The Shanaplan Meets NHL Salary-Cap Reality

by | Oct 14, 2018 | Soapbox | 21 comments

When Brendan Shanahan was hired as president of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014, his strategy for rebuilding the moribund roster was quickly dubbed “The Shanaplan” by long-suffering denizens of Leafs Nation.

He cleaned house behind the bench and in the front office. In came well-respected hockey men like Mike Babcock as head coach and Lou Lamoriello as general manager, along with Lamoriello’s eventual successor Kyle Dubas.

Brendan Shanahan’s plan to build the Toronto Maple Leafs into a champion will soon face it’s first significant salary-cap test. (Photo via

The Leafs struck gold in the opening rounds of three successive drafts, selecting forwards William Nylander (2014), Mitch Marner (2015) and Auston Matthews (2016). Since 2016-17, the trio played crucial roles in turning the Leafs from a perennial non-contender into a dominant team.

The Leafs restocked with talent while shedding salary in the process. Expensive, unhappy veterans Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf were sent packing. In came forwards John Tavares, Patrick Marleau and goaltender Frederik Andersen. Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, and Travis Dermott were picked up via trades and the draft.

Thus far, “The Shanaplan” is a success. The Leafs are off to a sizzling start to 2018-19, leading the league in scoring. As of Oct. 13, Matthews and defenseman Morgan Rielly were atop the scoring race with Marner and Tavares among the top-six. Matthews and Tavares sat first and third in goals while Rielly was the league’s assist leader. 

Leafs fans are once again daring to dream of the end of their long Stanley Cup drought. Unfortunately, the Shanaplan could be derailed by the NHL’s salary cap.

Despite inking Tavares to a pricey seven-year, $77-million contract, the Leafs entered this season with over $12 million in projected salary-cap space. However, they’re currently mired in a contract standoff with restricted free agent Nylander, who’s back home in Sweden while his agent handles negotiations.

Earlier this month, Shanahan seemed to hint the Leafs would prefer if those players accepted a little less than the full market value in order for the club to maintain a winning franchise.  So far, Nylander doesn’t seem willing to accept any hometown discounts.

Both sides reportedly prefer a long-term contract but money is the sticking point. The Nylander camp apparently seeks over $8-million per season while the Leafs prefer something between $6 million to $6.5 million.

There’s also talk the two sides are working on a short-term bridge deal but the annual salary again remains an issue. The Leafs are believed offering closer to $4 million per season while Nylander could seek over $5 million annually. 

Whether Nylander is worth $8 million is debatable. The Leafs can afford to re-sign him for that much this season if they wished. However, that would take a much bigger bite out of their salary-cap payroll next summer when Matthews and Marner become restricted free agents.

We don’t know what Matthews and Marner will set as asking prices. However, there’s already talk Matthews could command around $12.5 million per season. Should Marner exceed last season’s 69-point performance, he could be in line for $10 million annually.

Assuming the Leafs re-sign those two to those rumored asking prices and paid Nylander $8 million per, they’ll be investing over $30 million in just three players. That total will push their cap payroll for next season, already at over $49 million, to over $79 million tied up in just 14 players. If management can convince Matthews, Marner, and Nylander to accept, say, a combined $25 million, the cap payroll would still come in at close to $75 million. 

Even if the salary cap rose to $84 million for 2019-20, they still won’t have much payroll remaining to flesh out the rest of their roster. That includes re-signing or replacing veteran defensemen Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey, both due to become unrestricted free agent next summer.

That limited wiggle room under the cap ceiling could prompt second-guessing over the wisdom of investing $11 million annually in Tavares. There could also be some grumbling over Marleau’s $6.25-million cap hit through 2019-20 or defenseman Nikita Zaitsev’s $4.25 million per season through 2023-24.

Given the rising young talent already on the roster, it can be argued the Leafs didn’t need to sign Tavares. Perhaps that money would’ve been better invested in bolstering their questionable blueline depth or maybe pursuing more affordable forward options.

Of course, it’ll all be considered worth it if the Leafs end their 51-year Stanley Cup drought next spring but that’s not a certainty.

Despite their offensive prowess, they’re tied with the lowly Detroit Red Wings for the most goals against (22). They’re top-heavy at forward, especially on the first two lines. Andersen is a good goaltender but he’s yet to prove he can carry a club to championship glory. Should these factors derail their championship hopes, they won’t have enough cap room to fix those problems.

The Leafs are starting to navigate a potential salary-cap minefield of their own making. One wrong move could blow up their Stanley Cup dreams.



  1. There are examples how it can be managed in sports. Penguins in the NHL and Patriots in the NFL are just two. Nylander has just proved that he is not part of the future, so I would trade him for picks and prospects to keep the depth at a premium. The leafs can make pickups at the trade deadline to help them make a run at the Stanley cup this year. Leafs always need to keep a eye on the future and sustaining success.

    • I would be fine with this scenario Jim.

    • Jim the one thing with the penguins is the best player in the NHL/ world took a below value contract in order to keep the penguins competitive. I don’t see this happening in Toronto. As a matter of fact I don’t get the impression that Mathews even wants to be here. I think the first opportunity he gets he is back home in Arizona. I have been waiting for 50 years for a team like this and it seems like no fun at all because of these salary contracts.

  2. Even trading nylander now they’re trading from behind they need defense in a bad way and none of the dmen they have can actually play well in their own end and they have no defensive prospects coming up

    • Don’t rush to make trades to improve the defense, teams will come in a month looking for offense to stay in the playoff race and be more willing to move some defensive assets to fix their offense. Be patient the leafs will still be well above .500 team and be in position of strength. Leafs defense is a work in process and you can’t fix it over night.

  3. I can’t stand to hear multiple people say if Marner surpasses his 69 points total from last year he could command upwards up of 10m
    Maybe if he he puts up 120 points
    Even if he puts up 80 points
    Look at the comparables
    Maybe 7.5 -8.5 max

    The leafs will run into cap problems if they severely over pay for these guys coming out of entry level contacts.
    Maybe if these guys had more success in their entry level deals

    Back to back 61 point seasons
    And nylander wants 8 million
    Give me a break
    I like that dubas is holding his ground
    Your just not worth that kind money right now

    Give your head a shake Nylander
    Your daddy Should stay out of your negotiations

    • There is some of this fans of other teams who enjoy the idea of the Leafs having problems…the Germans have a word for it…SCHADENFREUDE…the Leafs aren’t paying Nylander 8 million nor Marner 10…who is kidding who here…therfore they do not have a problem…..

      As to Nylander….his holdout will be a benefit as it will lead to a better defense after he is traded

      I wrote the other day about the Kyper rant….the media wants eyes, clicks and water cooler talk about their articles..

      Since the Canadian unifying theme is dislike of Toronto they write what will make Torontonians defensesive and while others dwell in the House of Schadenfruede..

      • This is fantastic!
        Thanks for the new word OBD!

  4. So many people sooo hopeful it all goes wrong for Toronto. Yeah we know the cap is going to be difficult. They will keep Marner and Matthews and Nylander? that remains to be seen.

    It really messes with some people’s lives that the Leafs look good right now.

    I love the “top heavy” argument… It is such a shame that every other team in the league has so much more depth after the first two lines.

    Would be great to hear at least a sort=of impartial take on the Leafs.

    • Dunno where you got that I’m being “hopeful” it all goes wrong for Toronto, William. Pointing out their troublesome flaws isn’t hoping they’ll fail. It’s raising concern that they could if left unaddressed. I believe I’ve made a “sort=of impartial take on the Leafs.”

      • not quite Lyle

      • Lyle you were just stating the obvious, leaf fans only listen to leaf media who are keeping the positives for them. The leafs defense is bad leaf fans can’t even deny that, they a good offensive team yet are minus 5 on 5 play and if they don’t get pp chances that drastically fall com3 playoff time they’re not as good as the leaf media is feeding them. I wish leaf fans would give an impartial take on the leafs instead of the blue and white glasses look

    • I am guilty as charged hoping it all goes wrong for the leafs. I have been living in leaf land my whole life and leaf fans are insufferable. They act like their loyalty is a badge of honour they wear with pride. Just yesterday I pointed out on a different site that Mathews 50% shooting pct was unsustainable and I was told that anyone who wasn’t a leaf fan knows nothing about hockey. Maybe I don’t but I do know about 5 Stanley cup wins in 6 finals appearances. I know about 15 Art Ross trophies in the last 28 years. Like Mario said the only accomplishments in hockey that matter are cups and scoring championships because those are the only things that aren’t a popularity vote. I hope it goes bad for the leafs because if it goes right their fans will be impossible.

  5. Leafs, Habs, Bruins, Rangers,Yankees,RedSox Astros, Patriots, Cowboys, Dolphins.
    All great teams to hate.
    Its only sports folks.

    • SOP….you are right….it is only sports….keep it in perspective….keep it as a diversion…I jokingly tell me daughters I’m not going on the fate after death until the Leafs win the cup….

      My way of threatening them with my immortality…they roll their eyes and moan

      • I’ve been very fortunate.
        I’ve seen all of my favorite teams win championships in their respective leagues.
        I can check out anytime after my kids are raised and established in life.
        I’m thinking I’ll need to make it to about 107 to see that through.
        Lots more championships between now and then I’d dare say.

    • Since when have the leafs been considered great? Most people are irritated by Canada’s media being to lazy to cover anything outside a two hour drive of Toronto. The leafs just get lumped in with that general irratation…. they would have had to win something in the last 50 years to be great.

  6. Regular season is one thing but winning in the playoffs is another. Before Toronto shells out these huge contracts to young players let’s see what they can do in prime time. Playing tuff playing hurt playing against the other teams best players and winning is hard. Washington has been arguably the most talented team in NHL for some time now and look how long it took them to win. Toronto has loads of young offensive talent there is no doubt but will it lead to championships time will tell.

  7. What nylander wants is unreasonable. The comparables other than draisaitl are 6-6.5. 6 is the discount price and 6.5 is fair value. Unless the deal cuts into his UFA years any more than 7 is egregious.

    Hes not getting offer sheets for a reason. Toronto holds every card.

  8. Nhl should go all in With offensive mind hockey.

  9. Sign Kapanen now to 3.5-4mil. Move Nylander for a solid d-man. Wont find anything too impressive Im sure, but “solid” would be a vast improvement. I do like what Im seeing from Ozhiganov (sp?) and Dermott. And generally as a defensive unit they seem a but tighter. I dont thibk the d situation is going to be as bad as I feared, or witnessed in the first 2 weeks.