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Mailbag: Auston Matthews and Other Conquerors

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All that and more in this edition of the mailbag.

U.S. Civil War Comes To An End Photo by George N. Barnard/U.S. Library of Congress via Getty Images

It’s time for another edition of the mailbag.

If Lou succeeds in revivifying Ancient Hittite warriors to play D, what kind of impact do you expect to see on our Zone Exit data?—not norm ullman

As any hockey fan knows, the Hittite military was famed for its use of chariots. From the good people at weaponsandwarfare.com:

The Hittite arm of decision was its chariotry. The chariot’s role was to close quickly with the enemy infantry, delivering maximum shock, then to dismount and fight as heavy infantry.

This sounds fantastic. Guys who are big and can bash, yet have the high mobility necessary for a rapid attack before the enemy is ready. Imagine Roman Polak, but riding a chariot. That’s gotta be worth a 10-15% improvement in our controlled exit rate.

Hi Fulemin, how are you doing? In unrelated news I have kidnapped Maurice. If you ever want to see him again, please accurately predict the team winning the Stanley Cup and the game winning goal scorer.—cagedmercury

Don’t shoot him! Be like Tomas Kaberle on the PP.

I predicted the Oilers would win this year, on the basis that they have the best player in the world, enough support, and a good goalie to survive their lack of depth. The Oilers have nonetheless gone out and lost a bunch of games. Still, I might as well stick to my guns at this point: Leon Draisaitl will score the winner for the Oilers.

(But actually, Auston Matthews for the Leafs.)

Which supporting character from the new series MM&MM (probably coming to CBC next fall) is most likely to receive his/her own spinoff series?—JerseyLeaf

The community stepped up and produced a bunch of fantastic answers to this question, so I’m going to bow to the wisdom of crowds. My two favourites were House of Gards (care of Mr. Smithy) and Bozak Horseman (JaredFromLondon.)

What do you think is more likely to win a Stanley Cup? The best defence, the best offense, or the best goalie?—munniec

In general or in the specific instance? Whoever has the hottest goalie during the playoffs is probably going to have a pretty good chance, like that one year Tim Thomas allowed 0 goals per ever. That’s partly a matter of luck, though.

In general, though, the best offence, for the boring reason that, if goals for and against are equally important, defence and goaltending are both inputs into goals against, whereas offence is the only input into goals for. I’m fun, I know.

(If you’re wondering whether it’s easier to win with a good goals for or a good goals against, people have done both in recent years. But no team has won being worse than 17th in goals against this decade, whereas the Kings won two times despite being bottom-five in goals-for. So it may be a little easier to survive a lack of offence.)

How bad are Calle Rosen and Connor Carrick if they got beat cleanly by a 31 year old Roman Polak returning from a badly broken leg? Or is Mike Babcock simply dumber than every Leaf blogger. Thoughts?—TorontoSportsFan

This feels pointed :P

I’m going to start by saying this isn’t the binary we’re facing, here. We don’t know that Roman Polak beat anyone as a general hockey player, much less “cleanly”; all we know is that Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello preferred him as a third-pair right defenceman against Los Angeles and Carolina. Mike Babcock is smarter than me and every other hockey blogger, but that doesn’t mean he’s right and we’re wrong in every specific instance. I actually wrote about that last season, in an article called “Am I Smarter Than Mike Babcock?”

But is Roman Polak way above Calle Rosen and Connor Carrick?

I think Polak’s less prone to obvious giveaways, largely because he has the puck less often; I think he does a decent job lowering the quality of shots against, although Carrick is better at that than people give him credit for; and I think he’s probably a better penalty-killer than the other two, mostly because I respect Babcock’s knowledge in these things. Does all that outweigh the fact Rosen and Carrick will contribute more offensively and likely allow fewer shots? Further, how much does it matter that Rosen and Carrick are 23 (and might get better) whereas Polak is 31 (and will get worse?)

Mike Babcock says Polak gets the job, some nights. Others say take Carrick or Rosen. But that’s the crux of the question, and better analyses have tried to account for that. Dunking on the nerds for their arrogance or Babcock for being retrograde doesn’t help much in trying to balance those valuations, and Polak making the lineup (or not making the lineup!) doesn’t prove either is right or wrong.

Personally, yeah, I think Carrick is a better choice than Polak. But if Roman can back a good PK while not getting totally drowned in possession, I’ll keep an open mind.

Would the Leafs benefit more from a top 4 D or a goaltending upgrade over Andersen… assuming Andersen continues his 0.900 goaltending?—The Constant Gardiner

Depends on the size of the upgrade. But based on what I’m guessing you mean: upgrading on Andersen.

If Andersen keeps goaltending at .900 (heavy emphasis on the if, because he won’t), upgrading to .915 saves you more goals against than the Leafs becoming the best shots-against team in the NHL—assuming their shots against are of the same quality. I’m very skeptical any one defenceman on Earth is going to have that kind of impact, and the guys who could come close are first defencemen, not just top fours.

(Freddie’s career average, by the way, is .917, so...regression to the mean, come on down.)

I hate it when people say what would it take to get a young, RHD… it’s different for every player. So… assuming the L.A. Kings are looking to move Jake Muzzin (they’re not), what do you think it would take for the Leafs to get Muzzin (not … a player like Muzzin… Muzzin himself).—The Constant Gardiner

The thing about this question is that it’s not enough to just take for granted that the Kings are moving him; to guess the price we have to know why. Are the Kings burning the whole structure down to do a rebuild? Are they trying to retool for a last run with the current core? Are they mad at Muzzin for nebulous personal issues that have lowered his price?

Because the Kings have a bunch of expensive long-term contracts, I don’t think they’re close to tear-down, and Muzzin is by all accounts a real good pro. So let’s assume the Kings are retooling for another Cup run and they’ve decided to deal out from their defence (a presumed strength) in order to address their typical weakness of more scoring. And now they’re shopping an impressive 28-year-old defenceman who has three years remaining at $4M per.

Once you lay all that out, I think you wind up at Nazem Kadri. Kadri is more valuable and on a better deal than Muzzin, in my opinion, so it would be Muzzin-plus, but the Leafs aren’t trading Nylander or Marner for Jake Muzzin, and they don’t have any other scoring forwards signed for term who are younger than 38. If this scares you off, well, it scares me off too (I would not make this deal). But you aren’t going to win a bidding war for Jake Muzzin by building a deal around Connor Brown.

When?—JaredFromLondon

I dunno, now, I guess?

If Marmathlander were Rush, who would be Geddy, who would be Alex and who would be Neil?—I Am Rad Boss

None of them would be in Rush because Rush is bad. But if I have to, Auston is Geddy Lee, aided in his dark endeavors by Nylander as Alex Lifeson, and Marner is Neal mashing the drums. If Lou would let Willie grow his hair a bit, he might start to look more like Geddy Lee, though.

You wake up in Marc Bergevin’s body. You can speak and understand Quebecois French (so the old and wrong form of modern French not that they’d ever admit it). Without getting fired or lynched by an angry Quebec mob, how do you transition the Habs and its fans into an even worse Orwellian state of despair so you can then ride your fame to launch your career with the Athletic?—brigstew

Oh baby.

The trick to wrecking the Habs is playing to the bias of the fanbase and building a team around French players, while gradually losing each trade. Max Pacioretty has got to go, for David Perron (who isn’t terrible, but is notably worse than Pacioretty.) Victor Mete is gone, but hey, we picked up Antoine Vermette. We traded for Beauchemin and Burrows, and we didn’t pay that much to do it. We got Frederik Gauthier for that loser Alex Galchenyuk!

The other thing is to keep acquiring overrated defencemen with big-term contracts, and explain that you’re getting help for Carey Price, when you’re doing the opposite. Out with Jeff Petry. In with Brent Seabrook, who will Teach Us How To Win. Kris Russell adds additional grit, and blocks shots. He’ll take the load off our beleaguered netminder.

Unfortunately, we have to start Carey Price 75 games a year, because damn it, we need every point we can get. This may seem suspiciously like a helpful thing to do, but it isn’t; we’re going to burn through Price by the time he’s done one year of that gigantic extension, and then we’re going to keep playing his remains. Sorry Carey, at least you have that $88M contract to comfort you.

Needless to say, we’re botching every draft pick as best we can, going off board for some guy in the Q who got by on being 6’3” in junior. This way we can prevent any help from arriving, and I intend to do it by taking forwards who don’t score enough all the time (because our defence is set with Alzner, Weber and Seabrook—draft for need.) I think we could end up in a situation where the Habs are paying millions of dollars, for years to come, to declining and decrepit men in their 30s while absolutely no good looms on the horizon and Jonathan Drouin gradually gets run out of town. It’ll be years before they trace it back to me. Years.

If electrons can be in multiple places at once, as per quantum physics, why does it seem weird that the Leafs could win the cup this year?—GilDugmore

We haven’t spent five decades watching electrons break our hearts in every conceivable way, that’s why.

Between Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Leonidas I, William T Sherman, and Genghis Khan, who would be the better NHL coach and why? Which current NHL coach would they each pair with the best?—ExitSteveLeft

This is an excellent question.

Just by way of introduction, the five men named are all famous military commanders, with Napoleon dating from the French Revolution and Empire, Caesar from the end of the Roman Republic, Leonidas from Sparta in Ancient Greece, Sherman from the American Civil War, and Genghis Khan from 12th and 13th century Mongolia. I could ramble with varying degrees of credibility on all of them because I’m a big nerd, but I’m going to try and stick to the question.

I’m picking William Tecumseh Sherman. First of all, he was the only one of the five to die in a peaceful and victorious retirement (Bonaparte died in exile, Caesar was assassinated, Leonidas was killed with his army at Thermopylae, and Khan died around the fall of Yinchuan, though his army won.) He was, not coincidentally, the longest-lived. Winners are survivors.

More specifically: Sherman was a ruthless pragmatist. His famous March to the Sea, in which he essentially destroyed the infrastructure of Georgia (and later South Carolina), was brutal, but was one of the most decisive campaigns of the war, and went a long way in ending the capacity of the South to fight. Sherman was, unlike some of the other generals, outstanding with logistics, ensuring his army was ready and able to fight at the time of his choosing, and not that of his opponents. If you want a man who has a command of every detail in preparation and who will stop at nothing to win, Sherman is your man.

I’m pairing him (surprise) with Mike Babcock. Babs and his organization leave nothing to chance, insofar as they can help it, and more than a few players can attest to his willingness to do whatever he thinks improves his squad, at any cost. Make the Habs howl, Mike.

As for the rest:

Bonaparte: Barry Trotz. Bold, a great leader, but doomed to be remembered for a climactic failure associated with Russians.

Caesar: Joel Quenneville. A legend with the devoted loyalty of a hard core of followers, but one who may be cut down one spring.

Leonidas: Gerald Gallant. About to be a legend for a heroic fight against overwhelming odds than nonetheless ends in failure (Vegas is not going to make the playoffs.)

Genghis Khan: Mike Sullivan. With his firepower advantages, his enemies probably just have to hope he falls off a horse.

Using only the rosters covering the time period between JFJ and Nonis, construct the worst possible Leafs roster, and how close were we to icing it at any time?—Mr Smithy

Oh dear Jesus God.

John Ferguson Jr. was hired as general manager of the Leafs in August 2003; Dave Nonis was dismissed as Leafs’ GM in April 2015. So this is a long timespan we have here. I have relied on NHL.com’s position labels, and I have not set a minimum GP limit; we’re going for worst possible here.

This is my worst aggregate roster:

Jamie Devane - Philippe Dupuis - Ben Ondrus

Jay Rosehill - Zach Sill - Alexander Suglobov

Frazer McLaren - Wayne Primeau - Carter Ashton

David Broll - Marcel Mueller - Colton Orr

Staffan Kronwall - Ryan O’Byrne

Keith Aulie - Andy Wozniewski

Maxim Kondratiev - Petter Granberg

Justin Pogge

Vesa Toskala

Here are some fun facts about the players on this roster:

  • Philippe Dupuis had zero points in 30 NHL games with Toronto. Literally zero.
  • Did you guys realize Carter Ashton had three points in 54 games with us?! The whole time he had three points! I could have sworn he had more than that.
  • Joakim Lindstrom was too good to make this roster. I wanted to include him because he’s one of the most hilarious guys no one remembers, but dude is tearing up the SHL and he once had 20 points in 44 GP for the Coyotes. Similar issues blocked off Rickard Wallin and Brett Lebda.
  • I should have put one of the no-names in over Vesa Toskala, but fuck it, I’m still mad about him.
  • The Leafs are surprisingly decent at RW, considering; I wasn’t that far from putting Wade Belak or Jerry D’amigo on this team, which by the standards of our squad, is like adding Pavel Bure.

All things considered I believe this lineup could win zero games in an NHL season. Like, I believe it would lose every game for a whole year. Even the expansion Capitals in the 70s won 8.

The Leafs iced some truly awful lineups, particularly in 2008-09 (Jason Blake was better than you remember, though.) None approached this one, obviously, but during the tank year in February, we once iced a forward lineup of:

Grabner - Kadri - Parenteau

Arcobello - Holland - Winnik

Greening - Spaling - Boyes

Clune - Froese - Matthias

I made up those lines from the available Fs, but who cares. Those lines are terrible!

Who are the six defensemen that are dressed for Game 4 of the 2019 SCF when the Leafs are on the verge of sweeping some pathetic bunch of losers?—SydDave

Someone already commented with the scenario where we add Drew Doughty, so:

Rielly - Manson

Gardiner - Zaitsev

Borgman - Liljegren

People may say I’m not dreaming big enough, but hey, I’m getting Liljegren to the Cup in his D+2, don’t ask questions.

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? And what is she really running from?—ExitSteveLeft

San Diego. Surprised no one’s ever tried looking there. As for the second question, aren’t we all, in some sense, running from ourselves?

In Braveheart, Mel Gibson is clean shaven the entire film. Where would someone find shaving equipment in medieval Scotland?—Mike Brown’s Moustache

Little known fact: the Stone of Scone has a razor’s edge on it, enabling the true leader of Scotland—and only the true leader of Scotland—to shave. Strange but true.

Hypothetical:

You’re a lifelong Leafs fan (still with me?); you’ve also somehow become general manager and coach for a western conference team (due to… We’ll just say "shenanigans"). Now, you’re a professional, so throughout your tenure you’re not blatantly trying to give away assets to help the Leafs or anything; you’re actually doing your job to the best of your abilities and trying to help your team win the Stanley Cup.

It’s starting to pay off, too. This season, you’ve got your team all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals… Where they play the Leafs who, through shenanigans of their own (fucking Kerry Fraser coming out of retirement just to screw them on important calls in the playoffs and such) have not been able to break the Cup drought. On top of that unfortunate mess, due to a change in ownership and an off-ice scandal related to you being caught indulging in your secret vices (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about; we all know), you have been informed that your services will be terminated at the end of the season and, because of the vices, you’re basically guaranteed to never work in the NHL ever again.

Do you ice a sub-optimal lineup in an attempt to help your favourite team win and be an unheralded hero to Leafs Nation against your current team who are basically blackballing you out of professional hockey?—SlickWill

Are you kidding? I would torch that franchise like it was a banana stand. I would demote my 1C to the AHL and give my goalie the measles. I would spike the waterbottles with vodka and file the edges off the skate blades. I would endeavor to ensure my team lost 88-0. If they want to fire a guy for extremely reasonable vices, that’s what they deserve.

Should we all just go around saying Auston Matthews is underrated until everyone says he’s better that Connor McDavid? It’s my plan anyways.—smalltownbringdown

We should go around saying he’s underrated until he’s elected President, and I’m not saying we stop then. The reaction from whiny haters to Matthews being allegedly “underrated” was better than Christmas. Let’s write sincere pieces debating whether the MVP, the Richard, the Selke, the Ted Lindsay, a Sports Illustrated profile, the main page of TSN, the main page of Sportsnet, the main page of CBC, all the major Canadian newspapers, all the major American newspapers, all the rural Japanese newspapers, and a fanzine distributed by hand across the Gobi Desert are really sufficient recognition of his talent.

I think we could actually make the Sens fans explode from the brain out.

If we had to redo his draft year, where would Dylan Strome go? Is he still considered a top prospect? First line potential? Top 6?—Mr. Smithy

My guess is he goes in the mid-first round. He’s still a pretty cool prospect—being in the AHL at age 20 is not the end of the world—but the ceiling is lowering over his tall head. I’ll still be very surprised if he’s not an NHLer, but he doesn’t look like any kind of top-line lock now. It could still happen, to be sure, but middle-six is a safer bet.*

*Do not rely on me to bet on prospects.

For what it’s worth, Arvind and I hashed this one out; I initially was probably too low on Strome, but when you map it out, you still have to give credit to his potential and not get clouded by his initial draft spot.

Here are the players I think go ahead of Strome: McDavid, Eichel, Werenski, Provorov, Marner, Aho, Rantanen, Hanifin, Connor, Boeser, Konecny, and Carlo. That’s 12. After that it gets fuzzier. There are names like Joel Eriksson Ek and Thomas Chabot that could go ahead or behind Strome, but I figure he’s definitely gone by 20th overall at the latest.

Where do you get your daily dose of salt now that the Habs have won a game?—Roly-Poly Goalie

Buffalo. The great thing about the Sabres fans is they really thought they would be better than this. They honestly thought that everything was Dan Bylsma’s fault, and not only was that wrong, the one thing they were good at (the powerplay) is now struggling since he left. Turns out having a bottom-three defence and the forward depth of a puddle isn’t resolved overnight.

Should the Leafs sign another Roman Polak? How many helmets can he possibly fart in on any given night on his own?—emjaymj

Don’t underestimate a man of Polak’s determination. He’s a professional and will fart in as many helmets as are required. Team player.

Who is the best dog on PPP?—WizardofNaz

I actually can’t answer this one! I don’t know the dogs of PPP that well, though I know some of you have them. Feel free to share your dogs in the comments.

Who is the one member of PPP that could pass for a hockey player?—thehumourisironic

Deeply offended you think only one of us could. Of course, if the idea is to pass for a good hockey player, then it gets tougher. I’ll pick Janik, he’s young and spry.

How many eggs do you think you could eat in a single day?—ExitSteveLeft

Two dozen. I mean, I think I could eat more, but I might just die.

Which NHLer is the best fisherman?—Fishingfreak99

I know nothing of fishing, so I’m going to roughly analogize from hockey rather than trying to ascertain this on evidence. I’m going with Chris Tanev. He’s legendary for his patience before eventually making the right play. The flashy crash and bang guys up front are just going to scare the fish away. You want a cool customer. (Also, I want to trade for him and play him with Rielly.)

Thanks to everyone who contributed!