Tis the season for mock lineups and projected units for NHL teams. Free agency is well underway, draft picks are joining up with their teams, and fans are ready to try and predict the future. That being said, all these Leafs lineups with Jeremy Bracco in them need to relax a bit.
The Toronto Marlies best forward last season shouldn’t be getting a sniff at the opening day roster this season. Yes, Jeremy Bracco is the Leafs top offensive prospect and their best player outside of the NHL currently, but that’s not good enough in the salary cap world.
First things first, we need to give credit where credit is due. For Bracco, he’s scored goals and produced points at every level. The only season where he was under a point a game was 2017/18 with the Marlies, his first jaunt against grown men. He followed up his 32 point (in 50gp) season with a 79 point campaign (75gp), plus a 16 point (13gp) playoff run.
All signs are pointing to Bracco stepping up and getting in on the Leafs high octane offense, right? Wrong. With the salary cap’s minimal increase and the Leafs need for sustainable, long-term solutions for their cap-crunched issues, Bracco must overcook in the incubator.
Why not now?
Let me state again, as I feel like I need to be completely clear here, he is likely NHL ready and there is certainly a position for him on the Leafs this season. Now, let’s get into why he isn’t going to be in the lineup on October 2nd.
It’s not romantic and it is a little boring, but it’s a finance issue. Bracco would only cost the Leafs $842,500 this season, but to keep him in the minors and use new international signing Ilya Mikheyev ($925,000) instead, the Leafs can keep Bracco on his cheap deal without exposing him to the NHL and thus giving him an opportunity to earn a big pay bump on his next deal, which will need to be negotiated after this season.
At 22, Bracco is young but not unproven. His age and his RFA status make him a solid sleeper option for the Leafs front office, but only after next season. I think if the team need a boost we could see Bracco be used as an offensive jolt, but let’s be honest this team likely won’t struggle to score goals.
Lastly, Bracco’s predicted usage would be as a bottom-six RW, and frankly, that isn’t going to do him any favors as a developing playmaker. When Bracco comes into this team he should get a look at middle-six ice time and second unit powerplay time as well. He’s a skill player so he needs these opportunity to flourish and grow. Let big bodied Mikheyev soak up the hard bottom-six minutes and allow Bracco to overcook into a homegrown offensive missile to be used in a few seasons time.