Making Sense of the Expansion Draft

Back in December during the Board of Governors meeting the topic of what the Expansion Draft needs to look like was first raised publicly. I responded with a whole lot of speculation on the topic. Today as the GM meetings wrap up we’ve begun to get a bit of insight into what we can actually expect to see, and once again we can begin to speculate on how that will impact that Leafs.

So there’s our starting place, a timeline on when we can expect an expansion announcement, and the prediction that we are most likely to see the NHL expand by one team, in Las Vegas. 

This isn’t hugely surprising since the Canadian dollar has struggled, Quebec wasn’t a strong market two decades ago when that was also the case, and now we’re also seeing what happens to ticket sales when Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Ottawa don’t have competitive teams. An expansion team is at best coming in at the lower end of being a bubble team, and with a few years of work to do. Winnipeg is doing an excellent job of showing it’s impatience for that. 

There is also the fact that this would be the NHL’s first time expanding and holding an expansion draft in the salary cap era. They are likely going to want to test this out with one team to make sure they get it right. Add in the fact that the NHL wants Seattle to take a run at a team, it’s likely they re-open the expansion process in the near future.

What this means for the Leafs: The Leafs will probably only lose one player in the Expansion Draft since it will be required that all teams lose one player. It’s not going to be a dramatic tear down of the organization, but likely one of the better, younger players the Leafs control will be on their way out.

This in theory sounds like a very fair way to make sure that the Expansion Team(s) have a shot at bona fide NHL players, but most teams are probably able to get there exclusively on regrettable contracts or players starting to pass their prime. 

What this means for the Leafs: Lupul, Bozak, Horton, and Komarov help get the Leafs a lot of the way to where they need to be in order to meet that 25% target. If players who will be becoming UFAs also count towards that, you can add in Greening, Michalek, and Bernier to make sure the Leafs won’t be exposing players they want to keep because of this rule.

The interesting twist on this is that for other teams around the league, they will likely be sitting on talented players they will have to expose, but don’t want to risk losing for nothing. This is where the Leafs are in a good position to acquire NHL talent in what should be a very active trade market next June.

That’s where it starts getting interesting and this was one of my biggest questions back in December, who is going to be exempt. This does an excellent job of taking a lot of the key futures off the board which has to be a big deal for teams.

This is still a fuzzy area for me. Are European leagues treated as professional leagues? Does time spent in the AHL while your entry level deal slides count as being a pro? Does this simply mean that players on the first or second year of their entry level deal are exempt? I’m also curious if this means that if the second year is considered completed at the end of the 2016-17 season, is that player now exposed in the Expansion Draft and require protection?

What this means for the Leafs: Basically this comes down to which prospects need to be protected. In all likelihood Nylander, Kapanen, and Soshnikov need to be protected. We know for sure that Brown, Leipsic, Connor Carrick, and Harrington would be eligible for the draft. Zach Hyman, Frederik Gauther, Andreas Johnson, and Tobias Lindstrom are the interesting cases as they would have completed 2 years of pro contracts at that point.

Ultimately this means very little for the Leafs, the Leafs are going to lose one good young player, but through the number of protected spaces, it won’t be the best of the best. It’s the unfortunate reality that a well run team isn’t going to take Joffrey Lupul in the expansion draft, that doesn’t mean they won’t be trade for him later to get to the cap floor, but a smart team will be focusing on the best 20-25 year olds available to them at this point. They’ll take care of the cap floor via trades and free agency later.

This is the true meat of the announcements today. Each team can protect either the template of seven forwards, three defenseman and a goaltender, or they can have the freedom to go with eight skaters using whatever combination they want and one goaltender. This isn’t too far off of what the NHL set out previously, but before the second option allowed for you to protect a second goaltender, so that exclusion is interesting. 

This will certainly lead to interesting trades to the new team(s) to make sure other players are not selected, and I’m sure this will again be heavily influenced by goaltenders more than any other position.

It’s fascinating that by protecting Braden Holtby, the Caps will have to expose a very talented goaltending prospect in Ilya Samsonov or the Pens will have to choose between protecting Marc-Andre Fleury or exposing Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. This should make for a very interesting goaltender trade market prior to the Expansion Draft.

What this means for the Leafs: The Leafs are in a very good situation in that they do not have a surplus of high end talent that would need to be exposed in the Expansion Draft. A quick breakdown of their situation using players in their system today gives us this:


Now, obviously that’s a starting point, and if I were to share my own projections on who gets protected it’s:


At least, unless the Leafs plan on adding a talented center from Tampa or pretty much any other major transaction, this is where I’d start. I can certainly understand the case that can be made for Marincin over Carrick, or if Brown or Leipsic don’t particularly stand out, maybe there’s a case for Komarov as well, but in the absence of major long term acquisitions the Leafs easily fit into the space required.

The most interesting name on the list is probably Garret Sparks. Given the amount of talented goaltenders who will be available heading into an expansion draft

#1. The Leafs will be in a prime situation to trade for a strong young goaltender

#2. With the amount of talent that will be available, it’s likely Sparks would not be taken, as the Leafs are a much better option for a young skater.

The potential overhaul of the Leafs lineup over the summer largely makes this exercise pointless, but serves the point that the Leafs would be wise to again pursue short term contracts and limit themselves to at most one or two major acquisitions to not risk exposing top talent in the Expansion Draft.

The last real frontier of the expansion draft is the one that needs the greatest input from the NHLPA, and that’s what to do with No Trade and No Movement Clauses. 

Seemingly, no trade clauses should be easily factored into this because these players can already be exposed to waivers and potentially wind up on any team in the league. I say “seemingly” because the NHLPA will still fight the NHL on this.

No Movement Clauses are far more interesting because it truly handcuffs the team on any movement. If a player with this clause identifies an expansion team as place they wouldn’t go, how is that treated?

Personally, I operate under the idea that teams should not get a “get out jail free card” on this, and have a player protected without using one of their protected spaces, I believe the team should be required to protect that player. It seems like common sense, but that’s not always how this league operates.

What this means for the Leafs: Of course the names on the Leafs with NTC are Lupul and Bozak and having to protect either of them in an expansion draft is about the most unappealing thought ever. So let’s hope I’m right and No Trade Clauses aren’t a factor in this.

The other player that factors into this is Nathan Horton who has a no movement clause that expires after the 2016-17 season and then turns into a no trade clause. As was rightfully mentioned to me earlier it’s probably just a simple matter of asking Nathan Horton to waive his NMC for the expansion draft, knowing he won’t be picked, but an interesting situation nonetheless.

Final Thoughts

#1. Nazem Kadri has a contract expiring this summer, do you sign him to a one year deal and hope that an expansion team doesn’t pick him up because they will lose him as a UFA? Do you feel confident that Kadri can be brought back after and that the price associated with this risk would be worth it?

#2. The trade market should be sensational heading into the expansion draft, I’d be doing everything in my power to make sure I enter the next season with the cap space and a number of available contracts to help make the most of it.

#3. Given that the 2016-17 season is the last season before potential chaos, how many teams are going to be looking to “win now” and what does that do to the market of Leafs players who wouldn’t necessary fit into the Leafs long term plans? Who can the Leafs sell high on? Is this the going to create a bigger market for Bozak and van Riemsdyk?

In short, chaos in the NHL is good for a team that has a young, growing base of talent and few long term commitments. The Leafs may lose a young player who could’ve been a long term fixture in the bottom half of their lineup, but they have plenty more of those guys to spare. Few teams are in the position the Leafs are to escape expansion with as little damage as they will, and few teams are in the position to pick up the pieces faster. At the very least, few things will be more exciting than an expansion draft in the twitter age.

UPDATE: We have confirmation that Nylander & Co. would fit into the need to protect group.

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  • hockeyphreak

    Assuming Zaitsev comes over the summer, he looks like the 3rd D to protect IMO.

    I also think Komarov should be protected as he brings a lot of intangibles and should be our next captain before the kids take over.

    • Vancityleaffan

      I wouldn’t protect Komarov. They are only going to take one player per team.

      IMO if that’s Komarov, I’m not that upset as it means they didn’t take any of our young but unprotected players.

      Also, there is no way the Leafs make Komarov the next captain. I love Uncle Leo as much as anyone, but that’s crazy talk.

    • TGT23

      …How are they “saddled” with Horton’s LTIR cap? It comes off the books at the beginning of every season. It doesn’t count towards the cap. How is that being saddled with it? That’s being freed of Clarkson’s contract.

      Is everything negative in your world?

  • TGT23

    The goalie aspect is the most intriguing to me. We’re weak here where a few teams are strong. What can we trade the Caps to get a Samsonov, for example. I still do not see Kadri as a core to a cup Leafs team, but Washington could use him.

    The snapshot of Strombo’s interview had Caps GM put their window at 2 years. From an asset management perspective, another opportunity to use hyper discounting in our favor and draw on the teams that need to win now.

  • TGT23

    I don’t understand the thought behind protecting Hyman and not protect Bozak? Let me ask you question, who would return more in a trade.

    I think the smart thing to do is trade Bozak but is hard to fathom him having less value then guys who have barely played NHL hockey.

    • Gary Empey

      Well it comes down to you have offer one of those two players for free to the Los Lobos expansion team.

      Which one would you rather lose Bozak or Hyman?

      Steitzer wants to keep the much younger Hyman over the 29 year old Bozak.

    • TGT23

      I can explain this pretty easily.


      Tyler Bozak probably wouldn’t interest an expansion team very much. Mostly because he will be 30 in three days. An expansion team that doesn’t have much of a prospect system would likely not be interested in aging players. Building a young NHL core will be top priority.

      Hyman is 23-years old. That’s the kind of age an expansion team would be interested in acquiring in their first year. Again, they won’t have a very deep prospect pool so the more young talent they can take in the expansion draft the better. A guy like Hyman would definitely get taken. A guy like Bozak may survive.

      Finally, I don’t think Bozak actually fetches very much in trade. 4.2M for what will likely be an offensive leaning #3C might be a bit too much for most teams.

      So, protecting him just to get a 3rd or a 4th next season might be worth it, in the long run. I mean, if you just end up losing Hyman instead, do you really gain anything? Is Hyman not already the kind of guy you will hope to draft in the 3rd or 4th?

  • TGT23

    I think some of you are missing something critical from your analysis.

    As per Cox: What emerged from today’s meeting is that each team will likely be able to protect seven forwards, three defenceman and just one goalie. Any new team would have to draft enough highly-paid players to get to the salary cap floor.

    Note the second line by Cox about drafting enough highly paid players to get to the SALARY CAP FLOOR. That suggests players like Lupul (and Bozak if unprotected) are more likely to be taken then a player like Johnson, Hyman or whomever.

    The smart thing to do is push the expansion team to take on Lupul and not give them a better option of Bozak. They will take on cheaper players as what GM in a rebuild wouldn’t want a team full of players with potential and low ELCs.

    But according to COX’s the draft is designed to get the expansion to the salary floor. Rather then to rape and pillage teams of their prospects with cheap ELCs. Thereafter they can sign UFAs or trades just like any other team. So in those terms, I would try to encourage the drafting team to take Lupul.

  • magesticRAGE

    I like the list you made, but I would rather protect Rinat Valiev, he’s a better prospect, and I would want to pick him up.
    I like the idea of trading Bozak, and dangling Lupul. Also, maybe hiding Komarov in another country or something, till the draft is over. I’m sure Lou Pridham will think of something.

  • N.Rad

    “Zach Hyman, Frederik Gauther, Andreas Johnson, and Tobias Lindstrom are the interesting cases as they would have completed 2 years of pro contracts at that point.”

    How can Zack Hyman have completed 2 years of pro contract?

    Under NCAA rules if you sign a pro contract, you lose your scholarship. Hyman didn’t sign a contract until June 23, 2015

    “The Maple Leafs also announced today that the club has come to terms with forward Zach Hyman on a two-year entry level contract.”

    I think he only has one year and would be exempt.

    Good thing too…he’s a great prospect.

  • magesticRAGE

    A little clairifcation on what I said on Hyman. A the end of this year, one year completed.

    According to Lebrun

    first- and second-year “pros” exempt from potential expansion draft, not necessarily NHL players. Pro includes AHL

    So next year Hyman is a second year pro…I think he is still exempt. We might sneak under the wire here, but more clarification needed.

  • magesticRAGE

    Now a final bit of clarification: The 2017 draft in Chicago is on June 23-24, 2017. If the expansion draft occurs before the 2017 entry draft then 2 full years will not have elapsed since the date of signing of Hyman’s first pro contract which occurred on June 23 2015.

    He is different than Nylander who signed with the Leafs in the summer of 2014.

    Depending on the wording of the rules for expansion, we might have a very legitimate claim to keep Hyman exempt.

    I am quite sure “Loop Hole” Lou will point out this to the league.

  • N.Rad

    Would Austin Matthews need to be protected? Even though he has not been drafted yet he still played in the Swiss professional league for a year, and when he plays next year in either the AHL or NHL that will give him 2 years of professional hockey.

    And if the European leagues do not count, then can we ship all our players overseas for a year? They would be under contract with the Leafs but they would not be playing in a “professional” league?

  • N.Rad

    According to the CBA, “Professional games” means games played while under an SPC in the AHL, or in any other league outside North America. (Article 1: Definitions–“Professional Games” and “Minor league”)

    1. A game played anywhere without an SPC does not count.
    2. A game game played with an SPC, in North America, but not in the NHL or AHL, does not count.
    3. A game played with an SPC outside North America in any league counts.

    This does not specifically address the question of what counts as a year, but it does give us some indication of what the NHL means by “professional”.

    Under this definition:

    A. Soshnikov’s years in the KHL don’t count, because he didn’t sign an SPC until his 2014-15 KHL season was over.
    B. Hyman’s years in the NCAA don’t count, because they were in North America and not in the AHL.
    C. Matthews’ year in Switzerland does count, because he had an SPC.

  • N.Rad

    I think the rules are a little BS, any player on a ELC should be exempt in my opinion!

    That’s why the NHL for you and why they seem like a developmental league compared to the NFL and MLB. Just look at the wild card situation and unbalanced conferences.