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Predicting the Expansion Draft: Toronto and Vancouver

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Today, an all-Canada version of our look into Expansion Draft protections.

Vancouver Canucks v Toronto Maple Leafs

Did you miss me?

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Instead of the usual Monday post, we’re hitting you with a Wednesday edition instead. With only 4 teams left to review, we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. As Peter will be handling the last post of these previews, I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who’s read any of this series so far as well as those who have read the majority, or even all, of these predictions as we’ve worked thru them. Rest assured, there will be more in this series after we conclude these predictions - Peter will have more on what to expect next and the timing of the remainder of the series in Friday’s piece on Washington and Winnipeg.

As always, we explained how free agents and exemptions are going to work in great depth in the Detroit article, so scroll down to the bottom and click on the Detroit article in the story stream if you need more information on those topics. Also, here is a link to the CapFriendly expansion draft tool for those who want to play along at home. Take a quick look at the teams for today’s article before you read if you want to see who’s exempt, etc.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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Daily Faceoff Current Lines: Here

Projected Protection Choice: 7 Forwards, 3 Defense, 1 Goalie

Forwards

I know we don’t usually list exemptions, but there are a BUNCH of important ones for the Leafs. Auston Matthews, Zach Hyman, William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, and Nikita Soshnikov are exempt, just at the forward position, leaving only 7 real concerns for protection on the starting roster (9 if you want to count the healthy scratches). This gives Toronto a lot of latitude to keep their current roster intact, or should they choose they can protect ample depth with the Marlies.

With the top-end of their roster exempt, we can start protections a bit farther down the line of productivity. Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk, who in all honesty aren’t far below Matthews and Marner in terms of offensive production, will be the top two protections at forward. Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, and Leo Komarov round out the easier-to-predict protections.

With two spots left, there are several routes Leafs management could go. They could protect 4th liners, or they could look to protect future assets. High-value Marlies Brendan Leipsic and Kerby Rychel are both available to be taken by Vegas as this is their 3rd season of professional play. We expect that Vegas won’t actually have the option to take them.

The wrench in the system is Josh Leivo. The sometime Marlie and sometime Leaf has only played in about 13 games as of this writing, split between the AHL and NHL. With 0 points in 5 AHL contests, it didn’t look like he would be much of a factor this season. But, currently slotting in on the top line of the Leafs and with 6 points in 8 NHL contests, he’s looking more and more valuable. If Leivo can turn up an impressive end of the season, he may bump someone out of a protection spot. Probably not Leipsic or Rychel, but an aging center with less than stellar production this season... maybe someone like Komarov...

Defense

The only notable exemption on defense is Nikita Zaitsev. Playing on the top line with Zaitsev, Morgan Reilly probably gets the first protection spot on defense. Toronto has a solid, young second defensive pairing in Jake Gardiner and Connor Carrick. Even with Carrick garnishing only 7 points on the season so far, his ability to move the puck far outpaces that of Matt Hunwick (per OwnThePuck).

Goalie

Frederik Andersen, previously of the Anaheim Ducks, had a rough go of it to start the season but has since rounded into shape for the most part. He’s a good goalie, as evidenced by the past few seasons out in California, and has had the opportunity to show it as the defense has improved in front of him. Goalies, with few exceptions, are largely a product of the defense in front of them - but Andersen makes an impact over others at his position, and should be the only consideration for Toronto’s protection.

Complications

The Leafs need to sign and expose one forward for these selections to work. There are at least a few possibilities, such as Brooks Laich or Milan Michalek, but the current price tags on those guys is pretty high - I’d guess they wouldn’t be too keen on signing at a major discount for one year as Toronto continues their youth movement. The best bet might be a player such as Ben Smith - the 28-year-old is on a very inexpensive contract expiring this off-season, and would only need 2 more games played in addition to the new contract in order for Toronto to meet exposure requirements.

Final Protected List

Forward: Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Leo Komarov, Brendan Leipsic, Kerby Rychel

Defense: Morgan Reilly, Jake Gardiner, Connor Carrick

Goalie: Frederik Andersen

Vancouver Canucks

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Daily Faceoff Current Lines: Here

Projected Protection Choice: 7 Forwards, 3 Defense, 1 Goalie

Forwards

Immediately, there are 3 NMCs to deal with - both of the Sedin twins, and Loui Eriksson who is on pace to have as many points this season as he did goals last season with the Boston Bruins. I bet nobody in the Canucks’ front office regrets handing that one out.

With 4 forward slots left, Bo Horvat immediately stands out as an obvious player to protect as he leads all Vancouver players in points. Following Horvat, and skipping the players mentioned above with NMCs, Brandon Sutter, Sven Baertschi, and Markus Granlund are all better-than-average players that Vancouver should want to keep around.

Defense

While there aren’t any NMCs on defense, there are two notable exemptions in Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton. Alexander Edler, playing the top pair with Stecher, gets the first protection spot of the defenders. While currently injured, minute-muncher Erik Gudbranson has the makings of a protected player if not the scoresheet output.

With the final spot, it’s a close toss-up between Christopher Tanev and Luca Sbisa. To be frank, both are less than spectacular when it comes to... well... actually playing defense. Tanev does well with shot prevention, but that’s about it. Sbisa’s advanced metrics are all-around bad, but he does have a slightly higher points-per-game output than Tanev. All things considered, and with 4 better defensemen already guaranteed to return next season, we’ll take Tanev for now.

Goalie

With Ryan Miller’s contract expiring, and Vancouver unlikely to re-sign the veteran netminder, we’ll opt for protecting Jacob Markstrom. While his stats are slightly below Miller’s, he’s still the preferred option over the elder Richard Bachman who hasn’t received any playing time this season.

Complications

With these protections, Vancouver meets all exposure requirements for the Expansion Draft.

Final Protection List

Forward: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Loui Eriksson, Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Brandon Sutter

Defense: Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Christopher Tanev

Goalie: Jacob Markstrom