clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mailbag: Cute Animal Pictures, Less Cute NHL Executive Planning

New, comments

All that and more in the mailbag.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Do you think the Leafs hang on to their playoff spot, with a relatively weak rest of the division? What do Leafs need to do to stay in contention, and what might take them out of it?—Achariya

I think the Leafs are now narrowly more likely than not to make the playoffs. I had them pegged at something like 25% to start the year, and even then I worried I was too optimistic. Heady times!

The obvious answer would be “win their damn games in hand!”, but that’s a little too simple. The Leafs, in pure talent, are I think good enough to squeak in at this point. The start they’ve built for themselves mixed with the Atlantic being a total mess below Montreal give them a pretty solid chance. One specific thing will be continuing to get decent work out of Curtis McElhinney; the Leafs still have a number of back-to-backs on their schedule. The difference between 2016-17 McElhinney (.929) and the historical version (.905) could wind up costing them two or three winnable games, which could easily be the difference between playoffs and no playoffs. Please don’t come for us, regression.

As for what might take them out of it: the injury luck running out and the hell schedule for February could combine to crater this team very fast. Thus far, the Leafs have lost only one core player (Morgan Rielly) for more than a couple of games, and Rielly looks to be returning shortly. I love this team, but they’re an injury to Matthews or Andersen away from falling very hard, very fast. Everybody wear your lucky socks.

Given that Captain Keaton Middleton had two assists in ONE WHOLE GAME over the weekend, exactly how much self flagellation will you be performing as penance for being so wrong about his obvious offensive talents?-—brigstew

The odds of Keaton Middleton ever making the NHL remain, as they have always been, as small as Middleton is big. But while we’re here, I should point out Middleton is having a nice enough season for himself. His point production is in line to triple over last season (despite an insanely poor personal shooting percentage of 1.6%) and it’s mostly primary assists doing it. He’s also been made captain of his team, and his coaches have spoken favourably about his improving zone exits. Plus-minus is a junk stat, but since we have nothing else to go on: it’s neat he’s somehow +7 as a 1D on a team that has collectively allowed 31 more goals than it’s scored. He’s also cut down on his PIMs somewhat, suggesting he’s resorting less to obstruction calls to avoid getting turnstiled. And the kid won’t turn 19 until February 10th, so he’s young for an overager.

Having said that, he’s a huge-ass soon-to-be-19-year-old defenceman in a junior league, and his production jump just takes it from hen’s-teeth scarce to merely low. Middleton has taken a reasonable step up; if he’s ever going to sniff the highest league, at some point he’s going to need an extraordinary leap.

Oh, and the Maatinen pick is a sunk cost. Sorry.

Serious question: what’s eating Gilbert Grape Tampa Bay this year?—ironic username

Acha, who is obviously way more expert on the Bolts than I am, did me the courtesy of fielding this one.

- Two years of deep playoff runs making a lasting impact on players’ bodies, notably Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan, Ben Bishop, and Jason Garrison

- Compressed schedule asking a lot of already compromised bodies

- Stamkos’s injury causing other players to play harder, which also put them in line for injuries

- Yzerman’s roving eye looking to make a trade, taking away team cohesion because people feel like they won’t be here long

- Fucked up goaltending situation — I refer you to this article.

Yeesh. FWIW, my amateur’s answer was going to be along some of the same lines: you can’t be an elite team with a bunch of your best forwards out, and you can’t survive as a middling team if your goalies are both playing way below average. I think health and some favourable goalie regression will help, though, and Tampa will rejoin the upper ranks of the Atlantic next year.

Non-serious question: how long did you filibuster the decision to add Briggy to the masthead before finally giving in?—ironic username

We made brigs complete a series of tests, from the decathalon to the making of exquisite French crepes. He actually failed all of them, but then he said he would help with the FTBs, so we added him anyway.

Very serious question: I have a co-worker who is the type of guy who isn’t totally completely intolerable, but he’s the type of guy that just pretty much everything about him irritates me, even though I know he has good intentions with basically everything he does. I’m a nice person and I don’t want to ruin his life or his family’s life, but I would love to not have him work right next to me anymore. How do I solve the problem without causing financial/emotional trouble to him/his family?

Have as much fun as you like.—ironic username

Removing him from working next to you, unfortunately, requires you to either change jobs yourself or to force the hand of management in removing him from his job, which is as you note, not super nice. So we’ll have to manage his presence.

The key here is to establish as many social obstructions to interacting with him as you legitimately can. Can you wear headphones at work? Do it. Have a full desk regardless of whatever you’re actually doing. Cultivate an expression of faint anxiety and lose the thread in conversations with him. You are now perpetually preoccupied with your next project. The whole company may or may not depend on you, you’re sorry—what was it he was saying about his Mazda? You don’t know anything about cars. What you do know is that you need to get back to work.

Being a tedious, distracted workaholic is always a legitimate stance to take in any workplace. It may make everyone else disinterested in talking to you as well, but hey, at least we solved one problem.

It’s February 28, late at night, the Leafs have Shattenkirk on a conference call with his agent trying to make a deal. They call you in for the last ditch pitch. What do you say?—KatyaKnappe

Kevin, look. I know you want fair money, you want a place you want to be, and you want to finally win a Cup after all those almost-but-not-quite years in Missouri. I can’t promise you a Cup, but—

Just kidding! I am absolutely promising you a Cup. Think I’m full of it? We have three of the best five rookies in the NHL. Almost every important player on our team is either in his prime or approaching it, and we’re going to jump up twenty-five points in the standings even as it is. You and Jake Gardiner are going to live your lives in the offensive zone and you’re going to score 65 points a year. Hell, you’re probably going to win the Norris one of these seasons, because outscoring your opposition by three goals a night will do that. There is no team rising as fast as we are as far as we’re going, and we’ll write you a fat fifty-six million dollars when we pick you up from the airport. There is nothing any other team can offer to match what we can offer across the board. It’s a cocktail of every kind of success. Have a drink, Kev.

[Editor’s note: Fulemin had to spend two days at the Jerry Maguire Rehab Facility after this answer.]

Don’t you want me baby?

Don’t you want me OoooOOooooh!—JaredFromLondon

Man, the male’s verse on that song is way grimmer than I realized. Dude sounds like a Svengali.

But of course, Jared, you know I’ll always want you.

Considering the Leafs’ current abundance of wing prospects, and being on the… light side of defence/centre prospects, if you were the Leafs’ GM would you consider stepping away from "BPA" and instead going for the "best centre available" or "best defenceman available"?—Exit Steve Left

If you’re confident you know who’s the best player available, you always have to take him. As far as that goes, BPA forever.

Having said that: the BPA idea is often presented as if it’s always very obvious which player is better, which becomes much less true after the top three and is a total fiction after the first round. Is this quality two-way defender doing work in the WHL better than this speedster right wing out of Russia? What if both are projected to go before you pick again, and one of your scouts is high on each of them? I think accounting for franchise depth there, at least as a tiebreaker, isn’t the craziest thing.

At the extremes, there’s also the simple matter of organizational balance. The Leafs pick seven times next draft; if they draft seven wingers based on a very precise definition of BPA, that means they have to address their holes at C and D through other means of acquisition. And if you’re trying to acquire quality, all those other ways of acquiring have costs associated with them. Ideally you should at least be taking a flier on guys at different spots with your later picks.

So: BPA. But BPA has limits. Organizational depth can be a lesser but legitimate factor when you hit those limits.

We were all pushing for Frank Corrado to play, and he recently has been given an opportunity to do so. He looked like a fish out of water in most of his play. I see now that he is no longer in the lineup. Has Corrado blown his chance to play for Babcock? If not, how many games does he have to prove himself?—The Constant Gardiner

Frank Corrado is going to play when injuries require him to play and not otherwise. If he were going to displace Carrick or Polak on his own merits (according to Babcock) he would have done it by now; both those guys have had some rough stretches and Corrado has struggled to get a sniff.

To be honest, I would be surprised if the Leafs haven’t at least put feelers out for what Corrado might return in a trade. You don’t want to lose quality depth for nothing (so no waivers), but if someone is willing to give up a pick for your eighth defenceman, you should probably take it. Of course, that would mean your best RHD after Zaitsev/Carrick/Polak is Justin Holl, so you’re taking a risk over the final thirty games, but I think it’s a reasonable one.

So Mirtle stole your idea, but has a catchy hashtag already. (#mirtbag) What will be your response to this hashtag escalation of the Mail Bag wars?—Sportsock

We’re going to start a smear campaign. Is Mirtle a closet Habs fan? Are his hashtags corrupting our children? Is the Athletic a front for the illegal trade in moon rocks? Gotta ask the question.

Dr. Selar was a Vulcan doctor who appeared in one episode of TNG, but, while mentioned in many other episodes, she never again appeared on camera. Is she basically the Frankie Corrado of Star Trek?—Species 1967

The masthead’s determination to make me learn stuff about Star Trek continues. I don’t get it, you guys! You need to contextualize this with the Pokemon games or early-2000s indie rock.

One thing I will say: whatever you think of Corrado’s actual ability, he’s mostly an avatar for frustration at Babs playing Hunwick and Polak. If Dr. Beverly Crusher had been the most reviled crew member on the Enterprise, and everyone had been begging for Dr. Selar to come in to do the physicals because Crusher kept putting weird stuff up people’s butts, then the comparison to Corrado would be more apt.

Are Hunwick and Polak bad doctors who put weird stuff up your butt? Again, gotta ask the question.

Given that all meaning emerges from the abyssal absurdity of death, what crippling mistake can you actually see the Leafs’ FO making in the next year (so excluding, like, TRADE MATTHEWS FOR REASONS or SIGN CLARKSON AGAIN), and why? What temptation must they strive to avoid? What dangers lurk ahead?—The Bag

This is the perfect question for me because I am constantly haunted with paranoia about the future even in the best of times. I see two dangers.

1. The RHD acquisition. The Leafs have a very obvious hole, and it’s that the team bleeds shots against. Their best two defenders are LHD. So get a defensively sound RHD. Everyone expects this.

The scariest thing would be the Leafs trying to mimic the Hall-for-Larsson trade by dealing William Nylander for an overrated RHD. I don’t think they’re going to do this. I think the Leafs FO knows it has something very good in Willie and intends to keep him.

The more realistic danger is that the Leafs strike out on (or don’t pursue) Shattenkirk and then overpay for somebody else just to do something. There are a ton of meh RHD floating around, and it would be easy to talk yourself into, for example, giving a dumb deal to Dennis Wideman or trading JVR for a 2nd/3rd pair tweener. The result would be that the Leafs miss their chance at a “missing piece” type player while Matthews and Marner are on ELCs. This would really suck.

2. The bad extension. Jared referenced this in the comments below this question. Things are going well, we have a good culture in the room, let’s pay for it. This is what the Leafs did with Matt Martin; if he’s the end of it, it’s okay. But it would be very easy to make a bad extension for Komarov (Jared Samspade suggested an Abdelkader special would be the likely bad scenario), Bozak, Hunwick, or Polak. These could be varying degrees of damaging, but the cap structure punishes teams who want to hold onto what they had with aging players. In the short term, the Leafs have the cap space to afford a mistake—though it’s going to squeeze us sooner than people think—but all that pretty salary room is going to evaporate in summer 2019, and a deal for middling player who is well into his 30s by that point will get very unpleasant.

In Lou we trust, we hope.

Why am I still vaguely nauseated when I remember the Leafs drafted Keaton Middleton?—Ghost of Bohonos

Because we worry it’s a sign of the Leafs slipping into the habits of the bad old days. In the individual case it really doesn’t matter that much; fourth-rounders are invariably long-shots. If the Leafs really have seen something atypical in Middleton, maybe it’s not even a bad gamble to attempt. But if the Leafs regularly draft Coke machines, well, that’s how you end up five years down the road wondering why none of your late picks ever seem to work out.

Consolation: the Leafs didn’t spend that draft married to any one paradigm. Grundstrom, Woll and Brooks all look like smart picks in the early going; not to guarantee they’re going to the NHL or anything, but at least they didn’t flop out of the gate. Don’t worry unless we draft a bunch more Maatinens and Middletons this June.

How is it to live in a world where Tyler Bozak is technically the wily veteran?—Ubiquitous

Did you ever have a friend in college who was a Pineapple Express kinda dude? Sort of mellow and amiably goofy, never taking any responsibility, just here for a good time? And then randomly he got married and had a kid? And you expect someone to leap out from behind the scenery shouting “You’ve been Punk’d!” and for him to go back to doing what he did before, but you realize he’s changed a little, and everything has changed a lot? That you’re never going to be who you were in college, and you’re happy about that, but you feel a nostalgia for time gone by and roads not taken as fewer and narrower paths stretch ahead of you?

No?

I think Bozak’s finally gonna hit 50 points, so that’s fun. Career year at age 30!

Do the Leafs suck?—Ubiquitous

no YOU suck

Aside from our good Royal Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, who is your favourite English monarch in history?—Exit Steve Left

Given my family’s Scots-Irish Catholic, I view almost all English monarchs with a jaded eye. Also, let’s be honest: if you were a monarch in any pre-Enlightenment era, you were probably defined by your success waging aggressive wars. Richard the Lionheart was a generally good king by Medieval standards, but that was mostly based on military prowess and occasional massacre. Moving past the long string of warlords, Elizabeth and Victoria are two of the contenders for overall greatness, but for particular reasons I have a few objections to ‘em. Fun to read about, though.

With that said: George VI. He wasn’t perfect, but he restored some stability to the monarchy after the Abdication Crisis, he was an admirable constitutional monarch throughout WWII, and he handled the transition from Empire to Commonwealth about as smoothly as you could hope given his position. The King’s Speech obviously dresses him up in narrative style, but a king with some fundamentally decent instincts is a pretty special thing. (Not to mention, if he’d botched all of those things, there’s a decent chance there’d be no monarchy to speak of anymore.)

Are there any targets at the trade deadline that you would like the leafs to go after, provided the price is reasonable?—thehumourisironic

Hey, if you let me define reasonable however I want, there are a bunch!

More seriously: no. The only possibility would be Shattenkirk if he were a cheap rental guaranteed to extend with us, but I suspect that won’t be doable. Beyond that, the Leafs shouldn’t be giving up virtually anything for a rental and shouldn’t be dealing substantial assets. Given I tend to think the ideal time for a JVR trade is June, I don’t recommend the Leafs pursue NHL roster players at this TDL—unless they’re expansion exempt, and those are going to be pricey.

Given the conversation below, what would be your preferred show name, format and list of first season contestants?

Ghost of Bohonos – What if we immediately fed to wolves any television or film star, especially reality tv, who ever ran for political office? Take a moment and imagine it with me.

Sportsock – Exception not withstanding, will the wolves be televised? What format should we pursue? Should we make Fulemin answer this?

Ghost of Bohonos – Yes, all of them, and yes.

—Sportsock

You know, I don’t think actors inherently make worse politicians than any other group. Sure, it means they tend to be more polished speakers, but you usually have to be good at that anyway, and playing at being other people can teach you some empathy for people beside yourself. Reagan was somewhere between a monster and a stooge, but Al Franken has been a pretty decent Senator.

Reality TV, well...alright.

We’ll call it Dog Eat Dog, and it will be hosted by an incongruously chipper Ryan Seacrest, who will find select moments to say “Well—it’s a dog-eat-dog world!” [laugh track]. Pedants will object that wolves, while biologically related, are not dogs per se; there will be a bad series of Twitter arguments over it, and PETA will picket the set. People will make memes and posit that Harambe would have won, had he been spared to compete.

Each week, the contestants will vote on which of them will be hunted by the wolves; there will be arcane challenges in which the winner gains a bonus vote in that week’s elimination. There will be negotiations in lowered voices, and backstabbing as each of the players tries to avoid being fed to Ripper, Mauler and Millicent (wolf names are non-negotiable.) At some point one of the contestants will turn to the camera pensively and say, “Maybe the real wolves—are us.”

At the end of the season, it will be revealed that no one was actually fed to the wolves, and there will be a series of humourous post-elimination interviews with former contestants, who are playing with the wolves (actually adorable puppies.) However, it will transpire that Millicent had strong feelings about tax returns and did actually eat Donald Trump.

John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Millicent the puppy.

As for the contestants, well, it’s a matter of taste (no pun intended.) I defer to my readers.

I know this has been talked about a lot, but I’ll throw in the "Why can’t we hold leads?" thing.—torontopackersnoles

Worth noting: the Leafs have been winning games with leads a lot more of late. In their first five games, they were 1-4 when leading after two periods; since then, they’re 17-3. But they’ve blown a fair few leads, so we’ll look.

Mostly it’s that the Leafs are just a good offensive team and a bad defensive team, and so they’re more prone to both getting leads and blowing them. Often on nights where they’ve lost leads, you’ll notice they were playing bad defence the whole night, and it eventually caught up with them—I remember this especially in Winnipeg.

The other thing is that the Leafs seem to suffer a disproportionate score effect penalty from having the lead. They’re 4th in the NHL in adjusted CF% when the game is tied; when they’re leading, they drop to 16th (remember, this is against the rest of the league in these situations, so it’s apples to apples.) Not coincidentally, the team’s fourth line and third pair tend to play more with the lead, perhaps due to their defensive reputation. Given that these players are also the worst possession players on the team, it is perhaps not surprising that the Leafs run into trouble in these situations.

In short: our team is largely bad at giving up shots, and our reliance on the wrong players when leading exacerbates the problem. Blaming Hunlak is oversimplified, but the Leafs might be well-advised to try a counter-intuitive step-on-their-throat deployment when leading. Columbus actually improves in CF% rank when they go up a goal; it seems to work for them.

Does the way the Leafs have treated Robidas and Lupul (and to a lesser extent Corrado) negate the fact that they are good to a potential UFA looking at the Leafs as a landing spot?—Alspicer

To most UFAs, no. Guys who are signing big UFA contracts expect to be big players for their new teams. They aren’t thinking of the Corrado situation if things go totally south for them. If they’re signing a smaller contract, they’re less likely to be picky. So I’m not concerned there.

Where I do worry a little bit is other acquisitions. I’m thinking of guys like Milan Michalek, who openly regrets waiving his NTC to come to Toronto. If there’s a decrease in willingness to come here on the part of any group of players, then that does impact our flexibility somewhat. But this is a limited concern, and most people seem to think I’m silly even for worrying about this one, so it’s nothing serious.

Which Leafs player or prospect has the cutest pet? Provide photos to back up your assertions.—@cad_yellow

We’ve got several strong contenders here.

First off: T25U25 winner Templeton J. Rychel brings a distinguished elegance and grandeur to any room he chooses to grace.

Here’s a slightly dated picture of Mitch Marner and his family pets. While I think both animals are adorable, I’ve had to deduct points due to them being apparently possessed by Satan.

Nothing like a little reunion with @liamdunda

A photo posted by Mitch Marner (@marner_93) on

Morgan Rielly’s yellow Lab, Maggie, is imo a very good dog.

This picture of Matt Martin’s puppy dates from his time with the Islanders, but I feel like the pup’s sartorial flair merits inclusion even now.

Silver medal goes to Connor Carrick’s excellent practice partner.

Ultimately, though, I think the hotshot rookie pet takes the prize. The Leaf ornamentation combined with the “ahem, this is my chair” expression are too good to deny.

This will be my seat tonight for the game. Thanks dad for having this awesome chair made for me!! #goleafsgo

A photo posted by Jazzy Kadri (@jazzykadri) on

While the women are all gone and you're alone, what are your TRUE feelings about Pascal's Principles of Hydrostatics?—brigstew

[fedora voice] Women just don’t like nice guys like me who uniformly transmit pressure variations throughout our volumes.

Write me a joke about Nazem, Willie and Auston walking into a bar.—@MatthiasDavies

Naz, Willie and Auston walk into a bar, and ask the bartender to put a tap over the Cup so they can fill it.

Oops, you said joke, not prediction.

If you magically woke up today as Leafs GM, what three realistic moves would you look to make on your way to a potential parade?—@Lummis83

I’m going to fudge this a little, because as discussed above, I don’t think the Leafs really have major moves to make at this deadline. So I’m going to jump ahead to July 2017.

  1. Sign Kevin Shattenkirk. Y’all have heard all about this one at this point. I’m assuming $7M x 7y does it.
  2. Sign Brian Boyle to a two-year deal. I’m willing to come up a little on money to keep the term that low. Boyle stabilizes the Leafs’ centre depth and gives them a viable fourth line that might even score a little now and then. I have a lot of confidence in the capacity of the Leafs’ current top nine to get them a very long way if healthy next year; Boyle helps.
  3. Extend William Nylander. I don’t know if his agent wants any part of an early extension—I’d wait, for reasons that will shortly be clear—but Nylander is probably undervalued right now. His 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage right now is 5.90% (!), which is lower than every Leaf forward except Ben Smith. For the league, that puts him 330th of the 399 forwards to play 200 minutes this year. When that rebounds—and it will—suddenly William Nylander is going to shred the NHL.

Because our media loves suggesting terrible ideas, several of them have suggested Nylander is clearly the third-place Leaf forward and we should trade him for a middle defenceman, which would be selling low on the bluest of blue-chip stocks. ECON 101 suggests now is the time to buy. If you can buy years of William Nylander right now at a discount, you should really, really do it.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!