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Mailbag: Oh Shit

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NHL: Preseason-Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

I recently solicited questions for a mailbag. Here are the answers.

Should the Leafs send Mitch Marner back to juniors, though?—Achariya

I’m proud at how easy a consensus there was on this one. Good job everybody. A-plus work from the hivemind.

FMK: Matthews, Nylander, Marner—Jared

This is a cruel and difficult question. I love all of our three princes. How could you do this to me, Jared?

Nonetheless, the integrity of the mailbag process requires that I answer. Nylander is the prettiest, so he’s an easy F. Matthews’ workmanlike steadiness speaks of marriage material, the kind of centre you could see yourself coming home to day after day. And so...the flashy, elegant junior star, who captures our hearts and hopes...falls under the scythe.

You’re a monster, Jared.

Should the Leafs invent a totally new hockey system? Triple W hockey, your total winger solution. Forget your seeming need for centres with face off skills and defensive responsibility, just make a line of all wingers. Griffith, Brown, Leivo. Why not? What other total winger solutions would work?—KatyaKnappe

I mean it’s not like the Leafs don’t already have a centre who plays no defence anyway, right?

The truth is, if you have guys who can skate and read situations well enough to cover for each other, you really don’t need to be that straitjacketed with regard to who does what. So far Mr. Han and I are in agreement.

Having said that, hockey coaching is half about making certain situational responses automatic to accommodate for the fact that the game happens at lightning speed. Removing a defined centreman role, both defensively and on the breakout, increases the risk of lapses where you have nobody doing an important job. And I don’t think you’ll ever totally dispel differentiations in where you’re normally supposed to go.

Still, the trend towards a faster, more reactive NHL is going to blur all the skater positions more and more. I tend to believe if you had three competent two-way wingers, they would form a pretty decent forward trio if one of them could get to the point of mediocrity at faceoffs.

What is your favourite Winger song?—SuperMaurice

Winger is terrible. 80s hair metal? Leave that, Reganomics and the Berlin Wall where they belong—in the past.

If the Islanders agree to retain salary, should the Leafs make a play for Jaroslav Halak?—Back in Black

Nah.

Halak is a good goalie, but in acquiring him, we’d be committing to spending a ton on our goaltending, even with retention, for the next two years. In addition to whatever it costs us in the trade, we’re probably destroying the value of a key asset; we presumably aren’t trading for Halak as a backup to replace Enroth, and the Andersen contract for a guy pushed into a backup role would be close to untradeable.

If Halak were younger (31) or a more obvious upgrade on Andersen, things might be different, but as it is it would be a panic trade—and with the contract Andersen is on, we’re pretty much committed. We might as well ride with Freddie while he sorts his stuff out (which he seems to be starting to do, thank God.)

Also, I’d hold onto Halak if I were the Isles. But that’s me.

How should we be apportioning blame/cause for the Leafs terrible GAA because: 1) neither of our goalies are Carey Price, 2) our defensemen are a mix of younger players still on the learning curve and aging pylons, and 3) Babcock insists on playing this group of younguns/pylons in a suboptimal group of pairings?—Goldenhawk99

This question has evolved considerably in the week since it was asked.

The goalies: Andersen and Enroth were abysmal early, for the most part. Andersen has shown some signs of improvement; he was never going to keep being that awful unless his talents were eaten by aliens like the Monstars in Space Jam. But his rough start certainly tanked our GAA.

The defencemen: I think this is part of it, but I also think Babcock actually has taken a “let the skaters skate” attitude towards his offensive defencemen. Stay with me on this.

Much is made of Babcock’s improving the Leafs in CF% last year; less widely noted was that the team actually had extremely good CF and pretty poor CA—and that was on a team with virtually no forward talent. This year it’s even more pronounced; the Leafs are the #1 team in the NHL in score-and-venue-adjusted CF60—by a lot—and they’re #23 in CA60. You might assume this was due to the rambunctious young forwards, except their ranks in the same numbers last year were #4 and #23, respectively. I think at least some—by no means all, but some—of our offensive skew is a stylistic choice. Having said that, some of it is simply poor defence. I’m persuaded the Leafs give up more super-high-danger-scoring chances than average; their scoring chances against, at least, aren’t great, and you can point to a number of goals against that were caused by sloppy recklessness on defence.

The pairings: We kept playing Hunwick. In my heart, this is 90% of the problem. Other than that, I’ve sort of seen the logic to every other pairing—even Gardiner-Polak (sigh.) Corrado deserves a look, though.

In approximate breakdown of impact: 50%, 40%, 10%. It’s improving!

Who would you rather: Matt Hunwick or Brett Lebda?—brigstew

Did you know Brett Lebda is only 34? He feels like he was from a thousand years ago, but he’s actually only three years older than Hunwick.

In the interests of fairness, I’m going to compare Brett Lebda and Matt Hunwick in their Leafs tenures, since obviously Matt Hunwick is still playing and Brett Lebda doesn’t seem to have played professional hockey since 2013. So we’re looking at 2010-11 Lebda vs. 2015-16 Hunwick.

Are you ready?

Because I’m going to show you something.

These are the 5v5 possession numbers for the 2010-11 Leafs defence group.

Yep.

Now, Lebda also had the most offensive zone starts. And this list doesn’t include the traded Kaberle and Beauchemin. And Brett Lebda was towards the lower end of the Leafs in SCF% (though they were pretty much all bad.) But zone starts don’t make that much difference, and Lebda was at least close to the rest of the team in chances.

This isn’t to say Lebda was actually great. You’ll notice his CA60 was awful. But he generated shot attempts, which Matt Hunwick does not do at all. We can debate whether there actually was much value in Lebda, but he was probably an NHL defenceman, which Hunwick at this point simply is not. I won’t post his possession numbers again, but they’re in every respect terrible.

-3 it is.

Prevailing wisdom used to be that defencemen came into their own a little later than forwards. However there’s a whack of young guys lately that challenge that theory. Do the Leafs look for their number 1 D-man at the draft table to grow with the core group or grab a fully baked one via trade or free agency when the time is right?—the artist formerly known as buddha hat

With players of that calibre you have to pretty much take them wherever you can get them, so I’m not ruling anything out. That said:

Absolute top-shelf defencemen are trickier to draft with precision than forwards; a fun game to play is to look at Karlsson or Subban’s draft years and note all the defencemen drafted ahead of them. You can do this occasionally with forwards, too, but you can’t do it with two of the best three forwards in the NHL. The Leafs are now also improving to the point where their draft position is unlikely to be top five unless they win a lottery. If you hit a jackpot and draft Liljegrin,neat, but you can’t count on it, and he might not work out even if you do. Odds highly against this method.

As for a trade, the Leafs have a billion wing prospects and a much thinner defence pool, so something there would seem natural. But if we’re expecting a full-blown 1D back at that point, I don’t see it. The rumours of the Jets’ price for Trouba, for example, are basically $Texas; we’re sure as hell not getting him for a collection of guys on par with Brendan Leipsic. If anyone wants to give up a 1D for JVR, let’s chat, but no one seems to be that silly. It’s just very hard to win a trade for a known elite quantity unless something strange is going on.

Free agency is always an option, but the Leafs are going to have cap problems a-plenty in three or four years and they’d better keep that in mind. UFA deals also tend to age poorly. Still, if they want to chase Kevin Shattenkirk, I’d give it a whirl. I think I like this option the best, if I have to pick; the Leafs’ cap problems are going to be signing elite RFAs, and since offer sheets are essentially a myth, that’s a manageable problem.

Babcock’s sure trying his damndest to make Rielly into a 1D by himself, though.

What holes do you think still exist on the roster right now (either a position in general or specific players at said positions) and how do you think the Leafs will fill that hole (in house with current prospect or via sign/trade if you don’t think a viable in house option exists)?—brigstew

Gotta be defence, specifically on the right. This isn’t to say it’s impossible to conceive on upgrading on Rielly and Gardiner on the left, but it’s a lot harder; you’d want to upgrade at RD if you could.

I think the Leafs are going to hope mostly for internal improvement for the time being. My dream candidate above was Shattenkirk in UFA next summer, and Lou has always been willing to make bold moves to fix the defence. But I wouldn’t count on it—Shattenkirk can probably pick his spot, for one thing—and that’s in the future. I suspect the Leafs will sit tight through the expansion draft before looking to make a signing, or a mid-level prospect flip, or both, next summer. If there’s no home-run signing, improvements from Carrick and Zaitsev are going to be the hope.

Why are we keeping Corrado for any reason if he exists only as press-box fodder?—spoonie

Injury insurance. In all seriousness, we’ve had decisive evidence that Babcock considers Corrado his eighth defenceman and there’s no real prospect of him getting played until someone goes down. I would say one of the others might play himself out of a job, but Polak has been approximately competent and it took an injury for Matt Hunwick to lose his job, so...yeah. Injury insurance.

Have you ever had a dream that you, um, you had, your, you, you could, you’ll do, you, you wants, you, you could do so, you , you’ll do, you could, you, you want, you want them, to do you so much, you could do anything?—ironic username

I have a dream, that, um, one day, the, we’ll do, the sons of, the wants to, you could, could, you want, free at last.—Martin Luther King Jr. (first draft)

After October, who do you protect for the expansion draft (7/3/1 or 8/1). Of the players you exposed, who does Vegas take?—Wizard of Naz

The Leafs should have a relatively easy time of it, to judge by Capfriendly’s neato expansion tool. I do 7/3/1 as follows:

Protected Forwards: Kadri, JVR, Brown, Leipsic, Holland, Griffith, Rychel

Protected Defencemen: Gardiner, Rielly, Carrick

Protected Goalie: Andersen:

Exposure slots are satisfied by two of Bozak/Komarov/Martin up front, Marincin on D, and one of Sparks/Bibeau in net.

As for what Vegas will do: I’m basically daring Las Vegas to take Tyler Bozak, since he’ll probably be one of the most point-productive players exposed in the draft, but he’ll also be 31 with a pricey one-year deal. Depends how George McPhee feels about taking on a stopgap; if he’s trying to reach the floor, Bozak could help him do that with few long term consequences.

Having said that, if I’m them, I take Martin Marincin, but most people don’t like Marincin as much as I do. I’d be very surprised if LV didn’t take one of the two, but they’ll be drafting for need, so who knows?

If you could have one single do-over for any move the Leafs made in the last 10 years, what would it be and why? What effect do you think it would have today?

Sub-question: Do you see time as linear?—Exit Steve Left

Guess what, you guys? Rask-for-Raycroft is no longer “in the last ten years.” It passed a decade this June. Time flies when you’re not having fun.

Anyway, Scrambles raised the interesting point that we might not want to undo any trade that led to where we are, since we’re finally where we actually want to be as we rebuild this franchise. I’m tempted but will assume I have to make a change.

If “move” includes signings, Clarkson, easily. As of today it wouldn’t have all that much difference, but LTIR isn’t free money, and I’d rather not being having to pay it to Horton on our cap.

If it’s just trades, the first Kessel trade. It pains me because I love Phil, but having Tyler Seguin and (potentially) Dougie Hamilton on defence is just too good a core to pass up. I think the team would have started to improve fast enough to save Ron Wilson’s job; while I didn’t love Wilson, he was much better than Carlyle, so that would have helped. A forward group led by JVR-Seguin, with a developing Kadri, and a defence group of Phaneuf-Hamilton and Gardiner-Rielly in front of goaltending hero James Reimer. Would have been fun.

I do not want to exchange the core we have now for anything less than a guaranteed Cup, though.

Why the hell is everyone so in love with Frank Corrado?

Follow up: If it’s because he was a Leafs fan growing up, so was David Clarkson.—elseldo

A short collection of reasons:

  • He has very nice Corsi
  • He plays our weakest organizational position
  • The Leafs’ defence is leaky
  • He’s a great “lol Vancouver” joke but it ruins it if we don’t actually play him
  • He doesn’t have a contract like Clarkson did

And most of all:

  • It’s easy to imagine a player will be fantastic as long as they aren’t playing

Say you’re in the bathroom at a fancy restaurant and have just finished a very urgent bowel movement (they said it was gluten free!) when you notice, with panic in your heart, that there is no toilet paper. This also happens to be a single stall bathroom with a blower style hand dryer, so alternative paper products are out of the question. Just as you’re about to write off your underwear (and maybe your day) you notice a generally clean looking piece of TP on the floor. The paper in question is clean, dry and not crumpled and is probably just long enough to save your under garments. The bathroom itself is well maintained and clean. What do you do, do you wipe with the stray?—NotARealOne

This question provoked some extremely creative lateral thinking from several commenters who suggested sacrificing a sock. I respect the ingenuity of anyone who finds unexpected solutions to apparently narrow problems.

Why, though? It’s your ass. What are you worried is going to be on the paper scrap? It’s apparently clean; and think of the purpose to which you’re going to put the toilet paper. The only person who’s ruining the paper is you. Scrambles’ objection, that you’re almost certainly going to need more quantity, is a practical one, but the premise of the question suggests that we have enough for the task at hand, so sure. Use it.

If you could rewrite the usage and role fated to one Leafs player (anywhere in the organization), from season start to present, who would it be and what would you change for them? Due consideration given to how this would affect their teammates (/rivals).—pumpedtires

I’d say Hunwick, but I’m going to let myself believe that he’s not going to come back when he’s healthy, because I’m naive. So, Ben Smith. I would not have acquired him on waivers, and I would not play him if I had. The result would be that the superior Peter Holland would keep getting ice-time and Soshnikov would be playing on a better line as he bids to move up the lineup.

I’m actually happy with a lot of the lineup; I would probably shift Hyman for Soshnikov and I would flip Polak out for Corrado, but neither of those moves is as pressing.

If you had to assemble a 23-man roster of NHLers with names that sound a lot like Pokemon, how would your roster look?—FiftyMissionCap

I love this question so much. Lineup assembled for maximum Pokemon-ness, not actual talent.

Forwards

Sheary—Sissons—Cracknell

Garbutt—Sundqvist—Mantha

Chipchura—Legwand—Rattie

Slepyshev—Weal—Blunden

ex. Etem/Wingels

Defence

Spuregon—Gostisbehere

Stoner-Gudas

Orpik-Smid

ex. Forbort

Goalie

Rask

Sparks

I have also decided what these Pokemon would be. You are welcome.

Sheary—one garden shear.

Sissons—pair of scissors. Evolves from Sheary.

Cracknell—Not sure yet. Something enormous.

Garbutt—giant butt.

Mantha—Part man, part panther.

Sundqvist—Part sun, part dqvist.

Chipchura—All three of the chipmunks from Alvin and the Chipmunks amalgamated into a horrifying superchipmunk.

Legwand—

Rattie—Basically just a Rattata.

Slepyshev—Thing that is always asleep. Also a horse.

Weal—wheel.

Blunden—Blundering sidekick.

Etem—Actual cannibal that eats people. Very scary.

Wingels—Winged can of Pringles.

Spurgeon—A sturgeon. They can’t all be winners.

Gostisbehere—Just a bunch of things mashed together incoherently. Like the letters in his name.

Stoner—Geodude.

Gudas—you keep expecting it to evolve, but it never does. This is as Gudas it gets.

Orpik—Ice pick.

Smid—Shapeless blob.

Forbort—Four surfborts.

Rask—Ghost of past regrets.

Sparks—Sparkling unicorn.

How many games does Corrado play in the NHL this year? (With Leafs or otherwise)—shingo

18. I’m assuming it’ll be as an injury replacement for the Leafs at some point, but it’s conceivable he’ll be waived and claimed, in which case he’ll probably play more. For him to get waived, though, the Leafs would have to like Josh Leivo more than I think they do.

Most people seemed to peg Marner at playing 50-60 games this year with some press box time, with him and the other young’uns basically being the teams best players so far. So I ask do you think, barring injury, Marner, Matthews and Nylander play (almost) every game this year?—Bruceki

Yes. FWIW, I had Marner pegged for 77 games even before the season, and the five games were injury or remedial pressboxing insurance. But he’s been even better than I thought. I knew he was ready for the NHL; now I think he’s ready to be an NHL first-liner. [swoons]

Thanks to everyone who contributed. You’re all nuts, but it’s enjoyable.