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Maple Leafs’ Trade Creates Financial Flexibility For Important Offseason Ahead

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ young core isn’t getting any younger. After the franchise’s 15th consecutive season without a playoff series win, it was obvious that changes were coming.

On Tuesday, the first change came in the form of a trade. Toronto sent Kasperi Kapanen, Pontus Aberg and Jesper Lindgren to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 2020 first round pick (No. 15 overall), Filip Hallander, Evan Rodrigues and David Warsofsky.

There’s a lot that could be said about this trade — Kapanen’s second go-round with the Penguins, Hallander’s intriguing upside, the options Toronto will have at pick No. 15, etc. — but let’s focus on the central purpose of the deal from the Maple Leafs’ perspective.

Toronto made this move in order to make more moves.

“Certainly, I don’t think this is going to be it for us as we go along,” Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas told media members on Tuesday evening. “We wanted this (cap) flexibility so that we could be flexible inside the marketplace for either free agents or for trades.”

Despite the fact that six players were exchanged in this deal, the only one who really matters for the Maple Leafs is Kapanen. He carries a $3.2 million cap hit for the next two seasons, which is now off the Maple Leafs’ books.

As a result, CapFriendly projects the Maple Leafs to have $7.7 million of cap space entering the 2020-21 season.

The caveat, though, is that Toronto only has 16 players currently signed for next year (NHL rosters max out at 23). They’ll need to bump that up to at least 20 for games, but it’s fair to assume they’ll aim to have a full roster under contract.

In other words, the $7.7 million of projected space will be stretched thin. There are five restricted free agents — most notably Travis Dermott and Ilya Mikheyev — to deal with.

Then are are the unrestricted free agents (Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Kyle Clifford and Jason Spezza), most or all of whom are likely headed out the door unless more cashflow becomes available.

So, again: this move was made with more moves in mind.

And perhaps Toronto’s newly-acquired 2020 first round pick could be involved. Dubas had this to say, regarding the pick: “We’re open to moving it if the right deal came along for someone that could help us.”

That’s a pretty on-brand thing for a general manager to say, but it’s still somewhat noteworthy that he’d publicize the team’s willingness to move the pick. Perhaps he’s fishing for interest.

Keep in mind that Toronto’s own 2020 first-rounder (No. 13 overall) belongs to Carolina thanks to a cap-clearing move from last summer.

Toronto sent Patrick Marleau and his $6.25 million cap hit to the Hurricanes, along with a first and a seventh, in exchange for a sixth round pick.

There aren’t any albatross contracts left on the Maple Leafs’ roster (though Phil Kessel is hilariously still on the books for two more seasons at $1.2 million per year), so a Marleau-type deal won’t make sense this offseason. But a first-rounder could be the key portion of a trade that brings back a quality defenseman, which is atop the Maple Leafs’ wish list.

On the other hand, if Toronto is going to go after a d-man in the free agent market — especially the biggest fish, Alex Pietrangelo — they’ll need to cut more costs.

Andreas Johnsson ($3.4 million cap hit) and Alex Kerfoot ($3.5 million) figure to be in those conversations, among others. That should make for some excitement in an important offseason ahead.

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