Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Thinking About the Kraken Expansion Draft

I noted in my post yesterday that, for the first time since early October, the Toronto Maple Leafs roster seems to be set for the upcoming season. Actually, from my perspective, it’s a pretty solid lineup. Given that current roster solidarity, other than the beginning of the 2020-21 season – whenever that might be – the next big event the team needs to prepare for is the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft that will happen sometime during June 2021.

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It might not be too early to be thinking about how the Maple Leafs are set for that Seattle Expansion Draft because June is really less than eight months away. Two days ago, Mike Augello, one of my favorite Maple Leafs commentators at the Hockey Buzz, shared his thoughts about the draft. I’ll extend those thoughts here.

Ron Francis Seattle NHL
Ron Francis, NHL Seattle’s first general manager (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

In this post, I want to take a look at where the team is in regard to that expansion draft. Obviously, things can change over the course of a year. However, given the current nature of the roster and the solidarity of it, I’ll take a look at who on the team will probably be protected and who might be exposed to the draft. Mostly, it’s the former.

The Kraken: Where Did the Name Come From?

First, to set the stage for this post, let’s offer a little history, the city of Seattle was granted an expansion franchise by the NHL in December 2018, with the team beginning to play in 2021-22. Interestingly, Seattle chose the name Kraken from the lore of a mythological Norse sea creature that Herman Melville wrote about in his great novel Moby-Dick. The team name seems to work because Seattle is an ocean-front city. The Kraken will play in the NHL’s Pacific Division with the Arizona Coyotes moving to the Central Division.

The Rules for the Seattle Expansion Draft

Fortunately for Seattle, the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will allow the Kraken to use the same rules that were applied for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. Those rules produced perhaps the best expansion team in any league and the Golden Knights actually made the 2018 Stanley Cup Final in the team’s expansion season.

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Here’s a short recap of those rules. Seattle will select a single player from each team except for the Golden Knights. In the end, the Kraken will choose a total of 30 players (14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies). The team may also add other players who were not required to be exposed by the Expansion Draft rules – for example, this would include players on expiring contracts.

The Maple Leafs, similar to all other current NHL teams, have two choices: first, they can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie; or, second, they can protect eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie. My guess is that the team will make the first choice.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, certain to be protected by the Toronto Maple Leafs
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As far as making players available to the Kraken, the following conditions apply. Teams must protect all players with no-movement clauses at the time of the draft. As well, all first- and second-year NHL players and all unsigned draft choices will be exempt from selection. These players are not counted toward protection limits.

Finally, all NHL teams must meet the following minimum requirements about the players exposed in the draft:

  1. One defenseman who is (a) under contract in 2021-22 and (b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
  2. Two forwards who are (a) under contract in 2021-22 and (b) played at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
  3. One goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his current contract immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to make a restricted free agent goalie available to meet this requirement, that goalie must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the team’s protected list.

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As a note, because the 2019-20 season was shortened and the 2020-21 season will likely also be shortened, the minimum number of games played will likely be adjusted.

Where Do the Maple Leafs Sit in Regard to the Expansion Draft?

The Goalies

With Frederik Andersen becoming a free agent, that would allow the Maple Leafs to protect backup goalie Jack Campbell. The two young goalies Ian Scott and Joseph Woll are exempt. As Augello noted, currently the Maple Leafs don’t have a goalie under contract to make available to Seattle. He’s guessing the organization might extend Aaron Dell or re-sign and protect Andersen and expose Campbell.

The Forwards

The Maple Leafs, when the roster is reviewed, are sitting quite well. Looking at the forward situation, when Dubas traded both Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson he removed two players who might have been chosen, so they’re no longer the team’s responsibility. The remaining forwards include Ilya Mikheyev, Alexander Barabanov, Egor Korshkov, and Nick Robertson. They are all exempt.

Alexander Barabanov SKA St Petersburg
Alexander Barabanov, SKA St Petersburg, soon to be on the Maple Leafs roster
(Photo by Peter KovalevTASS via Getty Images)

Next, the team has five players under expiring contracts – these are new signees Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, and Travis Boyd. Because of their expiring contracts, they do not need protecting.

As Augello from Hockey Buzz guesses, and I agree, the Maple Leafs will protect Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Alex Kerfoot. As well, Dubas will likely re-sign Zach Hyman during the near future (I sure would), and the team would then be able to protect one of the following three players – Pierre Engvall, Joey Anderson, or Adam Brooks.

I’m unsure who I would pick from those three. I’m an Engvall fan, but I hear Anderson is a Hyman clone, who plays every shift like his last. That appeals to me.

The Defense

If the Kraken is likely to take a Maple Leafs player, I’m guessing it would be from the defense.  I would also guess it might be Justin Holl. Currently, Mikko Lehtonen, who’s moving to the roster from the KHL, and both young defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren are exempt. Zach Bogosian is on an expiring contract. However, Travis Dermott could be exposed and might be a target.

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, now that Dubas has signed free agent T.J. Brodie and added him to a defense that already includes veterans Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, that leaves Holl who will likely be exposed.

Where the Maple Leafs Stand Right Now

Given my first overview impression of what’s happened with player signings, whether by accident or from sheer good fortune, Maple Leafs general manager Dubas has done well to protect his team from losing any significant players to Seattle next June.

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As I note, things change in eight months. It will be interesting to see who might rise up from the roster to become key pieces of the Maple Leafs’ future.