The protection lists have been revealed and Vegas GM George McPhee has issued a notice to the other 30 front offices that he’s open for business.
In Toronto, fans were quick to scan the list of defencemen that could be potentially available through trade. Among the names drawing attention are Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson in Anaheim, Jason Demers in Florida, and Calvin de Haan on the Island. The unknown at this time is the side deals at play; some are already in place and more of them will come together over the course of the next four days.
We do know that Josh Manson is only “available” in Anaheim because Bob Murray and George McPhee have an agreement in place that ensures he’s staying in Orange County. Murray would’ve asked Kevin Bieksa to waive his NMC — or, failing that, would have bought him out — otherwise. The same could be true of Vatanen. In general, we can’t be totally sure which of the significant names on the unprotected list will be actually available later this week.
The hockey insiders have reported interest from the Leafs in Vatanen over the past couple of weeks, which is a possibility that has been thoroughly explored in the Leafs media. As a player who succeeds more on the power play and in driving offense in secondary matchup situations, there’s an argument to be made that he would be a superfluous addition to the Leafs blue line. Vatanen is a quality defenceman, to be sure — he’s small but competitive, a good skater, a skilled puckhandler, and also played a role on the PK last season for Randy Carlyle. But he might not be the matchup defenceman Toronto covets. Looking at his defensive results and how they line up with the Leafs’ needs, there’s a fair case to be made that Vatanen is not the player worth splurging on in terms of the acquisition cost and cap dollars involved.
Amid the hoopla surrounding the expansion draft, it’s possible the top-four right defenceman the Leafs are looking for isn’t available at a price/fit the team’s brass is comfortable with (and there’s certainly no obvious solution in the UFA pool). If the Leafs choose to bide their time and continue to work at improving their defensive depth instead – a process that’s already begun with the addition of Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman – one option is to seek out a low-cost trade acquisition involving an NHL defenceman with some upside for the right-side of the defensive depth chart. That’s particularly important if Roman Polak isn’t returning. Right now, the Leafs’ right side is only as deep as Nikita Zatisev and Connor Carrick, who was trusted less and less by Mike Babcock late in the season and into the playoffs, followed by a bunch of unknowns.
This is where Boston’s Colin Miller, who went unprotected yesterday and looks like the best asset available to Vegas from the Bruins’ list, could pique interest. The 24-year-old played a limited role in Boston this season – 15:48 per game, 13:55 at even strength – but he caught the eye whenever I watched the Bruins play as a highly mobile, right-handed defenceman with a heavy shot.
In the AHL in 2014-15 (his sophomore season in the league), Miller put up 19 goals and 55 points to lead all AHL defencemen in goals and earned the call to the AHL All-Star Game. In the skills competition, he won the fastest skater award with a 13.8-second lap and the hardest shot title with a 105.5 mph reading.
After splitting 2015-16 between Providence and Boston, Miller became a full-time NHLer this past season, posting 13 points (6g,7a) in 61 games. His underlying numbers have been very strong, keeping in mind the bottom-pairing context. His 60% CF was tops on the Bruins and fourth in the league among defencemen. Digging a little deeper, his relative shot suppression and shot generation numbers, as well as his With or Without You (WOWY) impacts, show very favourably.
2016-17 Season, Defencemen with min. 500 minutes played
|CF per 60 RELTM||8.81||4th|
|CA per 60 RELTM||-7.74||3rd|
Could Miller play tougher minutes capably in the Leafs’ top four? That’s certainly a reach at this stage. He’s been sheltered (42% offensive zone starts) in his limited minutes, and in talking to a few Boston beat writers, his numbers — which come with the qualifier of playing soft minutes on the East’s best possession team — haven’t always agreed with the eye test.
“He has good skills, but he remains undependable to the point where Bruce Cassidy was very sparing in his assignments,” said Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe. “Not many shifts against top lines.”
Miller also wasn’t trusted with penalty killing responsibility in his first 60-plus game NHL season.
“I think if he were a left shot, he would have been under higher consideration to be protected, but the Bruins have numbers on the right side,” said Shinzawa. “Kevan Miller has limitations, but was highly trusted in his role as third-pair guy and PK specialist.”
Colin Miller Scouting Report
Skilled, mid-sized defenseman boasts excellent skating range, quickness and mobility .. excels moving the puck on outlets, breakouts – starting rushes .. adept at backpeddling with the puck and then exploiting a fast and fluid transition sequence to springload attacks .. slick outer edge control on turns and pivots .. not overly large nor physical – however is strong on his feet for his size and uses his body well to protect the puck .. can lose positioning defending 1-on-1 down low around his net at times .. must guard against getting drawn out chasing .. puck-moving decisions have steadily improved – calm under pressure – makes safe choices – doesn’t force things .. skilled at shooting on the fly – exploiting a nice pull-drag-fire motion.
– Gus Katsaros, McKeen’s Hockey
It wouldn’t be anything more than a low-risk dice roll on a young(ish) depth defenceman who looks to have some untapped potential. But it might come relatively cheaply and it would, at a minimum, add some much-needed depth on the right side of the defence.
There is also a Leafs connection here, with Kyle Dubas having drafted Miller in the OHL while GM of the Soo Greyhounds. He served as captain under Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe in 2012-13.
Of course, Vegas may have other ideas. Miller seems like the best available Bruin asset accounting for age, price ($1M for one more season before he becomes an RFA) and position; perhaps the Knights are quite high on him. McPhee and his team could also be looking at Adam McQuaid, a veteran right-handed defenceman who is more in the shutdown mould, with this pick.
Matt Martin staying put
The Leafs didn’t even have seven NHL roster forwards eligible to protect, and yet there was still a little controversy surrounding their final protection choice up front in today’s big expansion draft reveal. It wasn’t so much surprising as it was a case of the Leafs confirming what most fans already assumed was true: The club values tough guy Matt Martin (a player they committed $10 million to last July) over a pair of waiver-eligible AHL forwards who might have some NHL upside in Kerby Rychel and Brendan Leipsic.
It’s of little consolation to those who don’t see the value in allocating one of 12 forward spots to a player like Martin, but when projecting the Leafs’ forward lines for next season, it was very difficult to see where either Rychel or Leipsic would fit in. With the depth on the wings on the big club (plus the rookie season of Andreas Johnsson and the promise of Carl Grundstrom, both younger prospects and waiver exempt), it would’ve required a head-turning camp performance from either player to force their way onto the team. Failing that, they’re sure to be exposed to all 30 teams on the waiver wire.
(It should be noted it is also possible Vegas will opt for a defenceman with NHL experience in Martin Marincin over either Rychel or Leipsic, though there would seem to be no shortage of quality depth defencemen available to Vegas that are superior options).
I won’t rehash the same-old debate here other than to say it’s interesting that Mike Babcock went from coaching the team least interested in fighting year-over-year — for nine consecutive seasons, plus he Leafs went without this sort of presence in 2015-16 — to desiring this element each and every night on a young roster. Martin has been signed for too much term, but this might not be a permanent everyday role under Babcock once the roster matures.
Love or hate the player/contract, Martin is here to stay for the time being and the important thing now is ensuring he is accompanied by a quality center who can drive the fourth line. When the Leafs acquired Brian Boyle at the deadline, Martin went from playing 8:46 a game to 9:16 for the rest of the regular season and then up to 9:57 per game in the playoffs. When on the ice with Boyle, Martin was a 51.5% CF in the regular season (170 minutes). He finished fourth among Leafs forwards with a 50% CF in the playoffs and chipped in two points in Game 2.
Ben Smith – with whom Martin posted a 44% CF in 264 minutes of shared 5v5 ice time — served his purpose today but isn’t going to cut it for the role.