The upcoming offseason will feature an expansion draft for the first time since the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild joined the NHL in 2000.

Now into December, I thought this would be a good time to take a first look at the draft from the Leafs perspective. This is no doubt something Leafs management has been preparing for already.

According to TSN, here are the rules in a nutshell:

“Each of the 30 NHL teams will lose exactly one player. Those teams are required to submit a list of protected players on June 17, 2017. They may choose to protect seven forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender, or eight skaters and one goaltender for those teams flush with talented blueliners. All first- and second-year pro players are exempt from the draft.”

There are also experience requirements — 40 NHL games played this season or 70 over the last two — that each team must meet with three of their exposed players.

The first question: What protection scheme should the Leafs use? Fortunately for Toronto, almost all of their young talent is exempt from the draft, making this an easy decision.

Picking eight skaters and a goalie is suited for teams with more than three defensemen worth protecting. In Toronto’s case, there are four that fit that bill – Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Nikita Zaitsev, and Connor Carrick. Only three of those players are eligible, though, on account of the fact that Zaitsev is a first-year player. Even if you aren’t enamoured with Carrick, he’s shown promise and this format allows Toronto to keep an extra forward.

The only other Leafs defenseman currently under contract through 2017-18, who meets the 40/70 requirements, and who is draft eligible is Martin Marincin. That brings us to Frederik Andersen, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Connor Carrick among the protected players so far.

As for the seven forward spots, here are the exempt players right off the bat: Frederik Gauthier, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Nikita Soshnikov.

It’s also worth noting that technically Nathan Horton has to be protected on account of his No Movement Clause. However, any player with an NMC has the option of waiving, which should not be an issue in this case.

There are a few no-brainers here up front, including Nazem Kadri, JVR, and Connor Brown. There are also a few productive veterans that are a little more debatable but who — based on production and potential trade value — it would hurt to lose for free in Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. That leaves two spots left to pick between Matt Martin, Brendan Leipsic and Kerby Rychel, with a bit of a twist.

It seems unlikely to me that Toronto makes Matt Martin available having signed him to a long-term contract. And Leipsic has been far more productive than Kerby Rychel at the same age, so it would make sense to keep him between the two.

That would give the Leafs three players to expose – Martin Marincin, Garret Sparks, and Kerby Rychel — but they need to expose at least five. One way to achieve this is to dip into their keepers, potentially waiving players such as Leipsic or even Martin to fill those final spots.

The team can also look at signing some veterans on the team and exposing them in the summer knowing they likely wouldn’t get claimed. Looking over the Leafs’ list, it’s likely that Marincin would be Las Vegas’ pick as a young, cheap, relatively-experienced NHL defenseman.

Even if the Leafs extended a few eligible players this season – Matt Hunwick, Roman Polak, Ben Smith – they wouldn’t get claimed over Marincin. For Toronto, bringing back any of those players on a contract under 925K would be beneficial for the purposes of the expansion draft; after they are left unclaimed, the Leafs can waive them and send them down to the Marlies if need be.

Of course, Peter Holland could also be made eligible, but it looks like he’ll be gone long before that.

At this point, this seems like the most likely outcome as far as the Leafs are concerned: They will select the 7-3-1 scheme, they will have no problem keeping all of their good players, and they will explore either extending a veteran or two or claiming another from waivers.

Some teams are going to lose a good player for free this summer. Toronto is fortunate enough not be one of them.


Notes

– I wrote a few weeks ago that the Carolina-New Jersey back-to-back would be pivotal for Jhonas Enroth. He struggled in the game against the Devils, and again against Calgary last week. Next thing you know, he’s on waivers. Two smaller goalies have now been swiftly cast aside under Babcock, with Jonathan Bernier being the other. Last season, Babcock said, “the net’s too small for the size of the goalies.” It looks like the Leafs goaltenders will now be 6’4 Frederik Andersen and 6’2 Karri Ramo.

Note to self: Mike Babcock does not like small goalies.

– The two goalies have been close in terms of save percentage over their careers – Enroth with a .909 vs. Ramo with a .906, while Enroth is two years younger. The one edge that Ramo has over Enroth is he has played a lot of hockey over the last past three seasons with 37, 34 and 40 games played during his time in Calgary. Compare that to Enroth’s 16, 50, and 28. That’s 17 fewer games and two seasons for Enroth with a minimal workload. In the summer, Lou Lamoriello said Enroth would play “at least a minimum of 20, 22, 24” games. There’s nothing to suggest Enroth couldn’t handle that type of workload — going by percentages and his history, he likely would have bounced back — but the Leafs lost all faith in him pretty quickly. They also had a goalie with a lot of NHL experience over the last three years practicing with the team and close to ready.

– Here is an interesting tweet from last week showing that JVR plays the least of any team’s leading scorer across the league.

https://twitter.com/jeremydavis89/status/804866752215588864

He’s certainly producing, yet he’s 14th on the team in overall ice time per game (among players who have appeared in 15 or more games). Seven of his 20 points have come on the powerplay and he’s playing on a sheltered scoring line with an electric rookie.

– The player just behind JVR in average time on ice? Nazem Kadri. The defense obviously makes up the first seven, but at some point the team is going to have review the order of ice time allocation up front (it currently goes Auston Matthews, Leo Komarov, Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman, Tyler Bozak, William Nylander, JVR, Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown, in order). Even with the roles and overall ice time all falling within a narrow range (Matthew is first at 17:16, Nazem Kadri is at 15:51), at some point Babcock is going to start leaning on some players consistently with heavier minutes. At this point, it’s still early.


Quotes

He was big and he moved the puck and he was involved on the offensive blueline and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. Marty’s got a lot of talent, confidence is the biggest issue for him. He’s got to earn the right to be in every day. He played real good down the stretch for us last year. He’s got to find that game on a consistent basis.

  • Mike Babcock on Martin Marincin

As much as I’m not a fan of his game, I consistently remind myself that Marincin did the same thing last season – he looked really bad for the first half and came on strong down the stretch. It was meaningless hockey at that point, which makes it interesting that he played well in that situation considering Babcock’s confidence comment. Marincin has quietly amassed four points in his last five games.

Looking back now it probably was the wrong decision, but I’m only looking forward right now.

  • Milan Michalek on waiving his no-trade clause to come to Toronto

I’m sure he waived his NTC thinking he would play in the NHL. Obviously, it hasn’t happened. Someone convinced Michalek to waive last February and it was a big part of the Leafs’ franchise-changing trade of Dion Phaneuf.

Six (games) in nine nights and coming back home from New York, we were a tired club. I loved our start.

  • Flames coach Glen Gulutzan after beating Toronto 3-0

Obviously, tired team or not, when you score on your first two shots the other team is in big trouble. Toronto put Enroth in a pretty favourable position here (even though they were also in a back-to-back) and found themselves in a big hole very quickly.


Video Tidbit of the Week

With any young player entering the league, it’s natural to look for the holes — or the attributes that seem below average — and wonder if a player is going to be successful in his transition to the NHL. In Marner’s case, the question marks obviously surrounded his size. 24 games into his NHL career, he’s basically done everything he can to squash those concerns. This shift is a great example.

Once the puck is on his stick, Marner dominates the wall, uses his edges, gets low, and is strong on the puck. He fights off multiple defenders, setting up JVR in ‘the house’ before helping work the puck back to the point for a shot from the blue line. It was already pretty obvious, but I don’t think this size thing is going to be an issue.


5 Things I Think I’d Do

1) I think, if Zach Hyman is going to stay with Auston Matthews (and let’s face it, he is), William Nylander should be up with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov, with Nikita Soshnikov bumped down to the fourth line. Nylander needs to play with top players; it’s a waste having him down there, and he adds some offence and speed to that unit along with the ability to hold onto the puck in the offensive zone. Babcock moved him up in the game against the Canucks and he was making the switch on occasion before getting hurt. It’s a good line that has a bit of everything.

2) If the replacement has the same length of leash that Enroth was given, I think it’s going to be hard for the Leafs to ever have a good backup goalie.

3) While it seems likely that the Leafs sign Karri Ramo as their backup, I think I would explore the Islanders goalie trio, particularly JF Berube and Thomas Greiss. One is a good young goalie with upside and good AHL numbers who would be a welcome addition to an organization with nothing to write home about in their pipeline at the position (he’s 6’1, in case you’re wondering). The other is a veteran goalie who is a proven NHL backup (he’s also 6’1, in case you’re wondering). For the right price, either would be an upgrade to some degree over Ramo.

4) I think Carrick has to play. After Rielly, Zaitsev and Gardiner, I’d firmly rank him as their overall #4 defenceman right now. He’s handled top four minutes well with Gardiner and, even though the production isn’t there yet, he has the talent to produce offensively (which Hunwick, Polak and Marincin generally don’t, even with Marincin producing lately).

5) I think it’s interesting that Brendan Leipsic has been playing some center with the Marlies recently and agree with the Leafs in trying to figure out ways to get him on the team. With 26 points in 21 games so far, he is clearly ready for an extended look. But the Leafs are full on the wing right now, save for moving Nylander to center and bumping Smith out (which might actually make some sense, but they would never do it). Turning 23 in May and a pending RFA, Leipsic has to get a look at some point. He could help this team.