I’m glad you asked.
Shortly after returning to North America from the IIHF World Hockey Championship in France, Mike Babcock was at Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.
Well, I mean, he likes hockey, right? Plus Nashville is supposed to be a fun town. So much fun in fact that…
He brought his pal Lou Lamoriello to watch Game 4!
Look, if you’re an NHL coach or general manager and your team isn’t playing that night, which the Maple Leafs very much are not, you should be watching whatever hockey is on. Why? You never know.
I’m not saying Babcock and Lamoriello are in Nashville trying to see who they could possibly get from the Ducks or Predators.
But just for fun, let’s make some wild assumptions.
When it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, both the Predators and Ducks are in a fantastic position. After all, they’re the final two teams remaining in their conference. When it comes to the NHL Expansion Draft however, things get a little rough.
Both the Ducks and Predators have oodles of good defenders. Unfortunately for them, that means they could lose a very good player in June’s expansion draft.
In case you’re not familiar, teams will have two options:
- Protect seven forwards, three defence, and one goalie or
- Protect eight skaters (forwards or defence) and one goalie
Some teams, like the Leafs, are lucky enough to have lots of young players who are exempt from the expansion draft. Auston Matthews is an example up front and Nikita Zaitsev is an example on the backend.
The Predators will have to protect P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm, among eight other eligible defenders. If any of these players are not protected, Vegas could take one of them.
Let’s use CapFriendly.com’s Expansion Draft tool to take a better look.
The Ducks have to protect Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson, along with seven others. Fun little add-on: Kevin Bieksa has a no-move clause. This means that the Ducks have to protect Bieksa unless he waives his clause.
Protecting all of those defenders, or trying to, could leave some forwards on each team exposed.
The Predators have the likes of Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, captain Mike Fisher, and Viktor Arvidsson to protect, among others.
For the Ducks, all three of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler have to be protected due to their no-movement clauses. If the Ducks were to protect four defenders, this would give them just one more spot to protect only one of Rickard Rackell, Jakob Silfverberg, and others.
That’s a pickle.
Then there’s the Leafs. Not too long ago I wrote about how Toronto might only lose a player like Martin Marincin or Josh Leivo, who they don’t even use every game, to Vegas in the expansion draft.
If you’re the Ducks or Predators, would you rather lose a good player to Vegas for nothing or trade them to the Leafs for something?
So – what do the Leafs need? After all, that’s what Babcock and Lou were looking for in Nashville, right?
The obvious dance partner seems to be the Ducks.
Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner are the Leafs’ two best left-handed options on defence. For righties, Zaitsev was just locked up for seven years and behind him is an even younger, much cheaper option in Connor Carrick.
The Leafs just signed two left-handed defenders out of Sweden (Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman), they’re rumoured to be looking at another (Philip Holm), while top young Marlies defenders like Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen are all left-handed as well.
In short: The Leafs could use a righty back there.
The Ducks have Vatanen, Bieksa, Montour, and Josh Manson as right-handed options on defence signed through at least next season. All four of those guys played in Game 4 on Wednesday and all but Bieksa played in Game 3 as well.
Babcock would have had an eye on both of those games.
Vatanen will make $4.875 million for each of the next three seasons, Bieksa will make $4 million next season before becoming a free agent, while Manson and Montour will be RFAs in summer 2018.
For the Predators, the only right-handed option I could see being available is Yannick Weber, who is a pending UFA. He has been playing around 11 or 12 minutes per game in these playoffs though. A depth option? Maybe. A big splash? No.
The Leafs are out. The Marlies just got eliminated. Babcock was obviously content with what he saw in France. Maybe the Leafs are just bored. Maybe they have nothing better to do.
Or maybe they’re duck hunting.