Ah, the most boring expansion draft in the league.
The question this weak was pretty simple: Who would you protect in the expansion draft?
There were two lists that came out of this exercise.
Forwards: Kadri, Komarov, JVR, Bozak, Leipsic, Leivo, Brown
Defence: Gardiner, Rielly, Carrick
I’m assuming this is going to look like a pretty standard list when it comes to who the Leafs should protect, but with one key difference: my list does not include Matt Martin.
The two candidates who seem most likely to be left exposed for Martin are Josh Leivo and Brendan Leipsic. Protecting Leivo, to me, is an absolute no brainer. He was great when given the chance to play in the NHL and only sat due to his inability to play on the PK. Meanwhile, Leipsic had a fantastic season in the AHL and seems like he can be a useful NHLer going forward.
As Leaf fans, we’ve been spoiled with the quality of prospects we’ve acquired over the past few seasons. So spoiled, in fact, that I think we tend to undervalue guys like Leivo and Leispic. Also, Vegas is set to take on a number of big contracts and I don’t think it’ll be hard for them to stay away from Martin in the draft.
Out of this, there isn’t much of any value for the Vegas Knights to steal. Most likely it would be the closest thing to a prospect available, Kerby Rychel. The other option would be to select a depth defenseman in Marincin/Marchenko, but with the high number of those available in the expansion draft, I think Vegas will take the possible future value instead. All in all, not much of a loss for the Maple Leafs.
In my perfect scenario the Leafs could unload Bozak for blue-line help before expansion and then protect that player (instead of Carrick) and Rychel, but in reality it’s likely that Rychel is claimed by Vegas. I wrote a while ago that the team would likely lose Leivo or Rychel, but since Leivo is further along and the club did a lot to avoid losing him this past year, I think there’s a better chance he stays. McPhee might have the option to pick either, though, if Toronto uses a protection slot on Matt Martin.
My biggest debate throughout the season was Kerby Rychel or Leo Komarov, based strictly on maximum asset value. As the season progressed, Komarov pushed through his offensive regression and proved his defensive worth, giving him the slight edge.
In this scenario, I think Martin Marincin gets taken Vegas, as he’s a cheap defenceman with promising underlying numbers that they can experiment with more as an expansion team with no expectation. With that said, the Leafs are totally protecting Matt Martin and they’ll more likely lose whichever one of Josh Leivo or Brendan Leipsic comes off the list.
This is pretty easy, in my opinion, which is a good thing for the Leafs. The most valuable player they could stand to lose would be either Kerby Rychel or Martin Marincin, who you’d like to keep, but losing either one wouldn’t make a huge impact.
Forwards: JVR, Bozak, Kadri, Komarov, Brown, Leipsic, Rychel
Defense: Rielly, Gardiner, Carrick
It’s a pretty straightforward for the Leafs this year. Protect everyone with significant value, and that leaves you with two forward spots. Leipsic is the no brainer of the bunch, and then either Rychel or Leivo. I went with Rychel because I think he has a higher ceiling than Leivo, but I wouldn’t be angry if the Leafs went with Leivo. I WOULD be angry they picked Martin though.
Worst case scenario, the Leafs lose Marincin or one of Leivo or Rychel. Best case scenario, Vegas takes Martin, and gets rid of that contract from the Leafs.
In the modified words of Herb Brooks in Miracle, I’m sick and tired of hearing what a good hockey player Josh Leivo is. Not really, but I think a lot of people seem to overestimate exactly his value and potential impact on the Leafs roster. He’s a career 0.44 points per game player, which is… the exact same rate Connor Brown put up this year. There’s an argument to be made about his icetime as he produced very well in a limited role this season, but conversely he put up 3 points in his first 20 NHL games as well. While there’s likely a place for Leivo in an NHL lineup somewhere, if it’s not Toronto you won’t see me too concerned about it. At his peak (which could be right now, he’s already 24) Leivo probably won’t top 45 points in a season. If the Leafs lose a 3rd round pick from 2011 who’s played 41 NHL games, there shouldn’t be any harm in that.
Kerby Rychel, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a lock to be a major contributor either, but has shown the ability to produce at a similar AHL rate to Leivo while being two draft classes behind him.
(If you’d like to see my picks in video format with a further explanation, click here for my interview on Canadia Hockey with Matthew Henriques.)