That sound you hear isn't the reverberation of rival fists or Brenden Shanahan's figurative hammer. That slow crunching sound is that of the Toronto Maple Leafs salary cap situation getting increasingly tighter after Sunday night's line brawl with the Buffalo Sabres.
Of course, line brawl isn't entirely accurate as Toronto forward David Clarkson became an "and-one" after he left the Maple Leafs bench to aide his teammates. While the act was well intentioned, it was also a major misjudgment on the part of Clarkson as he will be given an automatic 10-game suspension when the regular season starts on Oct. 1.
Considering Toronto signed Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million contract this summer, the inability to officially display a major free agent signing for the majority of the season's first month can't be ideal for the Maple Leafs (Clarkson will be eligible to return on Oct. 25 against the Columbus Blue Jackets). On a logistical level, however, the loss of Clarkson is problematic for Toronto because his annual average value of $5.25 million remains on the team's salary cap for the duration of his suspension.
Darren Dreger of TSN has already stated on multiple occasions that Toronto will struggle to dress a maximum number of players prior to the trade deadline because of how close to the salary cap they are. In addition, the club is still looking to sign restricted free agent defenseman Cody Franson and many speculate that the club will look to sign Mason Raymond to a standard player contract after his strong performance in training camp on a professional tryout contract.
With Clarkson out of the lineup for 10 games, the Maple Leafs will need to dress someone in his place. More so to that point, forward Phil Kessel is also likely to be suspended multiple games (apparently, he's going to get an automatic one-game suspension for an intent to injure penalty) as he took two swings at Sabres forward John Scott just as the brawl was developing. Kessel's swings were intended to do harm, as well as reckless in nature. While he was at a disadvantage given the size differential with Scott, it still doesn't excuse Kessel's decision to swing his stick with that amount of force.
In the event Kessel joins Clarkson in the press box to start the season, the Maple Leafs roster dilemma will only intensify. Whether the team can formulate a creative solution to this issue remains to be seen.