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The Toronto Maple Leafs were able to navigate their way through some salary cap challenges this season thanks to using long-term injured reserve to create more cap space to accommodate the new contracts of Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, along with the $11 Million salary of team captain John Tavares and the nearly $7 Million cap hit of William Nylander.
Leafs GM Kyle Dubas had the $5.3 Million cap hit of injured winger Nathan Horton on the books and added another LTIR contract in former Leaf David Clarkson in a deal with Vegas last summer. Along with other players such as Andreas Johnsson, Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin spending time on the injured list during the season, the Leafs (according to Cap Friendly) sheltered $13.6 Million in salary on LTIR. Although it would not be a permanent solution to the club’s salary crunch (since there is speculation that the cap limit will stay at $81.5 Million for longer than the next two years), it is quite possible that Dubas could go shopping for another Horton or Clarkson to give them more flexibility instead of trading players under the gun.
Here are five possible targets that Toronto might be looking at:
Marian Gaborik - Ottawa
The 38-year-old Cup winner was swapped by Los Angeles as a salary dump in the Dion Phaneuf two years ago and has not played the last two seasons after undergoing back surgery in April 2018. Gaborik has one more year left with a $4.875 Million cap hit. The real money being paid out is just over $3 Million and the Sens have seven restricted free agents and veteran pending UFA’s Craig Anderson and Ron Hainsey needing new contracts. With Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk always in financial difficulty, GM Pierre Dorion will likely try to jettison Gaborik’s deal to clear dead money from his budget and use it to acquire an asset.
Marian Hossa - Arizona
The future Hall-of-Famer was dealt by Chicago to the Coyotes in 2018, one year after being diagnosed with a skin condition that would not allow him to play. Hossa has a $5.275 Million cap hit but is only being paid $1 Million in the final year of his 12-year-deal. Arizona GM John Chayka could hide Hossa on LTIR and have the cap space to try to re-sign Taylor Hall, but after trading a package of draft picks to obtain him, the Coyotes might be interested in recouping an asset by moving Hossa.
Ryan Kesler - Anaheim
The 35-year-old has dealt with a series of injuries the last few years and after playing 60 games in 2018-19, sat out all last season after undergoing hip surgery. Kesler has two years left at a $6.875 Million salary and the actual money being paid is $6.675 Million. The potential complicating factor is that the former Canuck has not ruled out trying to make a comeback, which would have to be clarified before making a trade for him.
Henrik Zetterberg - Detroit
The former Red Wings captain essentially retired after the 2017-18 season due to back issues, but still had three years left on his contract at just over a $6 Million cap hit. Detroit however has Zetterberg on injured reserve and not on LTIR because of being in the midst of a rebuild and with only $46 Million in projected salary next season, they may use his cap hit to get to the cap floor.
Brandon Dubinsky - Columbus
The 34-year-old center’s performance level dropped the last two seasons and he did not play last season because of a chronic wrist injury. Dubinsky has one year left at a $5.85 Million cap hit and might be easily obtainable because his paid salary is the same as his cap hit.
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