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A Magical Holiday Mailbag: PPP Mailbag Christmas Special

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Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Mailbagsmas!

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With things about to wind down before the Christmas Break, and rosters in a permanent freeze until after the Holidays, there really is nothing in the way of big news. The Leafs play what will be their last game for five days tonight. With such a break in the action, I figured I'd answer a bunch of your mailbag questions.

"Bringing up Our Free Agents, are there any Defensemen who you like that could play in Every situation (pp, pk, Even strength)? I’ve come up with exactly Zero options that I think would actually come here. None that would cost Under an amount That wouldn’t break our Salary cap." -Brigstew

At first, I assumed Brigstew had been hacked by Paul Hendrick or was having a stroke on account of all the randomly misplaced capital letters. Turns out he was dunking on me. Well played.

So, the criteria are: (1) plays on PP and PK; and, (2) wants to play for the Leafs. I would agree that it would be difficult to find a player that checks both boxes, at least in 2017. Kevin Shattenkirk is probably my favourite option, but there is a lot of speculation he doesn't want to play in Canada. He'd probably be the ideal free agent, but you can't make someone want to play here if that isn't their first choice, no matter how much comparatively-heavily taxed money you throw at them.

If we factor in your third criteria of cost-savings, I think we're better off building cheap all-situations guys out of what we already have. Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly are on very team-friendly deals, and both would probably be capable on both the PP and PK. I agree with the sentiment that we should look towards adding a top 4D to complement Gardiner, Rielly, and Nikita Zaitsev, and preferably add a guy who can play even strength and special teams. That said, I'm bearish on whether the upcoming class of free agents is where we will find the right fit.

"Has Matthews (or any of the big three rookies) met your expectations going into the season?" -MrSmithy

It's still early in the season, but I'd argue all three of them have definitely met, and probably exceeded, my expectations thus far. On offense alone, I expected two of the Big Three to be good for ~20 goals and ~50 points. Here's how they've done on an 82-game pace so far (stats through Dec. 21):

-Auston Matthews: 40 goals; 65 points.

-Mitch Marner: 21 goals; 61 points.

-William Nylander: 16 goals; 55 points.

Based on these measures, Matthews is way above where I thought he'd be (with a 13-game goal drought no less). Marner and Nylander are probably around where I expected them to be.

As far as the rest of their game, Auston Matthews has simply exceeded every expectation. We knew he'd be good, but even I balked at Babcock's assertion Matthews could be a 1C in this league by Christmas. If you look at his usage, he's definitely close, if not already there. I've held firm for over a year Marner could have been NHL ready last season, but even I didn't expect such a seamless transition from him putting up video game numbers in London to what he has done this year.

If there has been one prospect who has just plain old "met expectations," it's definitely Nylander. The offense is there, but he clearly needs development as an NHL centre. He also has a tendency to be somewhat lackadaisical defensively (as evidenced Monday night against the Ducks). Don't get me wrong; I'm still a huge fan of Nylander, and believe his flaws can be improved with time and experience. He just happens to be the only Big Three prospect that hasn't gone well above and beyond my expectations.

"How often have other teams’ goalies been playing above their average SV% when playing against the Leafs this season?" -rc0280

This would take a long amount of time to scientifically answer; more time than I'm really willing to devote to a mailbag question. Having said that, the answer for the month of December would have to be pretty much everybody. With the exception of Tuukka Rask in a 4-1 loss where the Leafs only fired 19 shots on him, every other goalie has overachieved. Here's a summary of every December game, including the goalie's save percentage in that game vs. the entire season (stats to Dec. 20):

OPP

GOALIE

GAME SV%

SEASON SV%

DIFFERENTIAL

VAN

R. Miller

.950

.907

+.043

MIN

D. Dubnyk

.946

.947

-.001

BOS

T. Rask

.842

.932

-.090

COL

S. Varlamov

.981

.904

+.077

SJS

M. Jones

.935

.919

+.016

ARI

M. Smith

.957

.928

+.029

PIT

M. Fleury

.953

.904

+.049

ANA

J. Gibson

.943

.908

+.035


If you add those numbers up, it totals the opposing goaltender getting a SV% against the Leafs that's .158 higher than their full season SV%. This isn't perfectly scientific, mind you, but illuminating.

I'd say the most impressive thing here is that while most of these goalies have overachieved, Devan Dubnyk was a little below average. While he looked lights out, it was basically just another day at the office for him.

"Where would you rather be on the evening of December 23rd: Christmas shopping at a 24-hour Wal-Mart in Winnipeg, or in Glendale (you paid to get there) and watching the Leafs lose 10-0 to the Coyotes?" -Species

This is pretty much a no-brainer: I'll take the hockey game, for the following reasons:

1) There is nothing worse than a store- any store- within 2-3 days before Christmas. It's basically civilized anarchy.

2) There is no place I'd want to be less than Winnipeg in the winter.

3) I'd much rather watch a live NHL game than do most things, even the bad games. Side note: I almost bought tickets to a Blue Jackets-Canucks game off a friend, despite it snowing heavily outside and having no rooting interest. I'll take the worst day of hockey over the best day of shopping.

4) 10-0 is a lopsided enough score that I'm Not Mad, Actually It's Funny To Me.

5) Beer is like $2 at the Coyotes' arena; I'm sure I could keep myself entertained.

6) I assume I'd be on the hook for travel to Winnipeg as well, so I'll choose the destination that actually has an airport.

"Edmonton offers you McDavid for Matthews and Marner. Deal?" -Acting the Fulemin

Deal. I mean, that's really a difficult one, but I think it's because I've grown attached to Matthews and Marner in their short time as Leafs. That said, Connor McDavid is just far and away the best player in this deal. He's a generational talent. If the chance to acquire someone like that were to come along, you take it. I should preface this by saying McDavid may be the only player I trade Matthews for, so he's basically untouchable to me.

Having said that, I'd still try to negotiate them down to Matt Hunwick and a conditional 6th. I'm feeling lucky.

"Which Toronto team is more likely to break its championship drought first (referring to the MLSE teams plus the Jays)?" -Goldenhawk99

That's a tough one. It appears as though this includes soccer, so I'll take the easy cop out and say Toronto FC. They have been the closest to a championship of any of the teams, so I'd say they're in the best position to win right now. I know next to nothing about the MLS, but it seems like their roster will remain intact, so hey, why not?

If you take them out of the picture, I'd say it depends. The Jays and Leafs have different windows. Depending on how the rest of their offseason goes, the Jays could contend next year, and possibly to the end of Josh Donaldson's contract in 2018 (whether they can extend him is another question entirely). That said, the Jays will have tough competition to win in the next couple of years. The Leafs have a higher potential ceiling, but I can't see them honestly competing for a championship earlier than 2019 at the earliest, and probably closer to 2020 or 2021. For now, I'll say the Jays (pending the offseason), but if they can't do it by next season, they're living on borrowed time. If they don't break the drought in 2017, then they're probably behind the Leafs.

You'll notice I've omitted the Raptors entirely. This is because, while they're a top-tier team and the best they've ever been, the NBA is a superstar-driven league and all roads in the East lead through LeBron. I can't see them rising higher than "Conference Final also-ran" unless they can sign a legitimate superstar.

So, my overall rankings:

1) TFC

2) Jays

3) Leafs

4) Raptors

"Given the success of the Ducks this year, is Randy Carlyle actually a bad coach, or did the Leafs management simply not give him a roster to work with?

Follow up question… are the Ducks a threat to win the Cup this year?" -The Constant Gardiner

Carlyle is a bad coach, but the Leafs gave him less to work with than Anaheim as well. By all metrics, the Ducks are systematically worse than under Boudreau. The Leafs were systematically worse than under Wilson. There's something about the system he plays that causes his teams to generally get outshot more.

Having said that, in Anaheim, he at least has a roster that's not only more talented, but fits his scheme more. Carlyle's biggest flaw in Toronto was he only had one rigid way of coaching, and was essentially trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. He wants big, physical teams and was trying to impose that in Toronto on a speed/skill team. The Ducks are a better fit for him, because they've always been more of a big, physical team. The overall decline of enforcers in the NHL and depth on the Ducks blueline have probably helped him make roster decisions that are a lot less questionable (though he still does like his cinderblocks on the fourth line and third pair).

As for whether the Ducks can win the Cup: I just don't see it. They'd have to beat one of Los Angeles or San Jose in the first two rounds, and I just don't see it happening. Beyond that, you'd have teams like Chicago, Minnesota, and St. Louis in the Central, and a handful of threatening Eastern Conference teams. The road to the Cup is pretty stacked against them.

"Would you rather:

A) Be forced to watch Gigli while sitting beside Ben Affleck who keeps pausing the movie to insert his own personal commentary about the movie in his Good Will Hunting accent…

B) Be forced to follow Insane Clown Posse around on tour and attend each of their concerts (no headphones/earplugs) and personally interact with juggalos in the crowd at every show?" -Exit...Steve Left

Definitely B. Most things are more tolerable than that awful movie and Ben Affleck talking about himself. This includes Christmas shopping in Winnipeg.

"Are dragons just dinosaurs with wings?" -SlickWill

Yes. Yes they are.

"Since Hunlak is all the rage, what is the best 3rd paring D at the moment? How do Hunlak rank? Subsequently, which two 3rd pairing D-corps would make the optimal 3rd pairing for the Leafs?"

This is a hard question, because really, if you're on the third pair, it's hard to assess your value. If I had to choose, I would have to go with either Gustav Forsling of the Blackhawks, Shayne Gostisbehere of the Flyers, or Shea Theodore of the Ducks, simply because they're third pairing D for development purposes rather than for depth purposes. As for third D pairings that I like (as listed on DailyFaceoff):

-Tampa Bay (Slater Koekkoek - Braydon Coburn)

-Philadelphia (Brandon Manning - Gostisbehere)

-Chicago (Forsling - Trevor van Riemsdyk)

-Florida (Jason Demers - Jakub Kindl)

Where would Hunlak rank? Hard to say. It'd be easier to list the number of third pairs that are definitely worse. I'd say Arizona is worse (Jacob Cyuchrun - Luke Schenn), though Cyuchrun obviously has some potential. Colorado's third pair of Francois Beauchemin and Eric Gelinas definitely sounds way worse. I'd argue Montreal (Mark Barberio - Zach Redmond) isn't so great there, either. When Anaheim sits Theodore and plays a pairing of Korbinian Holzer and Kevin Bieksa, I'd argue that too is worse than Hunlak.

So, there you have it: I can think of four teams with worse third pairings. Three of them contain former Leafs, which is both hilarious and depressing.

****

Thank you to all who contributed to the mailbag. Have a safe and wonderful holiday season, and may the Buds be All Day.