After a hard fought series against the Washington Capitals, the management team of the Toronto Maple Leafs will shift their focus towards the offseason. First on the checklist is the expansion draft taking place in Las Vegas on June 21, but who will the Leafs protect from expansion?
Who Will the Toronto Maple Leafs Protect from Expansion?
The Leafs are in a fortunate situation, with a lot of their top players exempt from the expansion draft. This list includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Nikita Zaitsev, and many more players with the Toronto Marlies.
In addition, the NHL released a list of exempt players due to injury on Wednesday. One of these players was Nathan Horton. Since acquiring him in the David Clarkson trade, Horton has not played a single game in a Leafs uniform and has been on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Horton has a no-movement clause and would have had to be protected if the league did not exempt him from the draft. Lou Lamoriello and the rest of Leafs management can now protect someone else instead of the injured Horton.
Who Should the Leafs Protect?
The Leafs have two choices when it comes to the expansion draft. They can either protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie, or eight skaters of any position and one goalie.
It makes the most sense for them to take the first option. They are much deeper at forward, and only need to protect about three players on the back end.
At forward, the Leafs should protect Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Connor Brown, Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri, Brendan Leipsic and Josh Leivo. The veterans are easy choices to make. They are all established NHL players. By protecting them, you take away the risk of potentially losing them for nothing. The decision to protect the two of Leipsic and Leivo is much more difficult.
Many people have seen the impact Matt Martin has had in the locker room, such as his relationship with Mitch Marner. However, protecting him is unnecessary. Martin likely wouldn’t be claimed by Vegas, wasting a valuable protection slot. If Vegas does take him, the downside is losing a character guy. However, his production is easily replaceable.
Leivo had 10 points in 13 games. At 23 years old, he is still a valuable asset and should be protected over Martin. Leipsic had a fantastic regular season with the Marlies and has three points in four games in the playoffs. He is a talented player worth protecting.
Rielly and Gardiner showed their worth in the playoffs, averaging just under 30 minutes of time on ice per game. With Zaitsev exempt from the draft, the next choice would be Connor Carrick. Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick will not be protected as they are pending unrestricted free agents. Carrick had a relatively good season with the
Carrick had a relatively good season with the Leafs and is a young right-handed defender with potential that is worth keeping around.
Who Will the Leafs Protect?
Leafs management values the role that Matt Martin has on the team more than most people do. With the recent signing of Ben Smith, protecting Martin is now an option. The Leafs have to leave two forwards exposed that either played 40 games this season or 70 games in the last two seasons. Smith played exactly 40 NHL games this season.
The only other reason for the Smith signing is to give the Leafs flexibility. Prior to the signing, the Leafs had just two players to expose, handcuffing them in potential trades.
What Happens Next?
Over the next couple of months, Leafs management will have to make some tough decisions on who to protect and who to leave exposed. They could run the risk of losing a good young player like Kerby Rychel or Seth Griffith. This is a minimal risk that the Leafs are willing to take.
On June 21, we will see which player the Golden Knights pluck from the roster of the Toronto Maple Leafs as they start their journey in the NHL.