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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs will probably lose Josh Leivo or Kerby Rychel in the Vegas draft

Among the 30 teams that will expose players for selection by the Vegas Knights in the expansion draft next month, you could argue that the Leafs are in the safest position of all. Due to the fact they essentially ripped their franchise down to the frame and built it back up with so much youth in the last 24 months or so, their list of exemptions covers the main pieces of their core, and they have enough protections to take care of their best complimentary players.

When Vegas gets around to plucking someone from Toronto’s list on June 17th, the pickings are going to be pretty slim, but there is some value there, and of course there’s potential for the Leafs to make this whole process harder on themselves than it needs to be.

You’re probably already aware that there are tools out there to project how the expansion draft might play out. The best of them, of course, is CapFriendly’s version. [If you haven’t given it a try, go over there, turn on Enforce Expansion Requirement Rules, do a Quick Protect, and go to work.]

Using CapFriendly’s mock draft tool and their rundown of the rules of expansion, we can make a pretty confident guess at how Toronto’s exposure list will look next month, keeping in mind there are two ways teams can go about protecting players who need protecting.

Option 1
Forwards 7
Defense 3
Goalies 1
Option 2
Skaters (F / D) 8
Goalies 1

It’s speculated the Leafs will go the 7-3-1 route, protecting the following players:

F – Kadri, Van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Komarov, Leipsic, Brown, Martin

D – Rielly, Gardiner, Carrick

G – Andersen

We can debate over Matt Martin and his nine-point season all we want (and I will), but the Leafs are protecting that guy, no doubt. Beyond this protected group, there’s a big list of exemptions where you’ll find the names like Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Kapanen, Hyman, and so on – basically players who don’t meet the seasons-played threshold to be eligible for drafting. Include Nathan Horton in there too, as he’s been declared exempt due to his health issues (though, oddly, Lupul isn’t).

Anyway, once we subtract players on expiring UFA contracts, what we’re left with is an exposed group that looks like this:

Pos Player Contract Status
F Eric Fehr UFA 2018
F Joffrey Lupul UFA 2018
F Kerby Rychel RFA 2018
F Ben Smith UFA 2018
F Josh Leivo RFA 2018
F Seth Griffith RFA 2017
D Martin Marincin RFA 2018
D Alexey Marchenko RFA 2018

I’m quite confident in that more-or-less being the list, but I suppose there could be a somewhat surprising wrinkle in there. Maybe the Leafs value Marincin more than Carrick, or something along those lines. I really don’t anticipate that forward group changing though, even if it should.

Which brings us where you knew this piece was going: Is losing Leivo or Rychel something that can hurt the Leafs in a meaningful way?

Leivo in particular is an interesting case, because his contribution to the Leafs this past season was so high in such a limited role. He only suited up for 13 games, but clipped along at a 69% goals-for percentage and carried play at even-strength as good as anyone could have hoped (55% score-adjusted Corsi and +3.2% relative). With ten points in those 13 games, his audition with the big club really couldn’t have gone better, yet he eventually found himself back on the outs.

(via DataRink)

Heavens to Betsy.

Rychel’s obviously different story because he didn’t get a sniff in the NHL this season. However, he was the Marlies top scorer as a 22-year-old, with 52 points in 73 games. His only stint in the NHL to this point was 32 games played with the Jackets last season, where he notched 9 points. That’s not much to write home about, but then again, it’s the same as Matt Martin’s total over nearly three times as many games-played this past season. And if the toughness angle is your thing, Rychel actually likes to punch faces as well.

Regardless of who we think could be better, it’s a fair assumption that one of these young players is going to be a Knight next month. Up until now, there’s been a lot of talk about Martin Marincin being the expansion draft fodder. That makes sense, because he’s seen as more of a sure thing, someone who can step into the lineup and be serviceable right away. But it’s likely that Vegas has a better crop of defencemen available to them relative to forwards – they could realistically add 5 or 6 second-pairing guys to their back end. I don’t know if Marincin will move the needle for them with better options out there.

Where McPhee will have a hard time is finding offence, and taking a chance on Rychel or Leivo is the better gamble in that regard. Despite everyone wishfully thinking he’ll do the Leafs a solid and take a broken-down grinder in Eric Fehr or their seventh defenceman, I believe he has to be smarter than that.

  • MartinPolak

    I recall debates online last year and on this blog with jeffler about the leafs protecting matt martin. That is probably a big reason he has been so negative with his coverage on martin and yelled at all of use delusional old school fans of martin, but it does feel good to gloat about this.

  • mst

    Why not protect both Lievo and Rychel? I think if presented with the option of: Marincin, Komarov or Martin, Vegas will choose Marincin. I like Komarov but if you’re Vegas do you want to waste a pick on a 30+ year old player with 1 yr to go until he can walk as a UFA, especially in a year you know you’re gonna suck? And do you really want Martin and his 9 points in 82 games with a 2.5 mil salary and cap hit? Probably not.

    The Leafs bigger problem is that all of: Liepsic, Lievo and Rychel are waivers eligible next year and all could be lost for nothing that way unless 3 forward roster spots can be found.

    If Vegas did choose Martin for his face punching, and/or to reach the expansion draft’s salary constraint then I agree that Rychel can punch faces and he can score and would be a great replacement for martin at 2/5 of the cap hit. I’m not sure about his defensive side though. Can anyone comment? Does he kill penalties for the Marlies? Can he mold himself into a prototypical 4th liner?

    • Gary Empey

      Looking at the number of top four that will be exposed I think it is unlikely Vegas will have much interested in one of our bubble defencemen. Rychel is considered top nine material. He might look very good playing with Marner sort of like Mathew Tkachuk did with the London Knights.

  • Gary Empey

    There are lots of ways this could play out. Everyone likely has a different take on it. Who do you want on the team 2/3 years down the road? If you look at the Shanaplan model then the Leafs would protect. Kadri, JVR, Leipsic, Brown, Martin. Leivo and Rychel.

    Exposing Bozak, Fehr and Komarov. Vegas can only take one of those guys.Vegas is not required to take an exposed player so there will be other players available off the Marlies.
    PS. Harte had an interesting trade proposition for Vegas. JVR for their 6th overall pick. That would allow us to protect Rychel who is likely slotted in to be JVR’s future replacement.

    • Kanuunankuula

      By that logic you don’t protect Martin. At least Bozak has some trade value if he’s deemed replaceable. Komarov is more debatable, but you honestly think you can’t get nothing for 50 point player Bozak?

  • Harte of a Lion

    I’ll say it again, JVR is moved for Las Vegas 6th overall pick plus a side deal where McPhee selects Fehr or Marincin or whatever player the two team agree upon as JVR is worth more than the 6th pick!
    Is JVR worth more than the 1st 2nd overall? No.
    3rd 4th? Maybe. 5th, 6th onwards? Oh YEAH! Vegas get is doing better than “Okay”.
    This being The Golden Knights first year they need NHL top tier talent to sell the game and fill the seats. Does anyone believe they can get a player of JVR’S talent and quality in the expansion draft? NFW.
    JVR will fill the net and the seats by becoming their star day one, plus Vegas can afford a lucrative extension. JVR and Shipachov, that’s a great 2/3 of a line.
    I think we all agree, JVR will not bring back a top pairing or even a top young 3/4 guy unless we add perhaps our 1st and a prospect.
    Management will not do this as it’s a marathon not a sprint.
    However, we can likely add potentially very good RHD prospect and the centre depth which the organization sorely needs picking 6th and 17th. Will Vegas make a bigger splash selecting Lilijegren or Makar at 6 or announcing they have aquired one of the premiere left wingers in the game, and remember he isn’t an old guy….YET. Vegas can select more prospects later in the draft but their 1st pick ever, they need WOW, and JVR gives that to them…

    I love JVR and I wear his sweater with pride but there is NO way that JVR signs a contract that will not become an anchor down the road and hamstring our cap situation. Kadri is a deal at $4.5 and is 18 months younger. JVR at $4.5 million would be that same kind of amazing Lou you’re a magician contracts but he isn’t going to leave 9-12 + million on the table over 6-7 years to remain a Leafs player. Those same pundits who complain about Zaitsev’s production curve declining must accept that JVR is 30 months older and is closer to that declining production curve… It’s true that he rarely hits or is hit but is he worth 6 + million as a 34 year old scoring 20/20? This is why the Leafs will continue to have a BPA mentality in every draft. Draft for skill, trade for size and if you can draft skill and size, even better.

    The Leafs have a plethora of skilled wingers in the pipeline and if they do not have to protect JVR, then Rychel or Leipsic are protected instead is.
    There currently 4 LW’s with the Marlies with NHL potential.
    Rychel
    Leipsic
    Jonsson
    Grundström
    Leivo shoots right but prefers to play the left side/ his off wing

    The Leafs and Vegas will decide ahead of time which player Vegas selects as part of the trade… remember Vegas is getting one of the premier left wingers in today’s game. If they need to select Marincin, or whoever, it’s worth it.
    This doesn’t entirely solve the Leafs expansion draft issues but it brings them one step closer.

    • Petersversion

      I can’t see an expansion team wanting JVR. He’s got one year left on his contract, and is 28 years old. Expansion teams are like rebuilding teams in steriods. The only reason they’d acquire a guy like JVR would be to flip him for picks and prospects. Doesn’t make much sense to give up the 6th overall pick to do that.

      • Petersversion

        Also: why would the Leafs want to trade a 30 goal scorer for a kid that won’t play for another couple of years when they’re trying to win the cup next year?

        • Harte of a Lion

          Petersversion, the Leafs have a number of replacements for JVR that could score 20 playing with Bozak and Marner. Those players which I listed above could step in and play an important role next season for the team. Subtract JVR’s 30 goals, add back 20 from Rychel/Leipsic/Jonsson(?) and, if they can keep an additional 15 pucks out of their net next season they end up 5 goals ahead.
          The way to build a successful team is to keep the pipeline stocked with top prospects so rather than losing JVR for nothing next season, I feel a trade for a 6th overall pick makes sense. I keep hearing these JVR ++ for Montour but I don’t agree with giving up our picks or prospects.
          By acquiring Lilijegren, Makar or another top D prospect for JVR instead, IMO it’s a better scenario than trading him plus picks and prospects for a young defenceman who is a few year older with a bit more experience. Unless we are acquiring a bonafide 1 or 2 d-man who’s age fits within our core group, I am against trading our picks or prospects, especially our young core.
          My whole idea was to propose a trade that’s fair to both sides which almost never happens on these sites/boards. Most trade proposals from Leafs fans tend to overrate our players while undervaluing the players we seek. My proposal addresses organizational needs for both teams, is fair value while placing us in a better position for the expansion draft.

          • Petersversion

            Ya. I understand why you’re valuing the 6th overall pick, but why on earth would Vegas do that trade? Trading away their top picks would set that franchise up terribly. They want to be entertaining, but not at the expense of long term actual success. George McPhee is smart.

  • magesticRAGE

    I see them not protecting Martin, as his contract would be a big deterrent. I actually see a defenseman leaving. Either Marincin or Carrick. McPhee knows Carrick, as he was partly responsible for drafting him. GM generally go with what and who they know. He may not know Leivo, as he only played 13 games, that’s a risk. Carrick has played top 4 minutes for most of the season, and that has value.