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TSN speculates on who the Leafs would protect in the expansion draft

It’s a year away and there’s no shortage of events happening in the next couple of weeks, but TSN took a look at who Canadian teams would likely protect if their rosters remained unchanged until next summer.

Now what we do know is the Leafs roster is probably going to change. It’s probably going to change a lot. And exercise will be null and void by Thanksgiving. For now we have this list:

Forwards (7):

John Tavares (NMC)
Pierre Engvall
Zach Hyman (UFA 2021)
Andreas Johnsson
Mitch Marner
Auston Matthews
William Nylander

Defense (3):

Travis Dermott
Jake Muzzin
Morgan Rielly

Goaltender (1):
Frederik Andersen (UFA 2021)

So that looks like a pretty straight forward list. Tavares’ NMC keeps him locked in, and obviously depending on if and when the Leafs re-sign Hyman and Andersen that will play a part in the decision to protect them. Personally I would have listed Campbell as the placeholder goaltender for now, but whatever.

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The fact that the Leafs are protecting players like Engvall, Johnsson, and Dermott certainly speaks to the fact that the Leafs can do some upgrading and still head into the expansion draft without worrying about losing a true gamebreaker.

At this point the key names that the Leafs would be exposing in the expansion draft would Alex Kerfoot and Justin Holl.

The decision to protect Engvall over Kerfoot was perhaps one of the more interesting decisions made by Frank Seravalli. The Leafs deciding to protect a low cap hit does make a lot of sense though, and I’d say the decision would much more likely come down to Kerfoot vs. Johnsson next summer, again assuming that both these players don’t have new homes in the next couple of weeks.

Holl is definitely another interesting option, as his $2M cap hit is team friendly, and given the Leafs current situation he is the best right side defenseman, and perhaps that makes him a better option to protect than Dermott. Of course if the Leafs are in a situation of deciding to protect either Dermott or Holl the bigger problem would be why the Leafs didn’t upgrade their blueline at all over the past year.

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It probably also needs to be said that top Leafs prospects like Rasmus Sandin, Nick Robertson, and Timothy Liljegren are exempt from the expansion draft still, and European imports like Mikheyev, Lehtonen, and Barabanov also given the Leafs some solid depth that won’t be exposed in the draft.

As for the other Canadian teams that Seravalli looked at there are a few interesting names that are left unprotected.

  • Sam Bennett on the Flames is certainly a player that Leafs fans have been coveting, and potentially he’ll be someone the Flames aren’t going to bother with.
  • The Oilers are in a real rough situation for having a number of players exposed, and there are up and coming prospects like Tyler Benson available, as well as a solid blueliner in Adam Larsson that the Oilers probably don’t want to lose for nothing next summer, although he’ll be a free agent and lower risk.
  • Montreal is a mess and it’s next to impossible to figure out who is worth keeping and who they should move on from, but it looks like losing a young defenseman is their pending fate.
  • The Senators are such a joke that Seravalli has Ottawa protecting Nikita Zaitsev. No one of substance will be available here.
  • Similar to the obsession with Bennett is the one with Jake Virtanen, who Seravalli sees as being available in the expansion draft.
  • As for the Jets, they seem to be in a situation similar to the Leafs and probably need to bring in some more players so they don’t have to protect replacement level players.

While a lot will change between today and the expansion draft, NHL GMs are going to start factoring the expansion draft into their decision making process and it will have an impact on how they view organizational depth. Dubas so far has kept the Leafs in a good situation, we’ll see if we still feel that way in a few weeks.

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