Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports

Prepping for the Seattle expansion draft

Last night, Cobourg native Chris Johnston confirmed that the expansion draft rules for a new Seattle franchise will be the exact same as they were for the Vegas Golden Knights.

This gives us an opportunity to prepare for what the Leafs will be putting out there for Seattle to steal from them.

The Team

The first question to ask is: what players will still be here in 2020?

One thing that makes this easy is anyone the Leafs draft from now until the expansion draft will not have enough professional experience to be selectable.

There are only a handful of players that have contracts already signed through 2020:

  • Nazem Kadri
  • Morgan Rielly
  • Zach Hyman
  • Nikita Zaitsev
  • Frederik Andersen

Additionally, some contracts will have RFA rights that will be expiring in 2020, so those are still valuable expansion draft targets. This includes:

  • Connor Brown
  • Travis Dermott
  • Carl Grundstrom
  • Timothy Liljegren
  • Jeremy Bracco
  • Adam Brooks

Other players whose contracts are expiring in 2020 and thus would be selectable as expiring UFAs are:

  • Patrick Marleau
  • Matt Martin
  • Nathan Horton

Of those currently with the Leafs and expiring prior to 2020, the big three of Matthews, Nylander and Marner are obvious candidates to receive new contracts that will last through 2020.

Some big-name UFAs are probably going to be leaving the team in the next few years. Some we can almost guarantee will be gone, like Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Ron Hainsey, Dominic Moore, Roman Polak (at least we have something to look forward to here), etc. Additionally we’ll assume the veterans with the Marlies will also have moved on (not that they’d be someone Seattle would look at to select anyway).

Other UFAs are pretty good candidates for the Leafs to bring back, which would be Jake Gardiner and James Van Riemsdyk. There’s likely only room to keep one, and the most likely choice is JVR, so let’s assume those two stay and Gardiner goes. With the numerous left-handed D currently knocking on the door, and no big left wingers in the system, this feels like a safe assumption.

However, losing Gardiner opens an opportunity for an external acquisition of a right-handed defenseman. Someone like Chris Tanev, Jason Demers, Colin Miller, or Tyson Barrie could be realistic options for the Leafs. This is too much of a hypothetical to include in a theoretical, 2-years-too-early protection list, but certainly something to think about.

Lastly are the RFAs that expire before 2020, and this list is exhaustive. For the moment, I’m going to skip guessing who will be sticking around out of Kasperi Kapanen or Josh Leivo or Andreas Borgman or Nikita Soshnikov…. you get the point. Let’s just look at who we have on the list so far.

The Selectables

It’s obvious that the team could change a lot between now and 2020. But, at least we can put forward this list of people that are almost definitely going to be around come the Seattle expansion draft. Van Riemsdyk and Gardiner are the big question marks, but I feel the Leafs can, and should, bring at least JVR back, so I’m including him.

Forwards Defense Goalies
Auston Matthews Morgan Rielly Frederik Andersen
William Nylander Nikita Zaitsev
Mitchell Marner Travis Dermott (RFA)
Nazem Kadri Timothy Liljegren (RFA)
James Van Riemsdyk
Zach Hyman
Connor Brown (RFA)
Carl Grundstrom (RFA)
Jeremy Bracco (RFA)
Adam Brooks (RFA)
Patrick Marleau (UFA)
Matt Martin (UFA)
Nathan Horton (UFA)

The Protection List

From the Vegas expansion draft, there are two versions of the protection list a team can submit. You can either protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie, or you can protect 8 skaters and 1 goalie.

The other requirement is that teams must expose two forwards and one defenseman (whose contracts are not expiring) that have 40 GP in the previous season or 70 GP in the previous two seasons.

There’s five forwards there that are must-protects in Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Kadri and Van Riemsdyk, so it’s safe to say the Leafs will not choose the “eight skaters” protection option.

This leaves us two more forwards to protect, and three defensemen. Obviously, Frederik Andersen will be the one goalie protected.

For the two forwards, there’s a case to be made that someone like Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson might stick around and be a solid contributor for the Leafs in 2020. The question being who of all these bottom 6 wingers are going to be most important to you in two years. This is an impossible question to answer without a crystal ball, but is an imperative one as it is the cutoff, and thus the most interesting part of the protection list.

Additionally, we’re only working with what we know now of the impact of players like Aaltonen, Bracco, Grundstrom, Johnsson, and other forward prospects in the system. It is possible that one of them could overtake Brown, Hyman, or Kapanen in the depth chart. And of course, someone will need to fill the roster spots of the expiring Marleau and Martin.

More questions than answers makes this very difficult.

Here’s what I would submit for a protection list based on what we know today about these players.

Forwards Defense Goalie
Auston Matthews Morgan Rielly Frederik Andersen
William Nylander Timothy Liljegren (RFA)
Mitch Marner Travis Dermott (RFA)
Nazem Kadri
James Van Riemsdyk
Zach Hyman
Andreas Johnsson/Carl Grundstrom (RFA)

Yes I put a “/” in there, which is definitely cheating. All I mean by it is that when 2020 comes I’d protect whichever of those left wings are contributing more.

Since we don’t know exactly who is going to be on the team and what their contract situation will be, it’s very difficult to fulfill the Games Played requirement at this time. However, we can be fairly confident that Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev will fulfill this requirement, and I think it’s a safe assumption that there will be someone signed through 2020-21 playing on the team’s fourth line that can be exposed.

Why Connor Brown???

Well, for one, Brown is an RFA in 2020 so Seattle will have to negotiate a contract if they select him, which may be a negative draw. Additionally, the Leafs have so much depth at right wing, with Marner, Nylander, Kapanen, Leivo, Bracco, Brown, and Soshnikov. Surely someone there can replace the impact of Brown on the 3rd/4th line. Conversely, on the left wing, both Matt Martin and Patrick Marleau will be leaving in 2020 (if they haven’t left already), and thus a good young left wing like Grundstrom/Johnsson, and an established LW in the team like Zach Hyman, are a critical inclusions in this protection list.

Why Nikita Zaitsev?

I don’t even know if anyone will ask this question, but Zaitsev has been slipping out of top-four form this season, and his contract includes so much term that it would be a bad pick for Seattle. I think it’s safe to assume that he won’t be selected. And, if he was, that might even be a good thing for the Leafs’ cap situation. So he stays off the protection list in favour of Liljegren and Dermott.

Protecting Yourself from the Protection List

Some teams may lie on their back and say “oh no, here’s these good players you can have for free”. However, I doubt the Leafs are the type to do so. What can the Leafs do to ensure they don’t suffer a serious loss from the expansion draft?

You can’t just trade everyone you’d hate to lose. Seattle will only pick one, and you need some players left afterwards.

There are two solutions I think the Leafs should explore:

  1. Stock the cupboards
  2. Reduce exposed players

Firstly, to make depth your strength, you’re going to be wanting to keep as many of your picks as you can. The Leafs have been okay at getting good looks from their late picks, hopefully they can get a bit more on track with this.

Secondly, it’d be prudent to explore a 2-for-1 trade or similar where some package of your exposed players is sent one way for an upgrade at a position you could use one. For the Leafs, this is likely at center or at right-hand defense. Mentioned above was Chris Tanev, and a team like the Canucks could certainly use a bolstering of their forward depth. Maybe a package like Zaitsev + Kapanen gets that deal done, I’m not sure. Avoid using picks, though, because that goes against the first strategy.


The Leafs are going to be forced to leave some decent young forwards available for Seattle, which isn’t much different from the Vegas draft when Leipsic and Rychel were left exposed.

This time around, it’ll be a little worse as it will likely be an NHL-established player like Brown leaving the team, but still it will be a loss that the Leafs can survive with their excellent forward depth. All in all, I think this isn’t too bad for the Leafs.

Who knows, maybe they’ll get lucky and it’ll be Zaitsev.

Who would you protect? Comment below and tell me how dumb my list is!

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  • lukewarmwater

    Who cares about protection man. Let’s deal with reality here. Namely Canucklehead fans out here in God’s country can drive down the I-5 and under three hours can cheer for the next Vegas Knights with the potential of being the numero uno of the N.H.L. I mean how great is this fans you know your stinking team is what, 15, 20, 25 points behind an expansion team, but wait, wait your team has arranged a trip to Vegas where , well it won’t stay in Vegas as your team gets it’s derriere kicked good, ask the leafs, and wow don’t you just love the N.H.L. and parity, I MEAN MEDIOCRITY. But now you can also travel to the Emerald city, home of Nirvana, SoundGarden etc and get ready for the Seattle what evers, a top flight team brought to you by Gary Bettman and the other 31 owners for a measley $650 million U.S. which means for the Canadian clubs in Canadian dollars the two expansion teams will have given these poor, poor Canadian clubs approximately $55 million to each owner. Yesiree Go Seattle what’s your names Go. You will be a first year contender just the way sports should be for owners who sell their soul to the devil, no not the New Jersey Devils.

  • Hugh Allan

    Interesting. The only player I am not on board with is JVR. A wonderful PP specialist and net front presence but not much to offer 5 x 5 and even worse defensively. For what it wil cost in terms of dollars and years to resign him, at 29 years old I would hope the Leafs let JVR walk this summer.