The paperwork is flying for assistant GM Brandon Pridham this evening as he prepares the Maple Leafs’ cap situation for the placement of the injured Jake Muzzin on LTIR, which means Muzzin will be sidelined for a minimum of 10 games or 24 days.
The #LeafsForever made the following moves:
-Muzzin to IR
-Menell ($750K) 🔼
-Rubins ($785K) 🔼
-Sandin ($894K) 🔽
They go from $217K Proj Cap Space down to $10K.
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) February 23, 2022
The 10 game/24-day timeline brings the Leafs within a week or so of the March 21 trade deadline before Muzzin would be eligible to return to the active roster. Of course, the status of his concussion symptoms will dictate the actual timeline for a return.
Pridham placing the Leafs under 10k within the cap ceiling allows the Leafs to apply for relief on Muzzin’s up to nearly the full amount of his $5.625 million contract if needed. This isn’t the same as free cap space, but it maximizes the amount of relief the team can use on an as-needed basis.
Essentially, this allows the Leafs to replace Muzzin’s cap allotment on their books nearly to the dollar, but only if they’re using the space on players — it does not accumulate in the way actual cap space does. Instead, it’s relief they can apply for in order to exceed the cap as needed up to around $87.1 million, with Muzzin’s contract included in that total.
Muzzin’s injury certainly adds a wrinkle (to say the least) to the trade-deadline plans, one way or another. Do the Leafs bet on Muzzin, who has now suffered two concussions in the last six weeks, returning in March/April and giving them the steady minutes the Leafs pay him to provide them late in the season and into the playoffs, which he hasn’t really done at any point this season?
Do they sell the farm so to speak to try to get legitimate top-four defense help — with the ability to then activate Muzzin off LTIR for the playoff roster in hopes he can contribute in some capacity in the postseason? Adding significant cap money to the books would necessarily mean the Leafs can’t bring Muzzin back onto the active roster until the playoffs.
The Leafs’ trade ammo in terms of draft-pick and prospect capital isn’t bountiful at the moment, but expect the rumours around the Ben Chiarots of the world to pick up 10-fold now in the coming days and weeks.
If Dubas’ history is any indication, it might not be the obvious rental targets he’s really in the mix on. Reports from Frank Seravalli suggest they’ve talked to Chicago about winger Brandon Hagel; maybe they kick tires on defenseman Connor Murphy, although the 28-year-old right shot is now signed to a $4.4 million AAV extension through 2025-26. Hagel and Murphy’s combined cap hit this season adds up to $5.35 million, for what it’s worth.
Elliotte Friedman also recently floated the possibility that the team could move out a Justin Holl or Travis Dermott in an effort to further shake up the mix on the blue line.
It probably can’t go totally overlooked that the team really needs the Jake Campbell – Petr Mrazek tandem to stabilize the situation in net — the Leafs are right near the bottom of the league in 5v5 save percentage since the new year — before they can feel overly assured at that position also.
Strap in for an interesting month ahead.