contract and Cody Ceci to a one-year, $4.5 million contract.
Ceci’s one-year, $4.5 million comes in a couple hundred thousand above his qualifying offer, and surprisingly, it did not come with a heavy signing bonus-laden structure, as the $4.5 million will all be paid out in base salary. Signing bonuses aren’t as relevant in the case of a one-year deal, but giving him a bunch of the money up-front would’ve made him more marketable as a right-handed defenseman on something close to a prorated league-minimum base salary should the Leafs have decided to cut bait at some point during the year.
Using LTIR relief means the Leafs are not going to be banking any cap space at all this season, so any midseason or deadline additions they’ll be looking to make would need to be done on a dollar-in, dollar-out basis. That makes it somewhat surprising they didn’t build in more of an escape hatch on the Ceci deal via signing bonuses, although it’s probably not an overly tough move to make regardless knowing he’ll be a right-handed defenseman on a rental commitment. Plus, as it stands, they’ll definitely need the depth at the RD position. Turning 26 in December, Plan A appears to be to rebuild Ceci’s game in a new role alongside either Morgan Rielly or Jake Muzzin in what will be a contract year for him (UFA in 2020).
Alex Kerfoot’s contract is very similar to Andreas Johnsson’s — both 24, they signed four-year contracts that included one UFA year at $3.5 million in Kerfoot’s case and $3.4 million in Johnsson’s case. That is good value when you consider Kerfoot has two 40+ point seasons to his name at this point in his career compared to Johnsson’s one, albeit Johnsson outscored Kerfoot in goals (20 vs. 15) and points (43 vs. 42) in 2018-19. Kerfoot and Johnsson are now locked in until 2023 at $3.5 million or less — only John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander are signed for longer, notwithstanding Mitch Marner’s situation — which is really good cost certainty on a pair of middle-six forwards entering their primes who should be bankable 45+ point contributors knowing their skill sets and the centers/right-wingers they’ll be playing with in Toronto over the duration of their deals.
Kerfoot could slot in down the middle at 3C, but with Zach Hyman likely still rehabilitating his knee injury to start the season, Johnsson and Kerfoot may end up slotting in as John Tavares and Auston Matthews’ left wingers to start the year — while also receiving second-unit power play time — which is certainly a good opportunity to hit the ground running in 2019-20 and make those contracts look even better right out of the gates.
Combined with Kapanen’s three-year, $3.2 million AAV contract, the Leafs now have three top-nine forwards under the age of 25 who can chip in somewhere between 40-60 points locked in at team-friendly numbers totalling just $10.1 million per year — a major benefit knowing the amount they’re spending on their top four forwards, which will end up in the neighborhood of $39-40 million once Mitch Marner is signed.
Speaking of which, with Ceci and Kerfoot in at $4.5 million and $3.5 million, respectively, this leaves the Leafs with $3.8 million in cap space with an LTIR cushion of $5.3 million available on Nathan Horton’s deal. That’s with a full 23-man roster of 13 forwards and eight defensemen — all of which are waiver eligible. Quick math says the Leafs are budgeting somewhere around $9.5 million to get Mitch Marner in on his contract, which is likely a figure they’d prefer to give him on a six-year, or at worst five-year, term. There is some wiggle room here if they choose to waive one or more of Ben Harpur, Martin Marincin or Justin Holl on defense or Nic Petan, Frederik Gauthier, Nick Shore, Kenny Agostino up front, depending on who makes the team out of camp. Teams can exceed the cap by up to 10% until the final day of training camp.
Rough Projections of Maple Leafs 2019-20 Opening Night Roster
Alternate lineup with Kerfoot on LW, Spezza at C, Petan in, Gauthier on the roster:
Note: All the above players are waiver eligible except for Ilya Mikheyev, Mason Marchment
Also in the mix for final LHD spot: Teemu Kivihalme, Kevin Gravel, Andreas Borgman, Rasmus Sandin
Also in the mix for final RHD spot: Timothy Liljegren
Also in the mix for final LW spots: Kenny Agostino, Pierre Engvall
Also in the mix for final RW spots: Yegor Korshkov, Jeremy Bracco