Expansion Draft Effects on the Toronto Maple Leafs

Leafs Off-Season Lou Lamoriello

The NHL has allowed Seattle to submit paperwork for an expansion team, most likely coming in the 2020-21 NHL season. Since then, Seattle has had alarming success with their ticket drive, indicating the market would be suitable for an expansion team. Gary Bettman has indicated this team would have the same expansion draft rules as the Vegas Golden Knights did. This means each team could protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and a goalie, or eight skaters and a goalie. All players with more than two years of professional experience would be eligible, and any player with a No Movement Clause (NMC) would need to be protected.

A Look Ahead to the 2020 Expansion Draft and the Toronto Maple Leafs

Who’s eligible on the Leafs?

First of all, some instances that apply specifically to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Patrick Marleau has an NMC, but his contract expires in 2020, so he would not have to be protected. Nathan Horton has an NMC, but his contract expires in 2020 as well, in addition to the fact that he would be ineligible for the draft due to his Long-Term Injury. Horton and Joffrey Lupul were both exempt from the previous Golden Knights expansion draft for this reason. Unless Timothy plays 10 regular season and playoff games in the NHL this season, he will be exempt from the expansion draft. This is because Liljegren is a teenager and qualifies for an “Entry Level Slide”, just as Andrew Nielsen, Travis Dermott, and Dmytro Timashov did last year.

Take note that Leafs second-round pick Carl Grundstrom will be eligible for the draft, despite being a teenager playing outside the NHL this year. The definition of a professional season is dependant on the age of a player. If a player is over 20, they accrue a season by playing 10 games in any professional league in a given season. If a player is under 20, they only accrue a season by playing 10 games in the NHL. So what gives? Even though Grundstrom started the season as a 19-year-old, he was technically 20 by the definition in the article of the CBA outlining Entry Level slides. Article 9.1(d)(I) of the CBA:

“In the event that an 18-year-old or 19-year-old Player signs an SPC with a Club but does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the first season under that SPC, the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for a period of one (1) year, except that this automatic extension will not apply to a Player who is 19 according to Section 9.2 by virtue of turning 20 between September 16 and December 31 in the year in which he first signs an SPC. Unless a Player and Club expressly agree to the contrary, in the event a Player’s SPC is extended an additional year in accordance with this subsection, all terms of the SPC, with the exception of Signing Bonuses, but including Paragraph 1 Salary, games played bonuses and Exhibit 5 bonuses, shall be extended; provided, however, that the Player’s Paragraph 1 Salary shall be extended in all circumstances.”

Grundstrom’s birthday is December 1st, 1997. In one circumstance Grundstrom could have been exempt, the same way that Liljegren will be. Had Grundstrom signed his Entry Level Contract (ELC) in 2016, he would have been eligible for an Entry Level slide in both 2016-17 and 2017-18, because he technically would not have turned 20 between September 16 and December 31 of the year he signed. This was the wording exploited in order for Dermott, Nielsen, and Timashov to slide for two years, and the same reason Leafs fans can be excited for two more years of Dermott at $863,333, rather than one more year at $925,000.

Also, remember that a professional season can only be accrued when a player is under contract, so any player that signs an ELC starting in 2018-19 will be exempt from the expansion draft. That’s including rumoured Leaf signing Igor Ozhiganov, who technically has not played professional hockey (according to the CBA) despite playing in the KHL for parts of eight seasons. Ozhiganov would be exempt, just like Nikita Zaitsev three years earlier.

Who will be on the team in 2020?

For this purpose, I will assume any player under contract through 2020-21 is still with the team. For players with expiring contract before then, I will make an educated guess on who stays. Once again any player who signs an ELC starting in 2018-19 will be exempt for the draft, so we don’t need to worry about guys like Korshkov, Rasanen, etc. or picks in the 2018 draft. At forward Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Nazem Kadri are locks to be protected. For defence, Rielly and Dermott are the only locks, and obviously Frederik Andersen in net. That leaves two forward slots and one defence. Candidates for those slots would be Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Carl Grundstrom, Andreas Johnsson, and depending on if he extends, James van Riemsdyk. Notable defence pushing for the last spot would be Andreas Borgman, Nikita Zaitsev, and depending on if he extends, Jake Gardiner.

Who will the Leafs lose?

A strategy that came up recently was extending van Riemsdyk with the intent of leaving him exposed for the expansion draft. Signing him to a six-year extension in the $6 million range would take him until he’s 34, and he could contribute for the remainder of the deal. It would likely include a No Trade Clause (NTC), however that has no limitations in an expansion draft. Then, when the expansion draft rolls around and Seattle needs high-end talent, it wouldn’t take much to convince them to take van Riemsdyk with four years left on his contract, considering the cap space available. Even if Seattle isn’t interested in JVR, the Leafs would stand to benefit from retaining a top-six winger without using a protection slot.

Regardless of van Riemsdyk’s status, the use of the last two forward spots is highly dependent on the play of Grundstrom and Johnsson, even Aaltonen if he can cement a spot at third line centre. Many have speculated Grundstrom has the tools to replace Hyman on the Matthews line, and similarly Johnsson could force Brown out of a protection slot by replacing him on the Penalty Kill. It’s very difficult to predict who will be a more important player two years down the road, but three of Hyman, Brown, Grundstrom, Johnsson, and Aaltonen will be left unprotected. Keep an eye on Grundstrom’s transition to the AHL next season and possibly this season for the Calder Cup playoffs, as well as Johnsson’s hopeful transition to the NHL to be an indicator of their ability.

On defence, it’s a changing landscape, but Gardiner most likely gets extended and takes the final spot. Zaitsev would be exposed this time around, but the term of his contract may be a cause for concern in Seattle. Besides Zaitsev, Borgman is a tough player to leave unprotected. Borgman has shown flashes of top-four potential, before being forced out of the lineup by the emergence of Travis Dermott. If Borgman can continue to show progress there may be a case for allowing Gardiner to walk in Free Agency. In any case, Zaitsev and Borgman are the headliners on defence.

It’s impossible to predict who Seattle will want most, but if the past expansion draft is any indication they will have lots of fourth defencemen available to them. What may be more intriguing is their very own James Neal, in van Riemsdyk. Once again the Leafs are in a fairly good position for the expansion draft because they don’t hand out NMCs to just anybody. Losing a winger when you have the kind of depth the Leafs do at that position just means more opportunity for guys like Josh Leivo, Dmytro Timashov, and Jeremy Bracco. If Seattle takes Borgman or Zaitsev, it’s still a tough pill to swallow but they’re both players who were signed as free agents.


Main Photo: BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 25: Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello attends the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)