The draft board pages include every player who was left unprotected in the 1998 Expansion Draft. The overwhelming majority of players who do not carry over are either old, unproductive, injured, primarily used for fighting, marginal players, minor league veterans, or unsigned European prospects. The majority of pending UFAs (Group III, Group V, and Group VI) will not carry over. Exceptions to these rules are provided if the incumbent team left almost nothing of value available to choose from, in which case everyone gets at least a closer look.
As we are capped by league restrictions to selecting no more than six pending free agents, we must be judicious with our choices.
The Leafs finished with 69 points, good for dead last in the Central Division. For the 1997-98 team, this may mark the only time that you see “Leafs” and “good” in the same sentence.
Goalies: Glenn Healy
Defensemen: Matt Martin(Gr.II – RFA), Tommi Rajamaki(UE), Greg Smyth, Craig Wolanin, Rob Zettler
Forwards: Jamie Baker, Wendel Clark(Gr.III – UFA), Mikael Hakansson(UE), Derek King, Nick Kypreos(Gr.III – UFA), Zdenek Nedved(Gr.II – RFA), Scott Pearson
Of the thirteen unprotected Leafs, we’ll look at Rob Zettler from the defensemen and Wendel Clark and Derek King from the forwards.
D Rob Zettler – 30-year-old defenseman, originally a 3rd-round pick by Minnesota (1986)
The case for taking Zettler – A mobile shutdown defenseman, Zettler can bring a needed physical element to our blue line. He’ll also be able to kill penalties with regularity, a duty he’s been relieved of with Toronto the last couple seasons as players like Jason Smith, Jamie Macoun, and Dmitri Yushkevich have filled that duty admirably.
The case against taking Zettler – In the last four seasons, he’s played in 168 of a possible 294 games (57%). He won’t bring any offense to the table at all, and can’t really be counted on to stay in the lineup consistently.
Zettler would slot in on the third pairing or as the seventh defenseman, but there are plenty of other options out there who could bring a similar element without the level of risk.
F Wendel Clark – 31-year-old forward, originally a 1st-round pick of Toronto (1985)
The case for taking Clark – Hockey’s ultimate warrior, Clark plays every game like it’s his last. He hits both to gain the puck and to inflict pain, he doesn’t so much skate as he charges, and he has uncommon offensive skill for someone who plays with the energy of a fourth-liner.
Clark was hurt for almost half of last year; the previous two seasons he had 30 and 32 goals. The skill hasn’t gone away at all, it’s just a matter of staying healthy enough to produce like the All-Star that he is.
The case against taking Clark – He plays every game like it’s his last because it very may well be. He’s played 70 games in a season one time since 1987, and even that was only a 71-game season. He missed 35 games this past year, and only scored 12 goals and 19 points in the 47 games that he was in the lineup. As much as I hate to say it, this may be the end of the line for Clark.
In addition, he’s a pending Group III free agent and would count against the limit. If he’s healthy enough to continue, we’d have to believe that he’d prefer to go to a contending team for one last shot at a Stanley Cup before hanging up the skates for good.
F Derek King – 31-year-old forward, originally a 1st-round pick of the Islanders (1985)
The case for taking King – Did any player in the early 90s put up a more overlooked 40-goal and two 30-goal seasons than King did?
King is a fast forward with very good scoring ability, and an asset on any team’s power play around the league. He’s scored 47 goals and 105 points the last two seasons and was a big part of the Maple Leafs’ power play coming off the wing. There aren’t a lot of guys like that in this draft.
The case against taking King – He’s more of a finisher than an all-around offensive threat, and he got a huge boost by getting a lot of ice time with Mats Sundin this past year and Ziggy Palffy the year before that. Although we’d love to have a player of that caliber starting this coming season, it’s not going to happen. The two years that King didn’t have an All-Star setting him up (1994-95 and 1995-96), his output plummeted to 22 goals over those two seasons.