Lupul might fit loophole
Leafs could swing Vegas side deal to remove forgotten winger’s contract from the books
While the Maple Leafs surprised many by including underused forward Josh Leivo among the11players they were allowed to protect, the wild card in this week’s Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft as far as Toronto is concerned is Joffrey Lupul.
He is, oddly enough, eligible for selection, despite missing the entire season with an injury. All other NHL players who missed the full schedule because of injury — including the Leafs’ Stephane Robidas and Nathan Horton — are ineligible.
“None of the draft exemptions were automatic,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “Each were evaluated on a case-by-case basis. That includes Lupul.”
So either Lupul believes he is healthy enough to play or Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello, the king of finding loopholes in the NHL’s rules, has a deal with Vegas GM George McPhee to take Lupul and his $5.25-million contract off Toronto’s books and stay away from a high-end prospect, such as Brendan Leipsic or Kerby Rychel.
The Leafs also protected forwards Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin and James van Riemsdyk, plus defencemen Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Connor Carrick, and goalie Frederik Andersen.
They are heading toward a salary-cap squeeze, though, with nearly $14 million in dead money. That includes: bonuses paid to last year’s excellent rookies, carried over to this season; salary for those too injured to play or already bought out; salaries retained in trades.
For Vegas — which has to pick one player from each team by 10 a.m. Wednesday, with salaries totalling at least $43.8 million (all dollar figures U.S.) — taking Lupul only makes sense if it comes with a sweetener, perhaps the Leafs’ first-round pick in this week’s draft.
Later Sunday, the NHL announced the salary cap will rise to $75 million.
The salary floor becomes $55.4 million for the opening rosters of all teams, including Vegas.
McPhee is believed to be collecting picks from other teams in exchange for staying away from selecting certain players.
This could fit that mould, and McPhee put out a statement indicating just that.
“Vegas has indicated that they will give all 30 clubs every opportunity to keep their rosters intact if they’d like,” said McPhee.
Lamoriello declined interview requests. Lupul could not be reached and his former agent declined citing client confidentiality.
As for Leivo, 24, it’s a boost of confidence knowing he is indeed a part of the team’s future.
He had been considered the most likely to be exposed and lost. Leivo could barely make the lineup and seemed an afterthought to coach Mike Babcock.
His skating is suspect, he doesn’t kill penalties and lost his part-time job on the fourth line to Kasperi Kapanen at the end of the season. But the 24-year-old racked up 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 13 games and has nine goals in 41 games over four NHL seasons.
If there’s no deal for Vegas to take Lupul, then Leivo’s inclusion means the Golden Knights are probably going to take a top prospect from a team flush with scoring forwards. Leipsic, Rychel and Seth Griffith are top candidates considered NHL ready.
Griffith played with the Leafs and Florida Panthers last season, and led the Marlies in scoring in the playoffs with nine points in 11 games.
Rychel, a former first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, led the Marlies in scoring in the regular season with 52 points in 73 games. Leipsic was right behind with 51 points despite playing just 49 games because of a concussion.
The Leafs had hinted that the gritty, undersized Leipsic (five-foot-nine, 170 pounds) had been a candidate for promotion if not for the injury.
NHL regulars Eric Fehr and Martin Marincin and goaltending prospects Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau are also possibilities for the Golden Knights off the Leafs’ list.
Vegas now has an exclusive 72-hour window to make deals with free agents, both restricted and unrestricted.
If they come to terms, then the free agent’s former team won’t lose a player in the expansion draft, the results of which will be announced during Wednesday night’s NHL awards show in Sin City.
The rest of the NHL is under a roster freeze until Vegas selects its team — but they can still talk. With the unprotected list out, they can also try to use Vegas as a go-between.
The Leafs, for example, are believed to be interested in Anaheim defenceman Sami Vatanen, with Brown’s name mentioned as an option in a package for the 26-year-old blueliner with a right-handed shot.
The Panthers, meanwhile, were said to be looking at Rychel, given new coach Bob Boughner’s connection with the winger and his dad Warren going back to their junior days.