Back in December, we took an early look at who the Maple Leafs might expose in the June expansion draft.
Now that the trade deadline has passed — with the Leafs making one move with, ostensibly, an eye towards expansion — it is a good time to revisit the draft and figure out what the Leafs might do.
For a refresher course on the rules, here’s an abbreviated version: Each team will submit a list of protected players on June 17. Teams have the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. Each team also needs to expose at minimum three players that have played either 40 games this season or 70 over the last two. All first and second-year pros are exempt from the draft.
As previously discussed, the first decision is choosing the protection scheme — the two choices are three defensemen, seven forwards and a goalie, or eight skaters and a goalie. Since the Leafs have not added a player on defense worth protecting, they should still be using the three defensemen, seven forwards and a goalie template.
That still means Toronto will protect Frederik Andersen, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Connor Carrick (Nikita Zaitsev is exempt).
At forward, this expansion draft could not have come at a better time for Toronto given all of these players are exempt: Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Frederik Gauthier, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, and Nikita Soshnikov.
Notable players not included on that list include Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown and JVR, as all three will surely be protected. It also appears unlikely that Toronto would be willing to lose Tyler Bozak or Leo Komarov for free considering their roles on the team and potential trade value should the club look to move them.
That would leave two protected spots for any of Matt Martin, Brendan Leipsic, Josh Leivo, Eric Fehr, Martin Marincin, Alexey Marchenko, and Kerby Rychel. It’s tough to get a read on which of the young players Toronto likes enough to keep — Leivo has looked good but is a regular healthy scratch, the same goes for Marincin, Leipsic and Rychel haven’t played in the NHL this season, and Marchenko doesn’t look like anything special. At the same time, the Leafs still need to make three players available that meet the 40/70 requirement; in this case, Martin, Fehr and Marincin all fit the bill. The other possibility is the Leafs signing Ben Smith (who needs to play one more game in order to be eligible).
From the perspective of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, it would make sense to roll the dice on a young forward who has shown potential in Leivo, or a young, cheap defenseman like Marincin. Or maybe Vegas would consider taking Martin for entertainment value on what is sure to be a very bad team for the first few years.
All of this circles us back to Eric Fehr, as the Leafs went out and traded for a player who Vegas GM George McPhee likes and has acquired on two separate occasions. In fact, speculation has already begun that Vegas will acquire Fehr from Toronto:
“Former Columbus BJ’s general manager Doug MacLean basically guaranteed the Golden Knights agreed to at least a few deals, and even went as so far as to mention one player by name. Eric Fehr.
Eric Fehr, the former Capital (hint, hint), Jet, Penguin, and now Maple Leaf just so happened to play his junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings (hint, hint, hint, hint!). His contract expires at the end of the Golden Knights first season and is a reasonable $2 million for the right winger. He’s been around the league, is considered a good locker room guy, and talent wise he’s certainly going to be good enough to be on Vegas’ initial 23 man roster. The point is, the Golden Knights staff has a connection to him, he has a friendly contract, is the type of player they are looking for, and is good enough at hockey.”
That would certainly make the Fehr acquisition more palatable for the Leafs, as they wouldn’t have the additional season of his $2 million contract on their books and they would be able to keep their young players as well as Martin.
At the end of the day, the expansion draft is coming at the right time for Toronto and they are going to escape it relatively unscathed. At this point, it is more a question of whether they’re going to lose a depth player, a young player with some upside, or Eric Fehr.
– One ramification of picking up the extra contract – Steve Oleksy – in the Pittsburgh deal is the Leafs are now at 50 standard player contracts, which is the limit. That means the Leafs won’t be in the bidding to sign any undrafted free agents for the rest of the season (CHL, college, Europe).
– Eric Fehr has been used strictly in a defensive role since being acquired by Pittsburgh, with nearly 80% of his non-neutral zone faceoffs starting in the defensive zone. That has cut his production in half; he put up over 30 points in back-to-back years in Washington, totalling .43 points per game, compared to 25 points in 107 games for .23 points per game in Pittsburgh. He can take a shift on the fourth line and contribute on occasion, but it would come at the expense of a young player in the lineup.
– Since February 1, the Leafs are 5-6-5. Here’s how their forwards have been producing over that time:
|Player||Games Played||Points||Time on Ice|
There are a few things that stand out at first glance: 1) Leivo’s production and ice time for a player who has been a healthy scratch so often this season; 2) Nylander playing the sixth-most despite his production, particularly compared to Hyman and Komarov; 3) Komarov playing the second most overall, partly because he plays in all situations.
– Also of note is the continued decline of JVR’s role. He is goalless in his last 14 games, although he does have 45 shots on goal over that span. We can also assume he was one of the veterans Babcock was referencing when he said they got outplayed last week by their opponent’s veterans. Throughout the season, Bozak and JVR have been called out more than a few times publicly by Babcock.
– Frederik Andersen not playing in Anaheim continued a trend of the Leafs always starting their number-one goalie in the first game of a back-to-back no matter who the two opponents are. It looks like Toronto’s approach is to focus on the points in the first game and anything after that is gravy. In this case, both LA and Anaheim are good teams, so it’s basically a coin flip. That said, it was a little cold of the Leafs not to give Andersen the start in his return to Anaheim.
– For all the talk of blown leads by the Leafs, they are 21-1-9 when leading after two periods. It’s not as if they are blowing games completely in the third and regularly coming up empty. The bigger issue — as has been discussed here throughout the season — is that questionable overtime personnel deployment leads them to the shootout, where they are the worst team in the league.
Against LA in overtime, the Leafs actually started off with Matthews-Nylander-Rielly and they generated two good scoring chances in 18 seconds, leading to an offensive zone faceoff. Both forwards were then pulled off in exchange for Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown. Later in overtime, Matthews-Nylander-Rielly got about a ten-second shift together, with Matthews missing a rebound in front leading to another offensive zone faceoff, at which point Kadri and Brown replaced them.
“The mistakes that I’ve made, I did just a horrible job in relation to my colleague Mike Babcock in selling our age and the mistakes. So, when they’ve lost a game it’s just a wonderful learning experience, and they win it’s a triumph of character, and we have the opposite thing going on here, right. But that’s my choice because I don’t ever want to walk into a season and say we aren’t here to win the Stanley Cup.”
– Paul Maurice on his opinion of the difference between the Leafs and Jets.
I think there’s something to be said for realism when it comes to the abilities and potential of the group you are coaching.
“I told him, ‘There’s a Mario Lemieux cool to his game.’ And Mario just smiled. Not a lot of kids have the ability to not get rattled by anything. Jaromir (Jagr) was moody and temperamental when he was a kid. Sidney (Crosby) would get angry and frustrated. You’d see the same sometimes from (Evgeni) Malkin. You don’t see that from Auston. I have amazing respect for the way he carries himself as a person, the way he plays and with the consistent growth. I think we’re all a little amazed by what he’s doing. And this is just the beginning. I have been blown away and impressed by how composed he is and how he has carried himself and handled himself. He’s going to be a major award winner. He’s going to have a chance to lead his team to a lot of playoff success. He’s going to do some things with that group that are pretty amazing. The people around him understand the process of building a team. That’s going to be a special team.”
– Pierre McGuire on Auston Matthews
After LA tied the game 2-2, Matthews went on a great rush where he did a 360 around the defenseman and just missed the top corner. The camera showed the replay with a close up of Matthews’ face afterwards on the bench. He was relatively calm throughout it all. I was expecting an f-bomb, or — at a minimum — a head shake, yet he was calm, zoned in, and ready to go back out there. Love it or hate it, in a fishbowl like Toronto, it helps when a star player can keep his cool and maintain an even demeanour. In many respects, Matthews seems tailor-made for the market.
“There are tough decisions, but Sosh is important on our penalty kill, plays real fast. That’s where he got the nod the last couple of games over Leivs. Now, I talked to Leivs today, he’s just got to keep [going]. Leivs played good while he was in there too, there’s no issue with that, it’s just one of those situations where that’s what we’ve decided.”
– Mike Babcock on sitting Josh Leivo
Leivo has 9 points in 12 games, while Soshnikov has 7 in 49.
Video Tidbit of the Week
This is a good example of the kind of non-descript shift that Babcock referenced when the team acquired Boyle. Babcock sends out the fourth line for a neutral zone faceoff and the Kings — with last change at home — counter with their top line. Boyle shadows Kopitar down the ice, digs the puck out along the wall, gets it out, and then gets the puck deep. Nothing happens on this shift, and that’s a win for Toronto.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
1. I think I’d be making room in the lineup for Josh Leivo. He was producing consistently before the latest scratches and even set up the Leafs’ lone goal in San Jose prior to getting substituted out for Nikita Soshnikov. Beyond the point production, he stood out for his work in front of the net and along the walls, which is why he’s sitting at a 56.4 CF% over his 12 games this season. Bottom line: He’s one of their 12 best forwards and should be playing. Anything else is overthinking it.
2. In general, I think I would be more creative with the lines. Soshnikov’s role on the penalty kill isn’t a good enough reason to healthy scratch Leivo when Leivo is playing really well. It is also okay to hold players — and not just a few lower-roster forwards — accountable by getting their attention and lighting a fire under them (Brown, Hyman, JVR, etc.).
3. I think I’ve now seen enough to prefer Marincin in Marchenko’s spot. I am fully aware of their handedness, but Marincin has shown he can play the right side. Marincin is sitting at 50 CF% on the season compared to 46.4% from Marchenko, they are the same age, and Marincin is bigger and a better skater.
4. I think I would experiment with Boyle in front of the net on the power play instead of Komarov. Komarov is playing a huge role right now — tough matchups, top PK time, PP time — and it would be beneficial to give him some rest. Experiment with the much bigger Boyle in front and let’s see what happens.
5. With the Leafs playing Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday followed by a two-day break on Sunday and Monday, I think I would start Andersen in all three games.