We all know that the NHL is definitely looking into expanding in the not-too-distant future. We’ve heard the rumblings about Las Vegas, Seattle and Quebec City. The thing is, these possible teams would need a roster. Of course, that would require an expansion draft.
So, when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who they protect and who do they leave unprotected?
Let’s look at the rules the NHL used in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft, when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild entered the League. A team could protect one goaltender, five defenseman and nine forwards or two goaltenders, three defensemen and seven forwards.
First, let’s look at the goalies. It’s all but certain that the Leafs would protect Jonathan Bernier. When it comes to James Reimer, things get a little murky. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. The Leafs would leave him unprotected just for that fact alone, let alone the rules would force the Leafs to leave him unprotected.
Let’s get this out of the way, Morgan Rielly is protected. The rules state that the Leafs would have to leave one defenseman that played 40 games the previous season or 70 games combined in the past two seasons unprotected. That should be no problem for the Leafs. The biggest question is who the Leafs would leave unprotected. Of course, this would be the best opportunity to get rid of Dion Phaneuf and his contract. However, are the Leafs willing to give up that type of player for absolutely nothing.
It’s is far more likely the Leafs would leave Stephane Robidas unprotected and protect Phaneuf, Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Matt Hunwick and, possibly, Roman Polak, if he’s not traded at the deadline. The Leafs don’t have to worry about protecting first- or second-year players as well as drafted players as they are ineligible to be selected.
With forwards, it’s a little easier. The same rules apply, but two forwards must be unprotected that meet the aforementioned criteria. It’s very likely that the Leafs would leave Joffrey Lupul unprotected. The Leafs would protect James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov and Peter Holland for sure. The last four spots are up in the air because they have so many players that will be UFA’s next summer. Again, it all depends on who is still with the Leafs at the end of the 2015-16 season, let alone the start of it.
Do the Leafs really need to worry about a possible expansion draft? Probably not. After all, they’re rebuilding. However, you really don’t want to lose assets for nothing at any point.
One thing is for sure, if there is a expansion team or two in the next few seasons, a lot of the players they will have to choose from will be bad contracts a team wants to get rid of. Could we see an expansion team that is close to the salary cap because of that? That would certainly be interesting.