In 2017, the Toronto Maple Leafs were in a great position for the Vegas expansion draft, because their young core group of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander were exempt, allowing for GM Lou Lamoriello to protect the likes of Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, Connor Brown, and Josh Leivo up front.
In the wake of the trades made this offseason and with the large amount of players signed to one-year deals, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has his club well set up to not lose a player of major consequence to Seattle next June, but may have to manage things to meet the minimum games played requirement for players to be exposed.
Each club has the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, but has to expose two forwards and one blueliner who played at least 70 games between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons or 40 games in the upcoming campaign, as well as a goaltender under contract or an RFA after the season (these numbers could be adjusted based on the fact that the regular season was shutdown due to COVID-19 with three weeks to go and that the NHL could play a shorter schedule next year).
With the trades of Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, players like Ilya Mikheyev, Alexander Barabanov, Egor Korshkov and Nick Robertson being exempt, and five expiring contracts (Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Travis Boyd) that do not require protection, the Leafs are well situated at forward. They will protect Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Alex Kerfoot. It is likely that Dubas will endeavor to extend Zach Hyman between now and next summer, which would leave one spot for either Pierre Engvall, Joey Anderson or Adam Brooks.
Three years ago, the Leafs did not have to protect Nikita Zaitsev (exempt), or UFA’s Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak, which allowed Lamoriello to protect Connor Carrick. KHL import Mikko Lehtonen and youngsters Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren are exempt, but with the addition of free agent TJ Brodie, to go along with veterans Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, both Justin Holl and Travis Dermott will be exposed.
Between the pipes, the impending free agency of Frederik Andersen would allow Toronto to protect backup Jack Campbell. Youngsters Ian Scott and Joseph Woll are exempt, but the Leafs do not currently have a goalie under contract to make available to Seattle. Signing Aaron Dell to an extension could remedy that or re-signing and protecting Andersen and exposing Campbell.
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