Until Mitch Marner’s signature is officially on a contract, it’s probably too soon to label this the Great Escape. But the way the Toronto Maple Leafs front office maneuvered while under salary cap duress these last few weeks would impress even Houdini.
It took a mix of creativity, guile and cold calculation from Kyle Dubas, Brandon Pridham and Laurence Gilman.
They managed to preserve more than enough cap room to sign Marner while overhauling their blue line, locking in two young core forwards and adding cheap depth around the margins. They accomplished this wizardry in a league squeezed tight by a lower-than-expected cap ceiling for 2019-20 and amid questions about how they might fend off predatory offer sheets.
All it took was swallowing one poison pill — the first-round pick sent to Carolina to extinguish Patrick Marleau’s $6.25-million cap hit — and moving one premium asset. That would be Nazem Kadri, the longest-tenured member of the organization, who was sent to Colorado on Monday night for defenceman Tyson Barrie and centre/winger Alex Kerfoot despite playing on a value contract with three years remaining at $4.5 million per.
Kadri was a luxury the Leafs could no longer afford. That he missed eight playoff games the last two springs because of suspension also cast doubt over whether he could be totally trusted.