The Maple Leafs rebounded from a last place finish in 2016 to getting to the playoffs for the first time in four years due mostly to the exploits of a roster heavily populated with rookies, including Calder Trophy nominee Auston Matthews, forwards William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and defenseman Nikita Zaitsev.
The rookie invasion in Toronto has GM Lou Lamoriello in a fortuitous position entering the expansion draft, as his club does not have any players with no-movement clauses, most of the youngsters are exempt from being selected and that allows the Leafs to protect most of their veterans.
Brown and van Riemsdyk (in the final year of his contract) have been rumored to be what it would cost for the Leafs to acquire a top-four defenseman.
It is likely that two of the remaining three spots would be occupied by veteran wingers Leo Komarov and Matt Martin, both favorites of head coach Mike Babcock who provide leadership and intangibles. The remaining spot will be a choice between Josh Leivo, Kerby Rychel and Brendan Leipsic.
Leivo was kept on the NHL roster for fear of being claimed off of waivers and recorded 10 points in 13 games, but could never break through as a regular. Rychel led the AHL Toronto Marlies in scoring with 52 points, but there is some question of whether he has the speed to play in the NHL. Leipsic,22, missed nearly half the season with concussion issues, but has the speed and skill to succeed at the next level.
Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner are sure to be on the Leafs protected list and the exemption of Zaitsev gives Toronto an open spot to protect a defenseman if they choose to make a deal before the expansion draft.
If the status quo remains, Connor Carrick will likely be the third blueliner, ahead of Alexey Marchenko and Martin Marincin. The 23-year-old is a former draft pick of George McPhee in Washington and played most of the season on the second pairing with Gardiner, but saw limited ice time in the playoffs.
The Golden Knights will not find much help in the goaltending area from the Leafs. Starter Frederik Andersen will be protected and one of RFA minor leaguers Garret Sparks or Antoine Bibeau will receive a qualifying offer to be the available netminder.
Projected protected players and their cap hits
Nazem Kadri – $4,500,000 through 2022
James van Riemsdyk – $4,250,000 through 2018
Tyler Bozak – $4,200,000 through 2018
Leo Komarov – $2,950,000 through 2018
Matt Martin – $2,500,000 through 2020
Connor Brown – $686,667 RFA
Brendan Leipsic – $653,333 RFA
Morgan Rielly – $5,000,000 through 2022
Jake Gardiner – $4,050,000 through 2019
Connor Carrick – $750,000 through 2018
Frederik Andersen – $5,000,000 through 2021
Likely Expansion loss for Toronto
The three most likely selections off the Leafs roster are Leivo, Rychel and Marchenko
If the Leafs were to make a trade with Vegas to select/not select a player, who would it be and why?
Toronto can absorb the loss of a young forward, since they have many of them in the organization, but it is possible that if they chose to protect Rychel or Leivo and expose a veteran in Komarov, that the Leafs would give Vegas a draft pick to not take the feisty Finn.
If Toronto does move van Riemsdyk for a defenseman, Carrick would be vulnerable and the Leafs could use him as an enticement to prevent McPhee from taking a player they do not want to lose.