Maple Leafs could benefit from possible Vegas defence surplus

Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee talks about the number of transactions he has with teams, the strength of their lineup and other moves that are still to come.

LAS VEGAS – The search for a defenceman appears to have taken the Toronto Maple Leafs to the desert.

You see, George McPhee plans to select more blue-liners in this week’s NHL Expansion Draft than his Vegas Golden Knights could possibly use in their inaugural season. His phone has been ringing off the hook. It’s a pretty good problem to have.

“We’re going to have to move some defencemen because we’re going to claim a bunch,” McPhee said Tuesday.

That’s where the Leafs come in. They’ve got an obvious need on the right side, with Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Carrick the best options at that position currently under contract for next season.

Addressing the position is a high enough priority that general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Mike Babcock travelled to Nashville during the Western Conference Final to sit in the stands and scout the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks are at the centre of this intriguing expansion puzzle after leaving two prominent right-handed defencemen unprotected: 25-year-old Josh Manson and 26-year-old Sami Vatanen. They have a deal in place with Vegas, according to league sources, but it’s not known exactly what it entails.

Even if they’re unavailable to Vegas, other intriguing options exist: Mathew Dumba, a 22-year-old righty, was left unprotected by Minnesota; Jason Demers, a 29-year-old righty, was left unprotected by Florida; Nate Schmidt, a 25-year-old lefty, is available from Washington; Trevor van Riemsdyk, a 25-year-old righty, was left unprotected by Chicago; and Marc Methot, a 31-year-old lefty, wasn’t protected by Ottawa.

McPhee is holding a lot of cards and he revealed Tuesday that he’d extended his window to complete trades by a day for a handful of GMs, including Lamoriello.

“I was talking to Lou Lamoriello last night, he had travel issues,” said McPhee. “So we talked last night at 11:30 and then we talked again this morning about 4:45 (a.m.).”

The precise topic of those conversations wasn’t disclosed but it’s worth noting that the Leafs aren’t one of the teams in danger of losing an impact player in the expansion draft. It’s unlikely that Lamoriello is looking to give up a draft pick to protect Brendan Leipsic or Kerby Rychel.

McPhee has already lined up “at least” six of those sort of trades and expects there to be more once his expansion draft selections are unveiled at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday night.

It’s been a hectic stretch for his hockey operations staff since the protected lists were released on Sunday, but the Golden Knights feel good about what they’ve accomplished. They plan to officially register their expansion picks with the NHL just minutes before Wednesday’s 10 a.m. ET deadline.

“We’ve done a lot of planning and we’ve had a great blueprint and it’s worked very, very well,” said McPhee. “We’ve gotten through this process – I had some concerns yesterday about 1 o’clock about whether we were going to have enough time and it was kind of overwhelming but we were handling it – and then we sort of looked up at the clock at 4 o’clock and said ‘You know, we’re going to be all right. We’re going at a good pace and things are falling into place.’

“So it’s worked. It’s kind of like going in for a final exam and knowing you know it.”

Vegas will be the hub of activity for what promises to be a busy few days of transactions leading into the first round of the entry draft on Friday.

McPhee only got three hours of sleep Monday in part because of those conversations with Lamoriello. He’s dealing with a few others as well.

The big moment for the NHL’s 31st franchise has almost arrived.

“It’s really hard to believe we’re here now and submitting this list,” said McPhee. “Three days ago we had a white board with no names on it and now it looks like we’ve got a hockey team. … I think we’ve done pretty well in all the positions.

“We have lots of defencemen lined up, we have lots of centres and we have scoring on the wings. A little more scoring than we anticipated. The goaltending is going to be pretty solid.

“It’s looking pretty good.”

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