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.
|Skaters (F / D)||8|
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:
|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.
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.