The Maple Leafs, a June Draft, and Some Unanswered Questions

Given that the NHL’s regular season has been suspended because of the global COVID-19 pandemic brought on by the novel coronavirus, the NHL is engaging in work that had been on hold. Specifically, on May 1 the NHL’s deputy commissioner Bill Daily sent an email proposing a June NHL Entry Draft that would occur before the 2019-20 season was completed.

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The eight-page email was sent to the 31 owners and general managers late on Friday afternoon noting that the topic of an early draft would take up much of Monday’s bi-weekly meeting (May 4) with the board of governors held by commissioner Gary Bettman. Although the move signals some form of action, but it also raises a number of questions that need to be solved.

Issue #1: Could the Draft Lottery Also Win the Stanley Cup?

After Friday’s email, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman laid out aspects of the proposal in his column and offered some commentary about it. One of the hotly contested issues would be what happens to the draft lottery. Friedman noted that, although it’s a long shot, the current system offers a chance that the lottery winner might also win the Stanley Cup. One way the NHL proposes to eliminate that is through a format change just for this season, where there is only one lottery winner, and they would limit any move upwards in the draft to a maximum of four places.

The Hockey Writers 2020 NHL Entry Draft Guide
Nicholas Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2019 NHL Draft. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Friedman then shared Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston’s list of potential outcomes: “Detroit would pick no lower than second. Ottawa (with San Jose’s top selection) could do no worse than three and four. New Jersey, Buffalo, Montreal and Chicago couldn’t jump above two, three, four and five, respectively.”

Issue #2: Resolution of Trade Conditions

The other issue that’s up in the air are trades that were made during the season with conditional picks attached that are dependent on how teams or players fared during the regular season or other player-based decisions. In this case, the NHL is providing a solution; however, it’s giving the teams involved a week to negotiate their own solution or to accept the NHL’s.

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In his memo, Daly specifically noted: “We have reviewed the terms of these trades — numbering roughly 15 in total — and we believe that, in most cases, the undetermined conditions can be resolved with relatively simple ‘fixes,’ which the league would be prepared to rule on. We would propose that we share our review and proposed “solutions” to each of the participating clubs in each of the implicated trades and then provide the teams with a period of up to seven days to either: (a) reform the trade on terms acceptable to both teams, or (b) accept the “solution” that has been proposed to them by the league,” (from “The Ottawa Senators could be big winners if the NHL has its way and holds draft in June,” Bruce Garrioch, The Ottawa Sun, 02/05/20).

Trade Implications for the Maple Leafs

Implication #1: The Patrick Marleau Trade

The Maple Leafs have two trades that fall into that category. The first one is the deal general manager Kyle Dubas made last June that sent Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes, which has further implications on the Brady Skjei trade to the Hurricanes from the New York Rangers at the 2020 NHL trade deadline.

Jaroslav Halak, Patrick Marleau
Patrick Marleau When He Played for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

During the 2019 offseason, the team moved Marleau to the Hurricanes as a way to clear his $6.25 million contract (and corresponding salary-cap hit). The team also packaged a conditional first-round pick and a seventh-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and received a 2020 sixth-round pick from the Hurricanes.

The condition is that, if the Maple Leafs’ record gave them a top-10 pick in the 2020 Draft, they would keep that pick and Carolina would receive their 2021 pick instead. However, when the NHL’s regular-season was suspended on March 12, the Maple Leafs had 81 points, which put them 12th in the NHL.

Given the condition of the trade and their place in the standings, the Maple Leafs would have the 20th spot and give that draft pick to the Hurricanes. If that remains, the Hurricanes will keep the Maple Leafs pick while the Rangers will receive the Hurricanes pick.

Implication #2: The Jack Campbell Trade

Friedman also notes that, despite not being mentioned in the memo, other trades that included conditional picks based on a player’s performance or re-signing with the club might also need to be addressed. The Maple Leafs made two such trades in February: the most important was the one that sent Trevor Moore to the Los Angeles Kings for goalie Jack Campbell and physical winger Kyle Clifford.

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That trade also included a conditional 2021 third-round pick that would be upgraded to a second-round pick if either Clifford re-signed with the Maple Leafs or if the team made the playoffs this season and Campbell won six regular-season games.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

However, Campbell’s not likely to win six regular-season games because, when the regular season paused, his record was only 3-2-1. Even if the season continues, there’s only one set of back-to-back games left on the team’s schedule, so it would be unlikely that Campbell could start enough games of the 12 remaining games in the tight playoff race to make that condition problematic for the Maple Leafs.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

If the June draft happens as people suspect it will, it looks like Dubas and Kings general manager Rob Blake will be engaged in conversation very soon.

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Given that Campbell isn’t likely to meet his condition, the two might simply choose to assign the condition to Clifford’s re-signing after the season. Or, they might simply agree on a third-round pick in 2021.

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Whatever happens, talk of an early NHL Entry Draft has given Maple Leafs fans something to look forward to.