TLN Roundtable: How Would Expansion Impact the Leafs?

The first expansion draft of the salary cap era and in what will probably be 17 years before it actually happens. That’s pretty darn exciting, but has anyone stopped to ask how will this impact the Leafs? Actually I did that too, but despite the fact that I was completely right, we’re gonna open it up to discussion amongst the TLN writers and see what their thoughts are, and who’d they would want to protect in an expansion draft.

It’s probably worth noting that at this point we have no idea what the final rules will be for the expansion draft or have 100% certainty around who is exempt from the draft. Andreas Johnson is an interesting case since he will have played three years of pro hockey at that point, but do all of his European seasons count? If so, he may be someone we’d want to protect. The same is true if the Leafs add Nikita Zaitsev, and he actually pans out. If he needs to be protected, he’s probably going to get some consideration. For now, we’re focusing on the right hand column of the graphic below, but still giving the writers some leeway for their takes.



My initial reaction to the news that we could see expansion by the summer of 2017 was “oh cool, but it doesn’t really have an effect on the Leafs one way or another.” The more I think about it, the more I think it would be a positive for the Leafs mostly because it would be a much bigger negative for other teams. As much as we love some of the young players, the fact is that there isn’t much talent on the Leafs and as a result it’s easy to build an expansion draft ‘protection list’. Other teams on the other hand are going to have a much tougher time. The reports are still cloudy, but all indication is that teams won’t be able to protect more than one goalie. This could be huge for the Leafs. Pittsburgh has to choose between Fleury and Murray. Anaheim has to decide Andersen or Gibson. The Jets can’t protect both Hutchinson and Hellebuyck. The Blues, Lightning and a handful of other teams would have to make tough decisions when it comes to the net alone. That’s where the Leafs can pounce. Some of these teams would likely rather trade one of their goalies and recoup assets as opposed to losing them to an expansion team for nothing and since the Leafs don’t have a goalie worth protecting, they would be in a prime position to finally acquire the starter they need. This theory doesn’t just apply to goalies. Better teams will have more good players than available protection slots and could be looking to trade guys rather than leave them exposed in the draft, especially if the league expands to 32 teams and teams face losing two players.

Who to Protect? 

Forward: Nylander, Kadri, JVR, Kapanen, Soshinkov, Leipsic, Stamkos

Defence: Rielly, Gardiner, Carrick

Goal: Who cares, give them all away


Expansion in the NHL, whether it’s one team or two teams, the impact is so marginal on the grand scope of the league.

Looking at the last nine teams to join the NHL via expansion since 1991, we’ve got Anaheim and Tampa Bay who’ve won a Stanley Cup, exactly twice combined in 25 years. That’s not to say expansion teams are all garbage- but it’s incredibly hard to win a championship in any league, and it’s not like these expansion teams have been running the show since joining the NHL. With the ultimate goal being to win the title, expansion teams don’t have a great history of providing the strongest competition. It’s really just another team in the way, but the actual impact is pretty small.

Focusing more towards the draft: the biggest factor, for me, is the GM of the expansion team and his own playing style. It’s not the best tactic… but if I was running a team, I’d be looking at HERO charts of every single unprotected player in the league and seeing who’s underutilized but still performing well with strong underlying numbers. Besides some obvious big names that may be unprotected due to contract implications, or overpowered teams who aren’t able to protect all of their players, these types of underused players could  be the difference in an expansion draft.

Another thing to consider is the depth of league at a certain position. Frank Corrado might be a good bottom pairing defenceman, but is he going to be one of the top 6 defencemen picked up by a team? Nikita Soshnikov has been riding the wave at the NHL level, but will he be picked up right away in an expansion draft? These are things the team has to consider, and I’d argue you have to create the list at how you’d perceive other teams picking, not at how you value them within your own franchise.

Who to Protect?

Forward: Nylander, Kadri, JVR, Kapanen, Leipisic,  Brown, (Undetermined player the Leafs acquire before then that could be #91)

Defence: Rielly, Gardiner, Marincin

Goal: Sparks


I used a lot more words to cover this topic previously, but
basically I don’t see how you couldn’t love this from a Leafs perspective. They’ve
got a huge number of up and coming players who are completely exempt and a
roster that makes it a so you’re already protecting nice to have depth instead
of players that you’d truly miss. 

Unfortunately, I don’t buy into the pipe dream that an expansion team GM is going to go around selecting larger contracts as a means to get to get to the salary cap floor. There will be plenty of teams willing to unload bad contracts that can help them get there via trade and the expansion draft happens prior to free agency, so they’ll have plenty of money to throw around there. What that means for the Leafs is Lupul and Bozak would still be Toronto problems and we probably will be a little disappointed by who finds their way to Vegas.

What the Leafs have a great opportunity to spend
the next year adding to their team as other NHL clubs do what they can to make
sure they aren’t running the risk of losing a talented player for nothing. Goaltenders will be an especially easy target and the longer the Leafs wait, the less they’d probably have to pay to acquire a fairly decent netminder.  I
cannot think of a better time to be a rebuilding club.

Who to Protect?
Forwards: Nylander, Kadri, Kapanen, van Riemsdyk, Leipsic, Soshnikov, and God I
hope they acquire 7th forward worth keeping
Defense: Rielly, Gardiner, and either Marincin or Carrick depending on my mood
at the moment
Goaltender: They will trade for someone worth protecting between now and the
expansion draft.


The expansion draft will be a great way for Toronto to expose some of their remaining ‘big ticket’ contracts to other teams, but I doubt it really makes all that much of a difference in the end. Would Las Vegas really want to do the Leafs a solid and take on Joffrey Lupul? Maybe if they’re desperate to reach the salary floor, but I don’t think that will be the case. The play here for Toronto would honestly be to jettison the final year of Tyler Bozak’s deal, if he’s even still around. If not, the Leafs have enough protection slots to keep the young guys they love, and what’s left won’t be very attractive. In my mind, you expose the final year of Leo Komarov’s contract and hope Vegas springs for him instead of one of the kids you can’t protect. Or maybe if Vegas goes with an analytics-heavy front office, you lose Martin Marincin. I don’t see either to be a significant loss, though I’m sure someone is going to fight me on Marincin.

I’d protect James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, Brendan Leipsic, Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov, Connor Brown as my seven forwards; Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Connor Carrick as my defencemen; and Garret Sparks as my goalie. That said, I expect a large amount of roster turnover between now and the expansion draft, and I expect someone like, say, Steven Stamkos or a new #1 goalie, to be bumping a name or two off my current protected list. I think at that point, it’d be a great problem to have.

  • Gary Empey

    The cap floor of 52M/30 players (one per NHL team) is 1.6M per player. It is not about taking 30 huge contracts. You can get to 52M by taking a mix of ELC/low/high priced players.

    At any rate, what we will see is a replay of the 2000 draft where some existing teams gave incentives to the expansion teams to draft the players they no longer want by offering prospect and picks. Those teams that don’t offer incentives to take specific contracts are more likely to see their young ELC players being taken.

    • Brooksterman

      I think what is more likely is what happened during the last expansion draft and that say Connor Brown and a couple of their other young guys have big years next year with the Leafs and they can’t protect all of them what they’ll do is make a trade with Vegas with the premise that they don’t take those certain guys. Leafs have a lot of 2nd round picks coming up to be able to do this.

      And I agree on the goalie front that if expansion is announced that there will be a lot of movement. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pittsburgh just decided to leave Fleury unprotected though they would probably still trade Tristan Jarry as he’s eligible for the expansion draft as well and he’s considered a top young upcoming goalie. Tampa won’t have to worry as if Bishop is still there when the expansion draft roles around he’ll be a pending UFA anyways and thus would not be eligible for the expansion draft.

  • CMpuck

    Can expansion teams sign UFAs? It’s total bs to leach ideal cost friendly contracts off other teams then spend spend spend in free agency with excess cap room.

    Good chance under these rules an expansion team can build a playoff team in a week.

    • They will probably be forced to take a certain number of contracts in the expansion draft, limiting their ability to go crazy on the free agent market. That, and I sincerely doubt you’ll see high-quality UFAs choose an expansion team over a more stable organization with a clearer future.

    • magesticRAGE

      Not exactly fair, but it is good for the league in general. The faster an expansion tank becomes competitive, the faster their revenue can increase, of which are shared and raised the cap. I say this now…

  • CMpuck

    These shiny new young player we want protect may turn out to just another Bozak or Komarov or whomever. In fact, they may even be underperform that expectations as a lot of these guys never pan out.

    We don’t need to protect too many of these guys (kapanen for sure) but for the others Id rather we get better prospects or actual quality NHL forwards to protect.

  • Brooksterman

    I think what could be an interesting strategy is if teams are going into the last year of a contract with a player they want to keep and they will be a pending UFA then what they might do is work out the contract mid season but don’t make it official until after the expansion draft that way the player isn’t eligible for the expansion draft and the team doesn’t have to use up a protected spot for him. It’s a loophole in the process that I would think teams might try.

  • CMpuck

    Nothing wrong with adding one team but hopefully two teams as Garry Bettman waters down the mediocre product even more but the owners gain a billion extra to put in their piggy banks. Yesiree excitement for true N.H.L. fans to watch exciting, chilling and thrilling A.H.L. players. Enjoy your watered down wiskey drink hockey fans as Gary Bettman gives you a happy hour.

  • Spinner_Spencer

    Sadly the Oilers will continue to circle the bowl and end up with the first pick overall in the draft lottery no matter how bad the new team(s) are.

  • Gary Empey

    What if teams are forced to use protection slots on players with no move clauses and the leafs are forced to protect bozak and lupul over say kapanen or leipsic? I know there will be plenty of turn over by then but this could make those players harder to move than before as well.

    • Gary Empey

      This is something still to be hammered out.

      Logic tells you players with no movement would be automatically placed on the protected list.

      Players with limited no trade clauses are subject to waivers and could be be made available for exspansion.

      Nathan Horton is the only Leaf with a No-Movement Clause

      Bozak, Greening, Lupil, Michalek, Robidas all have Limited No Trade Clauses. (a limited number of teams they could be traded to)

      These clauses have real value to the players and their families. A player who wants one included in their contract will accept less money and agree to the term the team wants to acquire one.

  • Gary Empey

    Quick question: I wonder how NHL expansion will impact the top talent in the KHL?

    For sake of argument, let’s say adding 2 expansion teams opens up a half-dozen slots (or more) across the NHL for KHL-level players to fill. Losing this much top talent at once has to have some long-term ramifications for a league trying to bill itself as being at or very near NHL-caliber (even while it struggles to keep teams and pay some of its players).

    Not that I necessarily care about the KHL … just curious.