The Potential Toronto Maple Leafs Expansion Draft Strategy

Next Summer the Toronto Maple Leafs will have to lose a player in the expansion draft.

The NHL season has only just begun and the next off-season seems like an eternity away right now for hockey fans. Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs front office have been preparing themselves though, because next summer is the expansion draft  for the Seattle Kraken. It may not have been on the radar moves but Dubas has set up the  Leafs in a prime position for this upcoming poaching.

Some of us are familiar with the expansion draft rules as we dealt with it in 2017 when the Vegas Golden Knights got away with highway robbery across the league. But just for a quick recap of the rules (as per nhl.com ):

  • Seattle will select one player from each team excluding the Golden Knights for a total of 30 (14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies) not including additional players who may be acquired as the result of violations of the Expansion Draft rules.
  • Current NHL teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie.

Toronto Maple Leafs Expansion Draft Strategy

The Leafs are in a great position in this aspect as the rules protect their most important forwards and defensemen:

Seven forwards – Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Alexander Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev, Zach Hyman
Three dmen – Morgan Reilly, TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin

It gets a bit tricky though when it comes to the minimum requirements for players that you must have exposed for Seattle to choose:

  • 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.

Dubas has constructed this roster in such a way that there will be a lot of flexibility every year, but that means very few contracts extended past the 2020-21 season. UFAs such as Thornton, Spezza and Simmonds do not satisfy the requirements for forwards so the Leafs have to get creative. (Contract terms via capfriendly.com )

Pierre Engvall is one forward who can meet these requirements by just playing a few more games this season with the big club, but they still need one more forward to expose. I expect that the Leafs will either sign one of their current forwards to an extension so that they can leave them exposed or trade for an NHL forward before the deadline that has a contract beyond this season. If not they would be forced to leave one of Kerfoot or Mikheyev exposed.

Justin Holl is a candidate to be the defenseman that the Maple Leafs leave exposed for the Seattle Kraken to scoop up. Holl fills the minimum requirements and is not as valuable, arguably, as Reilly, Muzzin and Brodie, though he is much younger and cheaper.

However, even if Holl has a monster year they simply could not afford to expose multiple other players to protect him. The better Holl plays this year the more appealing he will become to Seattle and the more likely it is he will be the player the Leafs lose, unless he somehow became so good that the Leafs would try to trade out of exposing a player. That doesn’t seem likely, and he’s most likely going to be the one who goes.

In the net the Leafs will protect Jack Campbell, as Freddy Andersen is on an expiring contract and will not need to be protected. The Kraken could persuade Andersen to sign with them but that seems unlikely. If Andersen decided not to re-sign with the Leafs he would test the free agency market to get the best deal possible. Although if Andersen knew he would not be back with the Leafs next season he could do the Leafs a huge favour. By agreeing to a deal with Seattle, Andersen would then be the player that the Leafs “give up” in the draft and would not lose Justin Holl.

The signing of Michael Hutchinson to a two year deal serves a purpose here as well. Hutchinson will be the goalie that the Leafs leave exposed and fulfills the minimum requirements. I’m sure some of you are realizing now why they signed Hutchinson and why they have kept him despite clearly having no interest in playing him.

The construction of this roster in preparation of the expansion draft is just another example of the tremendous job Kyle Dubas has done since taking over as GM. For once Leafs fans have a front office that they can trust and know that they will be making the right decisions for the Toronto Maple Leafs ultimate success.