There has been a lot of exciting talk surrounding the topic of expansion and the city of Las Vegas. The NHL hasn’t expanded since 2000 when they brought the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets into the greatest league on earth. It is exciting isn’t it? The idea of the NHL going to Las Vegas has been just a fantasy for most of us. Now that Gary Bettman has confirmed that there will be a team in Las Vegas, a club that will be situated in the midst of billion dollar casino entities along the Vegas strip.
There is an important question to ask, who will attend and support the team? Consider the fact that most of the people who visit the core area of Las Vegas are tourists. Consider this as well, the surrounding areas of Las Vegas had nearly 2.2 million people in the 2010 census. This number has grown as the city’s greater area continues to develop. This in fact makes Las Vegas the largest population centre in the United States without a major professional sports franchise. The NHL would become the first and would catch the attention of millions of residents, present hockey fans or not.
In 2007, it was surveyed that Las Vegas draws in approximately 39.2 million visitors every year. It would be hard to think that an NHL team in that city could not attract a respectable amount of people to the rink for 41 home games. A season ticket sales drive that started in February of 2015 has resulted in 14,000 season tickets being purchased, and expect that number to rise considering expansion is official. Las Vegas club owner Bill Foley now has to cough up the five-hundred million dollar expansion fee. This is a massive jump over the of eighty million which was used to purchase Minnesota and Columbus back in 2000.
I see this as a great idea not only from a business perspective but one that continues the promotion of the game of hockey along the Southern States of the U.S. The promotion of hockey in the United States has sparked the interest of many young boys and girls. Exemplified in players like Scottsdale, Arizona’s 2016 Draft eligible and projected number one pick Auston Matthews, Long Beach California native’s Emerson Etem and Matt Nieto, La Miranda, California’s Chase De Leo and recent Stanley Cup Champion, Beau Bennett who is from Gardena, California. The level of hockey is quickly picking up in areas such as these and is thus making the U.S an even bigger powerhouse nation that it already has been.
Although the idea of expansion is great, there is also the reality that this new team will need players to ice for the 2017-18 season. This means that one player from each club will be chosen to become a part of the yet to be named Vegas team by way of an expansion draft. There are rules regarding the draft and the protection of players for each franchise, some more complicated than others. Here is a list of rules that has been leaked through the media (reported by Chris Johnston and James Mirtle).
Player Exposure Requirement and Details for other 30 NHL Clubs are as follows:
- The expansion, in this case Las Vegas, is required to select one player from every club including a minimum of 3 goaltenders, 9 defenceman and 14 forwards.
- Each club is allowed to protect 7 forwards, 3 defencemen and 1 goaltender OR 8 skaters and 1 goaltender. All other players are exposed to the expansion draft.
- Clubs are required to expose at least two forwards and one defenceman who played 40 games in the 2016-17 season, or 70 games combined in the previous two seasons. NHL clubs are required to offer a goaltender who is under contract for the 2017-18 season or a restricted free agent-to-be in the summer of 2018.
- One goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a RFA at the end of his current contract immediately prior to 2017-18. If the club elects to make a RFA available in order to meet this requirement, that the goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club’s protected list.
- Teams are not permitted to re-acquire players that the club traded between January 1st, 2017 and January 1st, 2018.
- The expansion team must build a roster that reaches the minimum of 60 percent of the 2016-2017 salary cap.
- The expansion team is not allowed to buy-out any player who was selected in the draft until the following off season in 2018.
- Players whose contract expires on July 1, 2017 will not need to be protected if they have a no move clause.
- Clubs must protect players who possess no-movement clauses active during the 2017-2018 season.
- The expansion team will have the same draft lottery odds as the team that finished third-last in the league (11.5%), and they will not be allowed to pick lower than sixth (6th) at the 2017 NHL Draft.
Any teams that are not compliant to the expansion draft rules will be penalized, these penalties can include either losing players in your organization or future draft picks.
The 30 NHL clubs must submit their Protected Lists by 5 P.M ET on Saturday June 17th, 2017.
Regulations Relating to Las Vegas are as follows:
- The Las Vegas clubs must select one player from each presently existing club for a total of 30 players(not including additional players who may be acquired as the result of violations of the expansion draft rules).
- The Vegas franchise must select the following number of players at each position: 14 forwards, 9 defencemen, and 3 goalies.
- The new franchise must select a minimum of 20 players who are under contract for the 2017-18 season.
- They must choose players with an aggregate Expansion Draft value that is between 60-100% of the prior season’s upper limit for the salary cap.
- The Las Vegas franchise may not buy out any of the players selected in the Expansion Draft earlier than the summer following its first season.
Las Vegas must submit their Expansion Draft selections by 5 P.M ET on June 20th, 2017 and the official announcement of their selections will be made a day later on June 21st.
How will the draft affect the Toronto Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs find themselves in the middle of a rebuild and because of that they will not be hindered by the expansion draft as much as other teams such as Anaheim, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.
There has been talk about the rules upon NTC and NMC for the expansion draft.
As of right now there are 3 players who Toronto would not want to protect and who’s contracts extend past the 2016-17 season that include NMC or NTC. Nathan Horton’s (Modified NTC) contract expires 2019-20, important to note that Nathan Horton’s No Movement Clause turns into a No Trade Clause after the 2016-17 season, which I believe, means he would not have to waive it to be exposed. In any case, Nathan Horton, who is on LTIR, will never play in the NHL again and will not count against a teams cap, although the team that owns his rights will have to pay his 5.3M salary for the remaining years of his contract. Joffrey Lupul’s (Modified NTC) contract expires 2017-18 and might be the most difficult to deal with out of the 3 players given his injury plagued past, age and cap hit (5.25 M). Tyler Bozak (Modified NTC) contract expires 2017-18. In my opinion Toronto will look to trade Bozak sometime this summer, and probably won’t have too much of hard time doing so given his position, production and versatility.
The Maple Leafs will not be required to protect players like William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov and Zach Hyman.
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that the 2014-15 AHL experience that William Nylander garnered with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies will not go down as a season of pro experience as Nylander was under the age of 20 and did not play 10 games with the big club during that season. Nylander’s 2015-16 season will count as his first year of professional experience as he appeared in 22 games with the Maple Leafs after the trade deadline. This upcoming season will mark his second professional season, thus making him exempt from the expansion process.
**Leafs Nation breathes a sigh of relief
Although they will have to expose and run the risk of losing a players such as Josh Leivo, Brendan Leipsic, Peter Holland, Scott Harrington, Connor Carrick, Sam Carrick, Martin Marincin, Viktor Loov, Stuart Percy, Frank Corrado. All not major pieces and critical to the rebuild.
There will be changes in the coming year, and you can expect many…here are the players I see the Maple Leafs protecting next year as the roster stands right now ranked in importance of protection. The list includes 7 forwards, 3 defenceman and 1 goalie:
PROJECTED PROTECTED PLAYERS
Steven Stamkos, James Van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Brendan Leipsic, (Insert future FA signing or valuable player acquired via trade – the rest are expendable).
Defencemen: Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Connor Carrick.
Goaltender: Frederik Andersen
For the most part these choices are self-explanatory and make a lot of sense. Although there are some omissions here that have to be explained further, especially on defence. I selected Connor Carrick over any player from the group of Victor Loov, Stuart Percy, Scott Harrington, Martin Marincin, and Frankie Corrado. Carrick is still one of the younger players from the group, 22, and in my view projects to be a top 4 d-man in the NHL. Carrick has shown he is capable at contributing at the highest level. He definitely has the most offensive upside from the list of players Toronto has the option of protecting and he proved it this spring. After being acquired on the night before the trade deadline along with a 2016 2nd round pick (57th overall) for Daniel Winnik and a 2016 5th round pick (145th overall), Carrick made his Maple Leafs debut 2 days after and showed he was not a man to be pushed around as he got into a third period fight with Tampa Bay forward J.T Brown. He continued his good play to the end of the NHL season and carried it over into the AHL Calder Cup playoffs with the Toronto Marlies.
Carrick led the league in playoff points even after Toronto got eliminated by the Hershey Bears, his former club, in the third round. He amounted 7 goals and 18 points in just 15 playoff games and with that surprised a lot of people.
The reasons for selecting Josh Leivo and Brendan Leipsic over Peter Holland are simple because we know what Holland is as a player and what he brings to the table. He is already in his prime years at age 25. Holland is a decently skilled player but doesn’t produce the offensive numbers and opportunities that you would like to see night in and night out. Consistency has been an issue. He also has had received a lot of criticism for his work ethic and competitiveness since his junior days player with the Guelph Storm, especially when it comes to the more physical side of the game.
His coaches in past years stressed the notion that he needs to compete at a higher level in order to win one-on-one puck battles. Which is a massive part of the professional game. He was called out by coach Mike Babcock during this past season for his lack of compete and earned him a few games in the press box. When he got back into the lineup he responded with some good play.
With the emergence of prospects like William Nylander, Mitch Marner, potentially Auston Matthews, Connor Brown and Nikita Soshnikov there seems to be no room for the soft Peter Holland in the Leafs lineup as well as in their future plans.
Adding to the reasons why I prefer Leivo and Leipsic over Holland is their willingness to not shy away from the physical side of the game. Leivo and Leipsic both have a chippy edge to them, which would allow them to be effective role players, an element that is crucial to good hockey teams. I mean you cannot run 4 lines of pure skill without having some of those players committed to finishing their checks and focusing as much of their attention of the defensive end as the offensive.
I mentioned Marner, Nylander, Matthews and Brown above, none of these players right now have a really physical element to their game. Marner sometimes can act as a pest, just ask any player on the Erie Otters. With all that said, I believe you need other players to crash and bang and forecheck to create space for your skilled offensive players along with the ability to when called upon produce points, Leivo and Leipsic fit that mould more than Peter Holland ever will.
This might not even be a talking point because of the fact that Peter Holland may get moved this offseason, and if that were to happen I would definitely agree with it.
This might be the simplest explanation of the 3 positions when it comes to the Leafs organization and the expansion draft. After the June, 20th trade that saw Frederik Andersen shipped to Toronto in exchange for a 2016 1st Round Pick (PIT, 30th) and a 2017 2nd Round Pick (SJ), the Leafs have found their number one goaltender for the time being. Immediately after the trade occurred the Maple Leafs reached a 5 year 25 million dollar deal with the 6’4 Danish tender. He will undoubtedly be the goaltender protected by the Maple Leafs in next years expansion draft.
Where does that leave Jonathan Bernier? Well…Bernier’s contract will be up at the end of next season and the Lou Lamoriello and company will not resign him to an extension given his play and their recent commitment to Andersen. The Maple Leafs have 3 others currently within their system, current RFA Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau and recently signed college graduate Kasimir Kaskisuo. I think we all have seen the type of goalie Garret Sparks is and all can firmly believe he probably will never be a starter in the National Hockey League. They might not even want to re sign him this summer given he is a restricted free agent.
In regards to the 22 year old Antoine Bibeau, his professional career thus far has been highlighted by inconsistent play. There is no reason to believe Kaskisuo would be claimed in an expansion draft as he is very unproven and an unknown commodity at this point in time. He has not played professional hockey as of yet as he just signed out of Minnesota-Duluth of the NCAA this past season.
If the Maple Leafs brass wanted to take their goaltending situation a step further, they could look to acquire a very young highly touted goalie who has the capability to backup Andersen for the next number of years in hope of a situation like we saw in Pittsburgh this spring with Murray succeeding and older Marc-Andre Fleury. Some young options that could be suitors of this plan would be Eric Comrie (WPG), Pheonix Copley (STL), Ville Husso (STL), Tristan Jarry (PIT).
The strategy that makes the most sense, especially if Frederik Andersen lives up to the hype and plays like everyone expects him too, would be have to an extremely cheap option as a backup. The backup could be preferably an experienced veteran or one of the younger goaltenders the Leafs currently hold within their organization. The basis of this plan includes drafting a goalie or two in 2016 or 2017 and developing them at a pace that management in Toronto see fit.
Although the Leafs will lose 1 player to Las Vegas at next years Expansion Draft there is absolutely no cause for concern because of the lack of NHL talent on their roster. Where the Leafs stand in their rebuild process and the timing of NHL expansion could not have come at a better time. The blueprint in Toronto moves forward uninterrupted, for now.