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Another way too early look at the Leafs and the expansion draft

Given that we don’t know when this season will start or end and when we’ll see the expansion draft it’s probably a bit premature to start planning for how the Leafs will approach it. Of course we’ve looked at this draft twice before on the site, so we’ve set a precedent with being okay with that. With new faces on the roster that changes some of the views on who the Leafs should protect and expose and some additional work that may need to be done will be highlighted below.

Like the Golden Knights draft, the Leafs find themselves in the optimal situation of, 1. sending a player to another conference rather than having them stay in the East, and 2. easily being able to protect their core players, and having most of their young players exempt from the draft. Not having to worry about losing or protecting players like Robertson and Sandin will be huge, as either one of those players can likely be counted on to replace whatever player is taken from the Leafs in the draft.

The rules for the expansion draft remain the same as they were for Vegas:

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Current NHL teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie, under the following conditions.

* All players with no movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected and will be counted toward their team’s applicable protection limits.

* All first- and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward protection limits.

In addition, all NHL teams must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the draft:

* One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.

* Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.

* One goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his current contract immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to make a restricted free agent goalie available to meet this requirement, that goalie must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the team’s protected list.

* Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games (or who otherwise have been confirmed to have a career-threatening injury) may not be used to satisfy a team’s player exposure requirements unless approval is received from the NHL. Such players also may be deemed exempt from selection.

via NHL.com

The biggest question that might come out of that will be if we see those game requirements prorated based on the shortened 2019-20 season, and the likely very brief 2021 season. While the Leafs already meeting the requisite number of defensemen and goaltenders available to expose in the draft, the large number of 1 year contracts and exempt players in the forward group makes the forward group the challenging area to explore.

While a lot of the Leafs decisions will obviously be based on how the 2021 season plays out and who thrives over the next year, the common sense approach says that the Leafs will go with the model that allows them to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goaltender. Of course, that could change significantly if the blueline becomes a source of strength for the Leafs, but Toronto should have the ability to go into 2021-22 season with a very respectable blueline considering that Liljegren and Sandin are both pushing for NHL jobs already.

Before we get to who the Leafs are likely to lose in the expansion draft, we’ll take a look at each position and determine who is likely to be protected.

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Goaltenders

The two goaltenders presently signed beyond 2021 are Jack Campbell and Michael Hutchinson. Both Freddie Andersen and Aaron Dell are slated for free agency, and while re-signing Andersen could be part of the plan, there’s little doubt that Hutchinson was signed to a two year deal specifically because the Leafs want the ability to protect Jack Campbell. The play of Jack Campbell and the status of Freddie Andersen will be the two biggest factors at play, but of course there’s still no accounting for Aaron Dell, who could establish himself as a solid backup goaltender in the coming months as well.

Prediction:

Protected Exempt Exposed Most likely to be taken
Campbell Woll Hutchinson Andersen (UFA)
Scott Andersen (UFA)
Dell (UFA)

If someone is going to be taken, I’d say it’s Andersen. Seattle could negotiate with him about joining their team or he could satisfy their need to take 4 goaltenders, but they could simply walk away from him. We saw this with Golden Knights selections of JF Berube, Chris Thorburn, and Connor Brickley, who were all drafted by Vegas but allowed to walk as free agents shortly after. Andersen is certainly in a different class than those players, and one they would likely try to sign, and a shot at legit #1 goaltender as a free agent might be worth considering for Seattle, but likely they won’t be selecting a goaltender from the Leafs.

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Defence

Here’s where it gets somewhat interesting. The Leafs have five defencemen who have met or will met the 40/70 game requirements in Muzzin, Brodie, Dermott, Holl, and Rielly. Dermott will be a pending restricted free agent next offseason, and of course Sandin, Liljegren, and Lehtonen will be exempt, which is a pretty solid bottom three to go with whatever three are protected of the group above.

Rielly will be an unrestricted free agent the following summer, but there’s no way that leads to him being exposed. Brodie and Muzzin, if either of them has a terrible year or even one that suggests they won’t live up to their contracts, could find their way into being left off the Leafs protected list, but not likely, and instead it’s going to be Dermott and Holl as the enticing options for Seattle to consider. If Dermott has a strong season, he especially would not be a name the Leafs would like left out there. If the Leafs go with a situation where they protect 4F/4D instead of 7F/3D, it’s because Travis Dermott forced their hand.

Players like Bogosian, Marincin, Rosen, and Warsofsky (yes he’s a Leaf) are all slated to be unrestricted free agents next offseason and will not factor into the Leafs decision on who to protect.

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Prediction:

Protected Exempt Exposed Most likely to be taken
Rielly Sandin Dermott Dermott or Holl
Brodie Liljegren Holl
Muzzin Lehtonen Marincin (UFA)
Hollowell Rosen (UFA)
Kral Bogosian (UFA)
Duszak Warsofsky (UFA)
Rubins
Kivihalme (UFA)

Dermott could force the Leafs to protect four defensemen if he has a strong season, he could also force Kyle Dubas to make a trade with Seattle similar to what we saw with Vegas, where Vegas received draft picks and other considerations to pick specific players. Some of those prices were high and the Leafs might be off just taking the loss on this one.

Forwards

The forward situation is a bit of a mess. As of this moment, the Leafs will be struggling to reach the requirement of having two forwards available who are under contract and met the 40/70 game requirement. Pierre Engvall is 18 games away from meeting the requirement, Joey Anderson is 40 games away, as is Adam Brooks. It’s entirely possible that Alexander Kerfoot will need to be exposed in the draft in order to ensure the Leafs meet these requirements, and Engvall might be the other option to go along with him as Anderson and Brooks do not seem like they will be NHL regulars in the shortened season.

It’s also important to mention that John Tavares has to be protected, unless in a bizarre turn of events he waives his no movement clause. It’s also important to mention that there’s no way that Marner, Nylander, and Matthews go unprotected. No matter how you feel about those players or their contracts, there isn’t a situation where the Leafs are letting them walk in an expansion draft.

Hyman as a pending unrestricted free agent highlights a list of pending unrestricted free agents that need to be considered in this process, but really it’s Hyman, and perhaps a high performing season from Jimmy Vesey that factor into the protection decisions. Players like Simmonds, Thornton, and Spezza will go unprotected and the Leafs will come back around to them during the general free agency period, potentially.

Predictions:

Protected Exempt Exposed Most likely to be taken
Tavares (NMC) Mikheyev Kerfoot Kerfoot or Engvall
Matthews Barabanov (UFA) Engvall
Marner Korshkov Thornton (UFA)
Nylander Robertson Simmonds (UFA)
Anderson Abramov Spezza (UFA)
Hyman (UFA) Der-Arguchintsev Boyd (UFA)
Vesey (UFA) Hallander Agostino (UFA)
Kossila (UFA)
Malgin
Brooks
Petan

Losing Kerfoot for nothing would be unfortunate, but under the expansion draft rules he may be the odd man out in this. The Leafs also could choose to re-sign players like Thornton, Simmonds, and Spezza beforehand and leave them exposed, but I can’t imagine any of those players would be open to that move. Re-signing Jimmy Vesey for the purpose of exposing him in the draft might be the more necessary move.

Looking at that exemption list, there are possibly five players that could be in the Leafs lineup next season, and possibly three that will be playing a role in 2021 already.

If the Leafs opt for the 4F/4D model, they’d be putting a lot of faith in their ability to re-sign Zach Hyman in the general free agency period, and would be risking losing Joey Anderson and his very friendly contract to Seattle. It may come down to if the Leafs are more excited about Anderson or Dermott at the end of the season, and right now all signs point to Dermott being more favoured, but he has the advantage of tenure.

What I’d do and who I’d expect Seattle to select…

It’s not an easy situation, and no matter how you slice it the Leafs lose a player for nothing. Last go around was a huge victory when Brendan Leipsic was selected and they will not be as fortunate this go around. Paying a premium to keep certain players isn’t worth it for the Leafs, as the depth and prospect pool can support the idea of any player leaving with the exception of Alexander Kerfoot, which would put a significant hole at the 3C position for Toronto. That’s why I’d be in favour of the decision to sign Vesey beyond 2021 to have Engvall and Vesey as options on forward for the Kraken.

The downside to that move means the Leafs are going with the protect seven forwards model and that leaves Travis Dermott potentially exposed, as only three defensemen can be protected. There is no way to keep them both unless something has gone horribly wrong with Muzzin or Brodie, and no one should be hoping for that.

At this point I lean towards the idea of protecting Dermott, and going with the 4F/4D model. Protect Tavares, Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Rielly, Muzzin, Brodie, Dermott, and Campbell and let Seattle decide between Kerfoot, Engvall, Holl, and an unrestricted free agent goaltender in Andersen.

Who Seattle ultimately selects will be based around their larger draft picture and they probably aren’t looking at Toronto in isolation, but putting someone like Kerfoot out there, and giving them a NHL capable center who doesn’t have a ton of term left is probably too good to pass up, and I’d expect him to be selected.

With Kerfoot being selected, the Leafs would head into the 2021-22 season with the need for either a starting goaltender, or tandem capable goaltender, a 3rd line center, and the need to get players like Dermott, Lehtonen, Hyman, and Barabanov under contract. They’d have roughly $14M to address all of those needs, which isn’t impossible but not particularly easy either.

As for Seattle, well, they’ve got the bar set high, and given the resources they’ve put into analytics, nobody is going to sneak garbage onto their roster, or if they do, it’s going to be calculated garbage. The expansion draft is an interesting time, and while the Leafs will lose someone, it sets the league up for another chaotic round of free agency shortly after.