The Expansion Draft Landscape and the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Las Vegas Golden Knights revealed their name and branding on Tuesday night, reminding us that this thing is really happening and that the league is about to get a little bigger. With that in mind, I decided to take a crack at the potential implications for the Toronto Maple Leafs come the day of the Expansion Draft, where one player will be dragged away to the land of Gamblor while the rest sit and watch, whether they’re exempt, protected, or waiting in the balance. Let’s dive in!

Exempt Players

The following players, due to their lack of significant North American pro experience (aka, AHL and NHL), are exempt from the expansion draft entirely, no matter what happens this season:

Trevor Moore Mitch Marner Frederik Gauthier
Auston Matthews William Nylander Andreas Johnson
Zach Hyman Kasperi Kapanen Nikita Soshnikov
Tobias Lindberg Nikita Zaitsev Justin Holl
Dmytro Timashov Travis Dermott Andrew Nielsen
Stephane Robidas Rinat Valiev Kasimir Kaskisuo

You’re reading this right; the entire big three are exempt. Zaitsev, Soshnikov, and Hyman, all on the regular Leafs roster already, are also exempt. Kapanen, Gauthier, Moore, Lindberg, Timashov, Dermott, Valiev, and Nielsen, who are basically the core of the Marlies, are all exempt. Justin Holl and Kasimir Kaskisuo aren’t vital, but they are exempt. Most importantly, the Leafs won’t lose Stephane Robidas two weeks before he officially retires. What a time to be alive.

Forced, But Not Really

On paper, the Leafs are forced to protect Nathan Horton, but the odds of them actually having to do so are pretty low. The league is looking into a way to give exemptions to players who are legitimately injured long-term, and even if that isn’t the case, there’s less than zero chance that the Golden Knights will take Horton, so I doubt he has any issue waiving his NMC before the draft. He’s the only player forced to be protected in the organization, so this realistically means that the team has free reign.

Who To Protect

This now leaves a very important question: If all the top kids are already protected, and Leafs aren’t forced to protect anybody, who do they hold close? For the sake of this exercise, we will go with the 7 forward, 3 defencemen, 1 goaltender model (teams can opt for 8 skaters and a goalie if they value their defence a lot, or not at all). No particular order as far as these guys go, but…

  • Forward 1: Nazem Kadri. He’s getting better and better as his role shifts into an annoying shutdown forward with the occasional scoring opportunity, and now that his stick isn’t as ice-cold as it was last year, he’s a lock to have on the team moving forward.
  • Forward 2: James van Riemsdyk. Officially a Top 100 Leaf of all time. Good at hockey. Good at being a good contract. Thanks again, Luke Schenn.
  • Forward 3: Kerby Rychel. Hasn’t been overly amazing with the Marlies so far this year, but his bounces will come. Still a decently touted and young enough prospect. May as well.
  • Forward 4: Connor Brown. He plays relentless hockey and he’s only getting better. AHL experience is the only reason he’s at a protectable stage, so lock him up.
  • Forward 5: Brendan Leipsic. He’ll probably be playing heavy minutes with the Leafs next year and he’s ripping up the AHL. Again, keep the prospect pool as tight as you possibly can.
  • Forward 6: Tyler Bozak. Maybe the right move is to sell high on him at some point, but for now, he’s having his best year of his career and he’s been a go-to vet in that room. He stays. 
  • Forward 7: Josh Leivo. I’ll explain this later, but he’s the second best remaining option.
  • Defence 1: Morgan Rielly. About as much of a lock as you’re going to get; he’s young, he’s locked up, and he’s a leader for the team.
  • Defence 2: Jake Gardiner. Signed to a great deal and drives the heck out of play when he’s on the ice. Another no-brainer.
  • Defence 3: Connor Carrick. You can’t possibly make an argument for protecting either half of Polwick, Viktor Loov hasn’t been good enough to worry about protecting, Andrew Campbell is an AHL vet, and after that, you’re basically looking at Carrick, Marincin, and Corrado. Take the one actually getting ice time and performing well.
  • Goaltender 1: Frederik Andersen. Again, another easy one; he’s bounced back after a slow start and he’s signed long-term. Unless Sparks or Bibeau dominate or the Penguins gift the team Matt Murray in exchange for Kyle Dubas never asking about an ex-Greyhound ever again, it’s Freddie.

Notable Exposures

Most of the players that are being exposed here are pretty par for the corse, as referenced before. 

Polak, Hunwick, Marincin, Corrado, Loov, and Campbell are your defencemen. You don’t really want to lose players who have the underlying talents of Marincin and Corrado, but Marincin has had a rough year and Corrado has been a healthy scratch all season. Quick note on a misconception: the Leafs aren’t scratching Corrado to make him exempt. The “40/70” rule isn’t what makes you eligible for the draft; it’s a team requirement that you must have X amount of players that fit under 40/70, but a player doesn’t have to reach it to be draft it. Scratching him to make him less likely to be picked? Maybe, but the playoffs are more important than holding on to Frank Corrado, so I have to imagine they’re scratching him because of their own perception of performance, not anything else.

In goal, the Leafs leave Jhonas Enroth, Garret Sparks, and Antoine Bibeau up for grabs. Again, it would take a huge performance out of the kids for this to be considered a problem; there are much higher profile goalies about to be left up for grabs and only so many spots for Vegas to fill.

Up front, you’re allowing the Golden Knights a chance at Joffrey Lupul, Books Laich, Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Matt Martin, Peter Holland, Ben Smith, Byron Froese, and Leo Komarov.

Back to the 40/70 rule; that’s the reason why the Leafs are exposing Komarov in this theoretical situation. Toronto has to expose two players that land under it and are signed through 2018. The players that meet that stipulation are Kadri, Bozak, Komarov, and Matt Martin. James van Riemsdyk needs 10 games to reach it. No disrespect to Martin and Komarov, but they’re the two weak links here.

Cheating The System

If you would like to leave, say, Leivo exposed and protect Komarov instead, there is a way around this. You can either trade for an experienced forward who fits these requirements, call up Byron Froese to play on the fourth line for 14 games and then sign him to a 1-year extension, or my personal favourite idea, offer Brooks Laich an extension.

If Laich believes that he doesn’t have much time left in the National Hockey League but would like to stay around the organization, this may be a good way to go about things. The Leafs could sign him to a lower cost, 1-year extension. Then, the Leafs can protect Komarov instead and have Laich as one of their two exposed forwards. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if doing this led to the Golden Knights claiming him. His temporary 2016/17 cap hit can help them get to their necessary floor on draft day, and his history with team GM and former Capitals GM George McPhee might lead to him being chosen as a character add.

If the Leafs can turn Brooks Laich into an avoidance of the 40/70 curse, and use him to keep the Golden Knights away from your fancy stat darling defencemen, that trade just looks even better. If not, you’ll at least get the former, and he can be waived to either a new home or the Marlies in October.

Either way, we’ll have to see how things play out in the coming months. Toronto might make moves that render this projection obsolete, but it’s interesting to think about right now nonetheless.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    Most of the guys you suggest can be exposed do not meet the required exposure rules.

    As it stands now the Leafs only have 5 forwards who meet the required exposure rules. Kadri, JVR (projected needs 10 more games). Bozak, Komarov, Martin. The Leafs MUST expose two of them.

    Every other forward (not exempt), in the system either doesn’t have the required number of games or is not under contract for 2018 (only Laich and Holland have the games, but no contract). We can sign these guys but if they are not the one taken by Vegas they will be on next years roster.

    On defence we only have 3 D that presently meet the required exposure rules. Marincin, Rielly and Gardiner. (Carack needs 23 more NHL games)

    Andersen is the only goalie at present who meets the required exposure rules.

    It won’t come down to who you are allowed to protect, but who you must expose.

    The penalty for not exposing 2 forwards and 1 D-man who meet the required exposure rules is a 1st round pick and 2 seconds.awarded to Vegas.

    As it stands it looks like Marincin, Martin, and Komarov are the most likely ones who meet the rules.

    I am pretty sure the required exposed player can be given a qualifying offer for next year to make him eligible.

    Trades this year will have to be carefully considered as to the effect it has on players that must be exposed.

  • DukesRocks

    Good read Jeff, I was waiting for this article to be written by one of you guys. Really gives you an idea what GM will have to deal with come the trade deadline.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    From a memo distributed from the NHL to its 30 teams on Tuesday night.

    Nathan Horton is required to be protected by the Leafs. Leaving only six forwards we can protect.

    • DukesRocks

      Jeff was going under the assumption, Leaf could argue that Horton will never play in the NHL due to injury and therefore should be exempt. I was shocked the Leafs had to protect him as well. I don’t follow how this effects the D-side and exposing Rielly?

          • LukeDaDrifter

            You missed nothing. I forgot he was a forward. I must of been thinking of Tim. I did find this though from the NHL. So that means we do have a slot open to pick up a top four D-man.

            * Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more
            than the previous 60 consecutive games (or who otherwise have been
            confirmed to have a career-threatening injury) may not be used to
            satisfy a club’s player exposure requirements, unless approval is
            received from the NHL

            I read that to mean, even if Horton agreed to waive his NMC he wouldn’t meet the exposure requirements.

          • LukeDaDrifter

            If you are a team that wants to get some return for a player likely to be taken in the expansion draft, do you think the GM;s will likely hang on to them for as long as they can this year?

            I see Winnipeg has two D-men with NMC. Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom. That means they can only protect one of Myers.or Trouba.

            Carolina Hurricanes presently only have one D-man who actually meets the expansion draft rules. Justin Faulk. It is doubfull they would want to lose him. So they will have to sign a couple of guys they don’t really want for exposure.

            To use the old expression, some teams are in deep $hit.

            The Leafs are in good shape. Likely picking up a young top four and bringing up Nielson and maybe Dermott next year.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        The Ducks must protect Kevin Bieksa. They can only protect two of Lindholm, Fowler, Vatanen, Stoner, Manson, Some good young players will be available.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    I read “a handful of injured players will/may be exempted – i.e. New Jersey’s Ryane
    Clowe, Toronto’s Nathan Horton and Columbus’ David Clarkson”

    So it is still a little unclear to me whether Horton’s automatic protection is a done deal or still being negotiated with the NHL and the Player’s Association.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      Each team will be required to expose at least two forwards, one defenseman, and one goaltender who are under contract for the 2017-18 season. The forwards and defenseman must have played in at least 40 NHL games in the 2016-17 season or 70 combined games between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

  • Marcel DePass

    Maybe Carrick is getting his playing time to meet the requirement, which would kinda explain Corrado sitting. Frankie is the better defender, but Carrick has the higher offensive upside.

  • Stan Smith

    While it is a great article with lots of thinking going into it, the Leafs team could look drastically different come draft time, especially if they are out of a playoff spot at the trade deadline.

    Also, don’t forget the Leafs can only lose one player in the draft, and the player that other teams may be forced to expose will create opportunities for the Leafs to pick up some decent talent, especially on defence. My thinking is that at least one of the players they will protect on D isn’t even on the team yet.

    Whoever the Leafs lose was never going to be a key cog in the future of the team, and if they play their cards right they might come out of the whole situation with a better roster.

  • Awesomodian

    It is my understanding that Vegas takes one player from every team. If the above article is accurate and we expose Komarov, then that is almost certainly the guy they will take given all the other unappealing options

    • LukeDaDrifter

      As long as we don’t trade Komarov beforehand, then you have to look who’s next in line with the exposure requirements. Personally I think Lou is way out front on this. We have lots of room on the D-side. It is a little tighter with the forwards. Let’s not forget Vegas is paying 16 million for each player. The NHL designed the exposure rules to make sure they are competitive in the first year. It is going to be interesting to see how the trades play-out this year. Some teams (not the Leafs) will miss opportunities to improve the club because adding a good player will be exposing one of their young core. Players like Phaneuf will be almost impossible to move.with his NTC. This year it leaves Ottawa with only two D-men they can protect.