clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mailbag: Defencemen and Angst

New, comments

All that and more in this week’s mailbag.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

What are Mike Babcock’s weaknesses as a coach? I mean. Is it JUST Ben Smith, or does he have other blind spots?—Achariya

Two things.

One is just a weighting of particular skills. I mostly just trust the man on his choices because everywhere he goes he seems to win at shit, but I think in specific cases (faceoffs for Smith, Hunlak as described in the next question) it gets far enough out of joint that I can’t quite keep the faith. I think he’s usually noticing things that have some genuine value, just not as much as is implied by his usage of certain players. This isn’t really the end of the world; I’m probably never going to be in total agreement with a coach, and everyone, including me, would much rather Babcock be making these calls than me doing it.

The second thing worries me a little bit. Babcock has his favourites, as every coach does, but he also has very pronounced non-favourites. The treatment of Frank Corrado is bordering on a Kafka novel at this point, where we neither play him nor let him go. Peter Holland similarly seemed to fall from grace, getting replaced by an AHL centre we swiped on waivers and being unable to replace him. Josh Leivo is TBD, but I have an uneasy feeling he’s not going to see much ice unless the Leafs get a bad injury bug. All of these guys seem to be permanently out of work—even when guys playing their positions have played really, really badly. Whatever you think of Corrado, it’s not like the Leafs’ defence group has been too perfect to meddle with.

I can’t help noticing that certain guys (as Mike Commodore bitterly attests) wind up on Babcock’s shit list and can’t seem to get off it. Maybe character—which Babcock values extremely highly—plays a role, or maybe this is just a rephrase of point one. But Holland and Corrado seem to be permanently done with the Leafs, and I doubt we’re going to see much return for either. As long as it’s 4Cs and 6Ds we’re losing, it’s hard to get too fussed, but I worry we’re hurting ourselves at the margins when Babcock writes off certain players—and in the dark of night, sometimes I worry at some point he might write off someone more valuable.

This is just the fears that sneak up on me, though. He’s still the guy I want coaching this team.

To beat a dead horse, why Hunlak? Do you think the Leafs might actually be showcasing these guys and are more concerned about asset management than on ice success for this season while the rookies are broken in?

That’s not to say that they don’t care about on ice success, just that, for this season anyway, they care about asset management more.—NotARealOne

I think the showcasing may be going on, but it’s incidental.

Hunwick and Polak, as physical defencemen who play the position in a more conventional way, appeal to Babcock. This is particularly notable given the usual top four of the Leafs (Rielly-Zaitsev and Gardiner-Carrick) is basically all oriented towards puck movement and skating. If Babcock thought Frank Corrado had more use than these guys, he would probably be playing him, because being a perpetual pressbox presence is almost certainly stunting Corrado’s devlopment. Beyond that there’s not really anyone else they can be playing; Nielsen and Dermott aren’t ready to jump yet and Marincin is just drawing in and out until he steals somebody’s job. I think the Leafs (i.e. Mike Babcock, in this case) genuinely believe they’re making the choices consistent with on-ice success.

Having said that, if someone wants to pony up a second for Polak at the deadline again, well, I’m sure the Leafs will be all over that. But I don’t think the Leafs are consciously playing an inferior defence group to bring it about.

If Santa gave you the gift of Lou allowing you to make one roster decision in the next 12 months – be it a trade, a signing, or whatever – what would you do?—brigstew

I might as well pursue my fantasy of acquiring Kevin Shattenkirk. If Lou’s really letting me get all my ducks in a row, I’ll throw in Hunwick and Ben Smith in a trade for him and condition the trade on him signing an extension. “Here, these guys come as a free bonus!”

More realistically, though, I think you’d go after him in free agency, which he seems determined to reach. I don’t want to give up significant assets for him in a deal.

Who are the Leafs going to bring in that will provide an actually good "shutdown" defender? Will Marincin, Corrado, Dermott, or someone else be able to succeed in that role enough to make an impact or will they have to still draft/trade for/sign that guy?—brigstew

I don’t think any of them will, no. Marincin is probably the best of them with his size and his CA prowess, but he’s not going to do it an elite level, and even his biggest fans (i.e. me and Arvind) have to admit he isn’t exactly mistake-free. He’s a stopgap, and one we’re probably going to expose in the expansion draft.

The only other Leafs’ defence prospects who look like much are Corrado, Nielsen, and Dermott. Putting aside that Corrado is stuck in limbo forever, they’re all more offensively oriented. If Nielsen takes spectacular strides in his skating and defence, he might surprise, but that seems like an awful lot to hope for. So I think it’s going to have to be an acquisition from outside. (On the upside, the Leafs have very little need to look at forwards in free agency in the near future.)

Do you any of the current Leaf players having the personality, charisma, etc. to go with the talent and production to be THE guy in Toronto as far as endorsements and social media presence? For a while now it’s been guys like Jose Bautista or Marcus Stroman from the Jays, or Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan from the Raptors. We joke that hockey players have the most dull, robotic personalities (e.g. Toews, Crosby, McDavid) but there are exceptions like Subban and Jagr. Any chance one of our young guns steps up?—Goldenhawk99

Marner is probably the best shot, with his buoyant and infectious joy. Even then, I worry we’re going to squelch his childlike glee because hockey is ultimately a cold sport that crushes individuality and expression. Subban got run out of Montreal for laughing and/or being black, while Jagr has simply lived long enough that the people who used to criticize him are dead. The only other player I can think of who has a really showy personality is Brent Burns, and his personality is 90% beard. Lou will tolerate neither beards nor personalities.

I do have a slight hope, though, for Nazem Kadri. Everyone hates the Leafs, and they’re only going to hate us more once we’re successful. Kadri clearly relishes pissing people off, and I think he’s already well on his way to being a raised middle finger to the rest of the league. If we let him off the chain a bit, he could totally embody that up-yours ethic that the Blue Jays have been working on. Plus, management is clearly onside with his on-ice provocations, so he might actually be encouraged in it to some extent. Nazem Kadri for Captain: because fuck the rest of the league.

If Santa gives out lumps of coal to bad children, what is Blog Santa going to leave you for Christmas this year Foolimans?—brigstew

I do not care for the implication that I am bad, Mr. Stew. Blog Santa will bring me many Twitter followers and recs, I am sure. And then someone will yell at me for being an SJW who is ruining hockey, which is truly the greatest gift of all.

You are a prisoner in a room with 2 doors and 2 guards. One of the doors will guide you to freedom and behind the other is a hangman —you don’t know which is which.

One of the guards always tells the truth and the other always lies. You don’t know which one is the truth-teller or the liar either.

You have to choose and open one of these doors, but you can only ask a single question to one of the guards.

What do you ask so you can pick the door to freedom?

—Exit Steve Left

“If I asked the other guard, what would he say to explain this castle’s insane hiring policy and layout? It seems like I got captured by the Imperial Army of Convolution in their war for freedom from logic. Not to mention it’s absurd to keep three men on staff waiting for one prisoner to make a decision. It’s more like you’re held captive here by me than the other way around. The cavalier way your leadership treats your time and my fate seems like they don’t respect either of us, to be frank, and that’s something you’ll be living with long after I’m gone. I’m either soon to be free from prison or soon to be free from life, but your bonds are of your own choosing. Your obsession with honesty or lying is a feeble distraction from the ultimate pointlessness of your work and lives, waiting to dance a prescribed minuet to the music of the powerful, at the bidding of a captive. The riddle may be asked to me. But the joke is on you.”

If that didn’t work I’d just look out one of the doors when one of them left to go pee.

Let’s create the hypothetical situation that someone invokes a 200 year old copyright on the name "Maple Leafs", so the Leafs are forced to pick another name. What do you think would be the best replacement? Would you keep the same colour scheme?—Exit Steve Left

This is an interesting one. You could do a jokey nod to the old name (“the Toronto Pine Needles” or something.) Failing that, I kind of want to go with the Toronto Suns, because we’re the centre of the universe, and it would provoke dumb responses from the same pedants who think it’s clever to point out “Leafs” isn’t the conventional plural. “But the sun is the centre of the solar system, not the centre of the—” Shut up.

If we went with that, I might lift my favourite colour scheme—the blue and yellow of the Swedish Tre Kronor jerseys. The majority blue/yellow sun setup wouldn’t wind up looking totally disconnected from the Leafs’ past. On the road, we could go with the yellow jersey with a blue sun—because when times get tough, we burn even hotter. There’s your tagline. Add me to your corporate team.

If you were a mad scientist, and had to construct the an MSM Frankenstein, which reporters would you splice together to create the most unholy hot taek monster?

Conversely, after realizing your mistake, who would you use to create the protector of sanity and battle the hot taekery?—Sportsock

To create the true Frankentake, I think you would need elements of five key MSM figures.

-The character assassination of Steve Simmons

-The belligerent word vomit of Rosie DiManno

-The facile shittiness of Dave Feschuk

-The thin-skinned salt of Mike Harrington

-The servile management water-carrying of Jim Matheson

I think, if mixed correctly, you could wind up with an absolutely miserable, underthought, mean-spirited hack job on, say, William Nylander. It would somehow accuse him of being fat, effeminate and a civic disgrace while discounting him as “merely scoring goals.” Management, it would be knowingly suggested, has already shopped the inconsistent young forward, and while fans who don’t know how the game is actually played might flinch, ultimately this front office knows how to build a winner, and it’s not with players like William. The Harrington element is just to block people on Twitter after publication.

After unleashing this monstrosity on an unsuspecting world, this would be my antidote:

-Scott Cullen, who has long gently brought sensible analytics to an audience not always eager to receive them

-Down Goes Brown, who is both the funniest hockey writer alive and who has extensive experience in MSM takedowns from his earliest Barilkosphere days

-Ray Ferraro, who is an old-school player and student of the game in the best sense of the word

-Our own Katya, a master of coolly deflating bad takes

-Acha, because in the end, some hearts gonna need blessin’.

God save us all.

Matthews debut got me thinking, is it early enough to commit to Leafs fandom to avoid bandwagon status, or is it too late? What are the rules on bandwagoneering?—SprotsFan1

I think you’re still in time, because the Leafs are probably not quite a playoff team this year. If you get in with this edition of the Leafs before it’s good, you’re at least staking out an early seat on the wagon. Some Leafs fans will still gripe at you about not remembering Mats Sundin, but that was a decade ago, and you haven’t really missed much in the interim.

Once the team is in the playoffs, you are a bandwagonerer in the epithet sense. Which is still fine. But people will judge.

If Lou Lamoriello was captain of USS Voyager would they have gotten back home to the Alpha Quadrant faster?—Species 1967

Lou would have had that ship home in no time, but he would have broken the Prime, Secondary and Tertiary Directives in the process. Plus he would have left Stephane Robidas on another planet.

Why do you do these mailbags? (Just kidding, I love reading them)—torontopackersnoles

They’re actually fun to do! I like doing the longform pieces, but they involve sifting through a ton of research and by the end of it I’m sick of whatever I’m writing about. The mailbags are the trailmix of blogging.

So with 4 pts in his last 5 games, a nice (visual) showing in Vancouver, and a spot in the lineup in practice, what’s up with Marincin? Is he turning a corner or are these just the typical oscillations of a drunken moose on skates?—pumpedtires

I very much enjoy the visual.

Marmar, as I lovingly call him, is never going to produce a large number of points, but I think as he finds his footing, there’ll be a spot for him. He’s historically been a good CA player, which this team needs, and he’s also big. I think he’s steadying somewhat as he adapts to the new squad. I like Marincin. So no on the drunken moose oscillation.

The interesting thing about Marincin is that he’s the only Toronto defenceman to be played in a pairing on his off-side this season—and he’s done it with Rielly, Gardiner, and Hunwick. Given he’s also been paired with each of the three major RHD, and that when he gets in he gets a bunch of penalty-killing minutes, I think Babcock is willing to give Marincin a chance. Here’s hoping he makes the most of it.

Could Lou create/discover a loophole so outrageous that even he could not use it?—Bruceki

Lou breaks all rules as needed, including the rules of logic. Thus, Lou’s capacity for creating loopholes and his capacity for exploiting them are both infinite.

Paper or plastic?—JaredFromLondon

Whichever is needed. Nobody seems to carry paper money anymore, though, which is weird to me. Have a bit of both, people.

If this question is actually about bags, whichever is worse for the environment.

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment. Would you capture it, or just let it slip?—emjay

Honestly I would probably let it slip tbh

If you pull the lever, Harambe will die. If you don’t, his existence will never be appreciated. Which do we value more? Harambe or the idea of Harambe?

I got a chuckle out of the Harambe memes as much as anyone, especially the absurd song parodies, but I don’t think any of them qualify as actually appreciating him. If Harambe had lived, we would have a mildly heartwarming Youtube video and a meme gap between Wincing Harold and Ken Bone. Works for me!

Also normally in this morality riddle something gets killed on the other line of tracks. In this scenario I’m just straight up killing a gorilla, and if the Internet has taught me nothing else, that is the only unforgivable sin.

1 Stanley Cup (2018) or 2 Stanley Cups (2027 and 2028)?—@MatthiasDavies

Two questions. One, how long a period without a Cup is happening around these wins? Tell me it’s not forever, Matthias. I can’t stand it if it’s forever.

Second, do I remember the choice after I’ve made it? If I know we’re going to win, 2027 and 2028; I’ll enjoy watching the team slowly come together in the certainty we’re going to get over the hump (also I’m going to make a killing betting on the 2027 Leafs as far out as possible.) If I don’t, I’d rather win in 2018, and no matter what happens after I’ll at least know we won once. Plus, I’m attached to this crop of Leafs, and 2018 means it’ll be mostly them winning it.

Rank your top ten defensemen in the nhl in order or you and I are going to have a problem.—@7lifesupport

  1. Erik Karlsson
  2. Drew Doughty
  3. P.K. Subban
  4. Hampus Lindholm
  5. Kris Letang
  6. Victor Hedman
  7. Brent Burns
  8. Anton Stralman
  9. Kevin Shattenkirk
  10. Mark Giordano

I’m not married to most of the order, and you could make an argument for five or so other guys to be on here somewhere. Couple of things:

In terms of net impact on the game, Erik Karlsson is easily the best defenceman—and one of the best players—in the NHL. No, he doesn’t have the pure shutdown ability of some guys, but he does a spectacular amount to carry the Sens. A retrograde idea of what defencemen do shouldn’t detract from that.

Other thing: Kris Letang doesn’t get enough credit, because the forwards on his team are so excellent and his injury history hasn’t been great. But he’s an incredible facilitator and possession player. To some extent, the proof is in the pudding; he’s been the Pens’ best defenceman for a number of years now, and the Pens, you may have noticed, are pretty good.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!