How many sleepless nights is Kyle Dubas having as he tries to conquer the salary cap nightmare in Toronto. (RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR)

Despite being around for what seems like forever, COVID-19’s effect on North American sports has ramped up over the past month, leading to a conference call between each major sports commissioner and President Trump on Monday. Since then there have been rumors of baseball starting in May, while Gary Bettman and the NHL continue to look at ways to finish the regular season and award the prestigious Stanley Cup. To make the loss more real, the playoffs would have begun on Wednesday had nothing happened.

However, the presentation of the Stanley Cup, whenever it may be, won’t be the end of COVID-19’s reign of terror on the sports world and (in particular for this article) the NHL. The effects it could potentially have on certain teams within the league borders on catastrophic. One of the effects is a lowered salary cap for next season, or at least lower than was rumored. Originally the projected cap was thought to be somewhere between $84 and $87 million before the recent outbreak, but now that is looking highly unlikely.

During the March 19th episode of the Ice Analytics podcast, host Matthew Arp did a great job of breaking down the NHL finances and how this unforeseen stoppage will ultimately affect them. “In order to make revenue the NHL generates so much from ticket sales, which according to Forbes accounts for 37% of all NHL revenue,” he said. “If you factor in things like merchandise and concession sales, almost 75% of NHL revenue is from those sources. So it doesn’t really matter if you resume the season and play in front of no fans, because the TV deal isn’t big enough to cover those losses.” This could see the Salary Cap staying at $81.5 million or in a worst-case scenario going below that.

Obviously this would affect how teams go about their business. Who they re-sign or target in free agency would seriously change, and a decrease in salary cap, if it were to happen, could have a detrimental effect on all 31 teams and how they’d look going forward. Like all things though, certain teams would be hit harder than others. Like, for instance, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs are right up against the salary cap as it is this season with $0 cap dollars available to use according to Cap Friendly. They will receive some relief from out of contract players who will not be retained next season, but instead of having possibly $10 million to spend in the summer (basing it on the salary going to $87 million) they instead will have just over $4.5 million or possibly less. With this money they will have to decide which free agents currently on the team get offered terms. They have forwards Kyle Clifford and Frederik Gauthier as unrestricted free agents along with defensemen Cody Ceci, while Travis Dermott will be a restricted free agent in the summer. I haven’t included Tyson Barrie in this conversation, as if $4.5 million could have got him re-signed I truly believe he’d still be in Colorado.

And that is before they look at free agency to try improve a team that came nowhere close to the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning this year. Given, they have been better under Sheldon Keefe since his promotion from the AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies with a .628 points percentage, compared to his predecessor (Mike Babcock) who had a .478 points percentage on the season before he was relieved of his duties. Making the playoffs hasn’t been the Maple Leafs problem though, it’s what happens once there that has left a fanatic fanbase up in arms.

There is, of course, some bright spots with one being the emergence of Rasmus Sandin. The young defenseman, while still finding his footing in the league, has shown glimpses of real talent. The problem is, with Ceci, Dermott and Barrie all possibly not around next year Sandin could be playing top-line minutes against the best forwards the NHL has to offer. That could be too much too soon for the young Swede and hinder the promise he is showing. The ideal plan would be to have him start on the third pairing and if he continues to grow push him to the second line with added minutes on power-play and penalty kill. Unfortunately, nothing about the Leafs situation is ideal right now.

How much trouble are the San Jose Sharks in!?! A lot!

All this should be enough to keep General Manager Kyle Dubas up at night and that’s before we mention Andreas Johnsson, who should be coming off Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) before the start of next season, adding $3.40 million to the cap of an already cash strapped Leafs. This makes me think, are superstars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander staying put like Dubas claims? If so, where’s the cap space coming from to build a side that can really challenge the Bruins and Lightning? With an average of 3.24 goals against per game, they’re going to need something because that sort of defense ain’t fixing itself.