The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Matt Martin conundrum

With the Toronto Maple Leafs ‘rebuild’ coming to an end, the team’s management have many tough decisions to make in the offseason.

The Leafs are sure to clinch third place in the Atlantic Division and looking to progress further than the six-game first round they managed last season.

And with all consistent contenders, personnel changes will be coming for those on the fringes of the team.

Which brings us to Matt Martin, who has inevitably fallen into the abyss and now finds his position on the team effectively eradicated.

28 year old Martin was brought in to effectively be rookie protection for the team’s young stars, most notably with the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner.

He was an effective experienced, physical presence on a young team but now does not fit the system head coach Mike Babcock wants to play.

The Leafs are high-powered offence, with plenty of playmakers and goalscorers and one thing the team is trying to veer away from is really the only skill Martin possesses – physicality.

If Martin was a consistent point producer, he would find his position on the team to be much more solid.

Alas, he has never been, and never will be, that kind of player.

In 47 games played this season, Martin has three goals and 11 total points whilst spending a career-low 7:56 on the ice.

His closest career low in the regular season is the 8:54 from his first season with Toronto, a clear indication that the team does not value him enough beyond an occasional physical presence.

Couple that with his $2.5 million cap hit and the Leafs clearly have a problem they need to address this summer.

A trade seems to be the most logical move for the team, if they can find a willing trade partner.

One interesting option could be nearby rivals the Ottawa Senators.

The Senators have a much-publicised self-imposed cap that limits how much the team can pay each season, which could make Martin an interesting option for the team.

Despite carrying a $2.5 million cap hit, Martin’s base salary over the next two seasons is just $750,000.

He is due to be paid two signing bonuses of $1.5 million (18/19) and $1 million (19/20), but the Leafs could take a hit on the first bonus to ensure a deal could be done.

The same was done by the Leafs in the trade that saw Frederik Andersen join and Jonathan Bernier move to Anaheim.

The Leafs took the financial hit of Bernier’s signing bonus, while Anaheim just had the cap hit and base salary to worry about.

Paying Martin $750,000 a season may be more appealing to Eugene Melnyk if the Leafs eat up the $1.5 million as part of the deal.

The Leafs could look to maybe secure some low draft picks (6th and 7th rounders) from the Senators as a way to simply offload an unwanted contract, while the Senators get a low cost, gritty player that could provide some support on the penalty kill.

Beyond a trade, the Leafs could explore the possibility of a buyout.

This, however, wouldn’t help the Leafs in any significant way.

With some big contract negotiations set to take place over the next couple of years, e.g. Matthews, Nylander, Marner etc, a buyout wouldn’t clear up enough space to help.

If the Leafs bought out Martin, they would receive $500,000 of cap relief in the next two seasons, but then would still be on the hook for a $250,000 cap hit across a further two seasons.

Martin’s hit would drop from $2.5m to $2m for his final two seasons, but then remain at $250,000 for a further two beyond his contract expiry date.

The Leafs will want to clear as much of his cap hit as possible and a buyout doesn’t appear to be the logical way forward.

Neither is placing Martin on waivers, allowing him to drop into the AHL.

Martin would be able to play for the Toronto Marlies if he cleared waivers, which he no doubt would, but his cap hit would remain and there would be no relief in terms of actual salary paid.

The only solution would be for the Leafs to find a willing trade partner to help clear away an inconvenient cap hit that could be used to re-sign higher priority players.

Otherwise the Leafs will find themselves stuck with a player they don’t want and a financial obligation they would rather not have moving forward.

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Posted in NHL

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