This summer the Toronto Maple Leafs signed forward Matt Martin to a four year $10 million dollar contract. He was brought in to protect young stars such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Connor Brown. Martin has been a physical presence ever since he broke into the league in 2009.
Martin has not looked bad on a line with Nikita Soshnikov and the split between Ben Smith and Frederik Gauthier. The four year contract with the cost of Martin is where the problem comes in however. Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, and Zach Hyman will be RFA’s at the end of the season. William Nylander is an RFA at the end of 2018. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner will both be RFA’s in 2019 and could both see contracts that have a cap hit of $6-8 million dollars per season. Jake Gardiner will be a UFA that the Leafs will more than likely like to bring back at the end of 2018 as well. Martin expires in 2020 and could put the Leafs in a bit of a cap crunch.
Protecting Martin also could leave a guy like Brendan Leipsic, Josh Leivo, or Kerby Rychel exposed for Las Vegas. Leipsic has been a prolific scorer in the AHL with the Marlies and Milwaukee Admirals before coming over in the Cody Franson deal. Josh Leivo is beginning to prove that he belongs in the Leafs lineup and can score at the NHL level. Kerby Rychel is starting to find his groove with the Marlies and could be an upgrade on the fourth line left wing for Matt Martin. (If you want to get crazy he could even replace JVR if he walks to free agency).
I believe the Leafs will protect seven forwards and three defenseman. JVR, Bozak, Kadri, Komarov, Brown, Leipsic, and Leivo should be their seven forwards. Rielly, Gardiner, and Carrick should be their three defenseman while they obviously protect Freddy Andersen as their goalie. This leaves Eric Fehr, Kerby Rychel, Matt Martin, Alexey Marchenko and Martin Marincin available to Vegas as NHL caliber players. (Excluding Joffrey Lupul)\
With that being said I believe Matt Martin is a very replaceable player. Rich Clune could probably sign an NHL contract and produce at the same rate and perform the same role as Martin for cheaper and a shorter term.