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
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
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.