Maple Leafs may be heading into a new season with a huge problem

Dean Chaudhry
July 7, 2024  (8:43)

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Connor Dewar chasing down a loose puck.
Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski - USA Today Sports

With Connor Dewar filing for arbitration, the cash-strapped Toronto Maple Leafs could walk into the 2024-25 regular season with a very expensive fourth line.

The Maple Leafs entered this off-season with a myriad of question marks all across the board but came out of it with more solutions than problems. They signed defensemen Chris Tanev, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Jani Hakanpaa, goaltender Anthony Stolarz, and extended Max Domi and Timothy Liljegren.
Surprisingly, they didn't look to upgrade their offensive game, which is still centered around the Core 4. Mitch Marner's future with the organization is still up in the air, but it seems more and more likely that he will be suiting up for the start of the 2024-25 season in the Blue and White. Their depth is somewhat questionable after the top-6, but with Dewar filing for arbitration, it might bring about more problems.
The 25-year-old was acquired ahead of the trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Dmitri Ovchinnikov and a 2026 fourth round pick. He scored a goal and added 4 assists in 17 regular season games for his new club after scoring 10 goals and 14 points in 57 games with the Wild before being traded. In the post-season, Dewar tallied an assist in 6 games.
David Alter of The Hockey News mentions that AFP Analytics projects Dewar's new deal to be 2 years in length and coming in at an AAV of $1.423M. Arbitration cases will be heard between the 20th of July and the 4th of August and once the hearing starts, all negotiations must cease, and the third party will ultimately decide after hearing both sides.
A deal can be struck before his case is heard, which happens more than you think, avoiding the sticky situation that arbitration might bring about down the road.
If he comes in at his projected price that would give the Maple Leafs a relatively expensive fourth line when you factor in David Kampf and Ryan Reaves. $5.1 million for role players on a team that needs every penny isn't entirely favourable, even with the salary cap rising.
Compare those figures around the league and it's a little startling. Going off the lines on Daily Faceoff, the Edmonton Oilers fourth line trio of Adam Henrique, Connor Brown, and Mattias Janmark come in at $5.45M, but that line is considerably better than Dewar/Kampf/Reaves. The Dallas Stars are running with Evgeni Dadonov, Sam Steel, and Colin Blackwell, who come in at a combined $4.225M. The Boston Bruins' trio of John Beecher, Mark Kastelic, and Justin Brazeau come in at just $2.53, which is more in line with what you'd expect a 4th line to cost.
In other words, the Leafs are paying far too much for players who are only going to see 8-10 minutes a night.
The other issue is that Kampf carries 3 more years in term and a modified no-trade clause and Reaves has 2 years remaining at $1.35M. Not only are they stuck with what seems like immovable contracts in the bottom of their lineup, but they carry term, which could be troublesome moving forward.
The Leafs have done a good job otherwise with bolstering their back-end, owning a cheap but skilled goaltending tandem for the next 2 seasons, and once again coming in with one of the best top-6's in the National Hockey League. The rest of their lineup leaves a lot to be desired and if their fourth line comes in at such a high cost, it could hinder their plans around the trade deadline considering they're right against the salary cap right now.
Source for Connor Dewar's statistics: Elite Prospects
Connor Dewar
Source for line combinations: Daily Faceoff
NHL Line Combinations
Maple Leafs may be heading into a new season with a huge problem

Should the Maple Leafs look for cheaper options on the fourth line?

Yes. You can't have a $5M 4th line54073.8 %
No, the 4th line is fine19226.2 %
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