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Mailbag: Aliens, Crimes, Ron Hainsey

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All that and more in this edition of the mailbag.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Your spouse/partner has never seen Star Wars

So, you decide to have a movie night with them, and you start off by watching the first one (not from real-life release date, but in terms of Episode number) – Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

At the end of the movie, they look over to you and say "I absolutely loved that Jar Jar Binks character! He’s just so funny and eloquent! He was like the best part of the movie!"

What do you do?—canuck89

I appreciate my spouse’s superb knack for satire. Look, I bet there’s a list of people on Earth—short, but it’s there—who think Jar Jar is funny. There ain’t a soul in this galaxy or any other who thinks he’s eloquent.

He is a Sith Lord, though.

What one thing about the Leafs organization, roster, management or play on the ice is really irritating to you? What about the NHL in general just makes you grind your teeth because it’s so obviously dumb and yet….?—KatyaKnappe

For the Leafs: transition play. The Leafs are capable of being damn near the best team in the NHL if they can get better at exiting their own zone and entering the other team’s. But that’s the trick, of course.

The NHL as a whole routinely drives me up a tree, but I’m going to take a freebie: they’re not going to the Olympics this year and it is both dumb and very frustrating. We could have something beautiful and now we won’t.

How does the ting go?

More serious question: After listening to our podcast, Gary Bettman was thoroughly impressed, and decides to give you unilateral power over the NHL for a day. Due to bureaucracy and lawyers, you can only implement three new rules in a day. One must be an in-game rule, one must be a CBA/cap rule, and one must be a totally minuscule rule that you will nonetheless argue has the potential to reshape the league. What are your new rules?—Arvind

In-game: I am increasing the net size. I have wanted this for a long time and I am not passing up an opportunity to implement it. MORE GOALS.

CBA/Cap: The cap is now a luxury tax. Why yes, I do like the idea of 3C John Tavares.

Minuscule rule: Any kicking motion to put the puck in the net is legal as long as the skate blade does not entirely leave the ice in the course of the kick. We’re pretty close to this anyway as the league has liberalized the kick-in rules to the point that no one understands them, but I think this would make net-front strategy more interesting. If you’re particularly good with your feet, do you let the d-man tie up your stick and focus on tipping it in with your foot? Will there be weird tripping penalties? Who knows?

And the ting goes skrrrraaaaaa

You are an evil alien parasite, totally not derived from Star Trek TNG, that is able to take over human brains. You manage to commandeer Admiral Quinn Mike Babcock and make adjustments to the below parts of the Leafs’ somewhat flawed game. What tweaks/wholesale changes do you make?

- Breakouts

- Defensive zone execution

- Penalty kill

- Cycle game

- Power play

This is tricky! Magic parasite though I am, I am not a better hockey tactician than Mike Babcock, not even close. But I’ll take a swing.

The biggest change I would make would be to have the forwards come back a little bit and attempt to make shorter passes when breaking out of the zone. The aerial flip/stretch pass serves us well when it works, but lately it doesn’t seem to be working nearly as much as I wish it would. Maybe this is an adjustment period, but I don’t love how it’s going.

In terms of defensive zone execution, I don’t know that even the parasite alien that I am can make the Leafs do it better; that’s on the players to some extent. The Leafs do seem to emphasize a kind of help defence that tries to bring numbers lower in the zone, but lets the pass go back to the point most of the time. I would try to get a bit more aggressive on the point men in the hopes of interrupting opposing cycles, but you can only do so much with this (and there’s a corresponding risk in getting drawn out of position.) I’ve just noticed that teams with strong, aggressive defence groups and good cycle games—St. Louis and Carolina stand out in my mind—give us absolute hell, with a tough forecheck and then a basically unbreakable cycle back to the point. Yes, a lot of these shots are to the outside, but against both STL and CAR, some of them still went in.

I don’t know that I would make any changes to the penalty kill or the cycle game, beyond that I’d try to spell Ron Hainsey on the PK with other d-men more. This isn’t so much that I don’t think he’s our best PK defenceman as that I’m worried he’s going to die if we keep playing him like this.

The only change I’d make to the powerplay would be to hunt around for some kind of different zone entry strategy. The Leafs’ powerplay is dynamite once it gets set up, and it gets set up reasonably often, but the play of throwing it to one puck carrier—especially Nylander or Gardiner—and coming over the blueline four in a row is very predictable and seems to fail a lot. I’m not sure there’s really a better option, but I’d love to try for one.

What’s better, a potential future in which the Habs continue to implode and respond by doubling-down on Bergiven for the foreseeable future, or Edmonton continuing to implode and the fans increasingly turning on McJesus, to the point they actively want him traded?—Mr Smithy

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Edmonton media is so unutterably fucking terrible that I basically want them all to have to write mea culpas about how they carried water for Chiarelli for years, and then to get fired. Look at this shit:

The Oilers, at time of writing, have $8.6M in cap space and are in 29th, but at least they budgeted in the course of gutting their offensive depth in the final year of Connor McDavid’s ELC. Oh, here’s another one:

This is in response to Eberle being honest enough to admit that years of constantly being blamed for the crap ass team the Oilers built around him weighed on him.

It takes a hell of a lot for me to wish failure on Edmonton—against whom I have nothing except that they’ve had an obscene level of draft lottery luck—instead of the Habs, who are our ancient enemy. But I hope they run McDavid out of town and then he wins nine Cups with the Leafs and Mark Spector falls into a well.

You get a call from Terry Pegula saying Botterill has been terminated and he is offering you supreme command of the Sabres. Anything you want to do you can (you can gut the entire front office if you like). There is no pressure to make the playoffs this year, but building a cup contending team is the goal. You can spend to the max cap, and have full autonomy over the team. What do you do as gm?—Mike Brown’s Moustache

(MBM’s full question alternatively said I could pick the Oilers; I figure I already talked enough about them.)

Am I trying to make the team good or am I trying to benefit the Leafs however I possibly can? If I’m trying to make them better, I flip Evander Kane at the deadline, make a Godfather offer to John Carlson next summer, and try to buy a decent bottom six out of FA. Easier said than done, but it’s a start.

If I’m a sleeper agent, I trade the Leafs this year’s first and Alex Nylander for, who cares, Josh Leivo or something. I extend Evander Kane to an enormous contract, I flip Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Apslund somewhere else for basically nothing, and I stock up on a ton of lousy grit depth. Given how bad this team already is and how much contract money they already have set aside, you can pretty much just lock up what they have now and doom them indefinitely. I think the Sabres have some decent core pieces, but it wouldn’t take too much to handcuff them.

A genie comes out of your toilet and tells you that from now until the end of the season, every time you commit a crime, the Leafs will win. The caveat is that each time you commit a crime, it must be worse than the last crime. He does not grant you immunity from the consequences of your actions. You get caught, you go down hard (though you can still shank people in prison to keep the streak alive, don’t forget). Do you steal, murder and – heaven forbid – GRAFFITI your way to the cup?—Fat Fartin

Fat Fartin realized too late he left open trivial increases in degree, so this is easy. I take no action in the regular season until the Leafs are realistically guaranteed to make the playoffs if they win out, but not otherwise; if they’re on track anyway, I leave them alone. Once they’re in the playoffs, I take no action until the Leafs are in a game where they can be eliminated; then and only then will I intervene.

As for the crimes, I just keep stealing increasingly trivial amounts and objects. Steal an object with a value of one cent. Steal an object with a value of two cents. And so on. Even if I couldn’t find items of each exact value, I’m pretty sure the Leafs are planning the parade before I rip off anything significant. I win at crimes.

Can someone own too many cheese graters? How many is too many? Asking for a friend.—Fat Fartin

Six is too many, and in your heart, I think you know that.

Let’s say Mirtle’s speculation about the cap going up next year is right, and the cap ceiling rises to $80-$82 million. How do you make use of the greater flexibility to make the team into a more serious contender? Also, how insane do you think other teams will behave in free agency as a result of the higher than expected cap next year (and maybe in the next few years)?

On a totally unrelated note, what do you plan on doing during the upcoming lockout season?—Brigstew

The biggest decisions, IMO, that the Leafs have to address by next year are: whether or not to extend JVR, replacing Tyler Bozak, extending William Nylander, and upgrading at RHD. If the cap has an additional $7M on top of it, the Leafs have some hope of doing these things at a competent level: ideally, I would retain JVR, replace Bozak with Lars Eller, extend William as cheaply as possible, and sign John Carlson (who I clearly have eyes for, since he’s about the only RHD that would really help.) The specific mechanics of this get tricky, but it gets a lot more possible if there’s a big cap bump.

Next lockout I’m going to get really, really into darts.

What’s one game you’ll always remember going to, one game you regret not going to, and one game that you wish you could have gone to?—clrkaitken

  1. Dave Andreychuk’s last game in Toronto, which was coincidentally also the original Jets’ last game in Toronto, and which was my first Leaf game as a kid. It was a 3-3 tie and I thought it was the most exciting thing in the world.
  2. I’d never have shelled out the money involved, but Game 3 in the first round last playoffs would have been a hell of a thing to be at. I’d love to go to a Leaf playoff game at some point.
  3. 2010 Men’s Olympic Hockey Final. No sporting event in my lifetime compares, as far as I’m concerned. That was it.

Furby or Tribble?—spoonie

I had to look this up. Regarding Tribbles:

Nonetheless, if their population growth is left unchecked they can rapidly multiply and devastate entire ecosystems on a planetary scale.

That sounds bad! I’m taking a Furby.

The first episode of the Star Trek Discovery featured the incident which caused the Klingons and Federation to go to war. There were mentions of several ships that participated in the first battle, the Battle of the Binary Stars. Some ships were named in reference to Star Trek lore like USS Shran (Andorian), and USS T’Plana-Hath (Vulcan). Some were named after famous Humans: USS Earhart, USS Ride, USS Yaegar, USS Edison.

Imagine that you are a 23rd century Starfleet Admiral, and a fan of the Maple Leafs (who win their 200th Stanley Cup that season against the Andorian Kumari in the final). You want to name the ship after a famous 21st century Maple Leaf. Who would it be?—Species 1967

NIKOLAI KULEMIN! If the next decade goes as well as we hope, I think most of the period from 2005-2013 is going to be forgotten as a dark blur only slightly illuminated by Phil Kessel. And that would be sad. It’s mostly sad because our team was awful, but also, because there were good times, and damn it, I think a hardworking winger should get his due once in a while for giving us brief moments of happiness. The USS Kulemin may not be flashy, but by God it’ll do its best.

What is the best and worst Disney animated movie?—Mr Smithy

For fairness I’m only including Disney movies I’ve personally seen. The best one, IMO, is The Emperor’s New Groove, which is legitimately hilarious. Seriously, I recommend this even if you don’t have to use it to entertain your kids so you get one goddamned moment of peace. But it works for that, too, I’m told.

For worst: I’m sure the real answer is some awful one they made in 1953 that had songs about how great human trafficking was or some shit, but I agree with one of the answers suggested in the replies: Bambi sucks. The only memorable part of it is the tragic death of a doe and then the rest of it is just dull.

One day the powers that be in the NHL go absolutely insane. They announce that the salary cap will be doubled and everybody’s NHL contracts are terminated and every team now has to re-sign a team from scratch. This means that all the league’s top players are essentially UFA’s with twice as much cap room to play with.

What are the new (or maybe not) teams for the league’s top players and what sort of contracts are we looking at here?—Exit Steve Left

I hate to do this because this is a legitimately cool question, but I think there’s much less player movement than you might expect in a lot of cases, and most players stay where they are. The biggest impacts would be that you would run multiple teams—Arizona, Florida, Carolina, maybe a couple of others—right out of competitive existence, since they can barely maintain solvency in the current league. So you might expect new teams for Barkov, OEL, Skinner etc. But I suspect inertia would go a long way in a lot of cases...

...except Toronto and the Rangers are going to bid the moon on pretty much everybody. For funskies, I’m going to say the Leafs pick up OEL and Tavares, while the Rangers take Barkov and Skinner. Psyched for the East final, guys.

As a consequence of accepting the offer of Fat Fartin’s genie, you are arrested for conspiracy to commit public nudity, grand theft carnitas, barratry, and running an illicit cat gif mill. The judge rules that your punishment will be the transfer of Auston Matthews from the Toronto Maple Leafs to another NHL team of your choosing. What team do you choose?—I Am Rad Boss

You wound me, Rad. Really you do. I will say Nashville. He’s in the west, so we don’t have to see him that much, and I want PK to win a Cup. If we have to be sad, at least we can also make the Habs sad.

If Lou retires after this season, who do you want to see as GM?—I Am Rad Boss

Kyle Dubas. I am in favour of a certain amount of continuity here and there’s no external hire that jumps out as me as someone I’m desperate to take. I’m not sure about Dubas’ capacity as a negotiator, but he’s a sharp cookie and he’s been in the rooms. I think he can lead the team to glory.

I believe the max cap hit that can be completely buried in the minors is 950k (I could be wrong). Let’s assume the Leafs want to sign a 35+ contract this off season and the expected price and term is $2M x 2 years and the player is expected to retire once the deal expires. Why not offer 7 years x 950k instead? After years 1 and 2 just shuffle the player to the AHL and let him "retire". Team gets a lower cap hit, player gets more money.

Obviously this would only work in extreme scenarios where the player is not looking beyond this final contract, and I assume the NHL would be wicked pissed if something like this was attempted.

I haven’t really thought this through all the way, but that’s the gist of my cap circumventing idea. Thoughts?—thistypeofthinking

I’m afraid the league has got there ahead of you on this one. You would be on the hook for the whole cap hit for the duration of the deal, less a mere $100,000 if the player were buried, as per 50.1(c)(iv). The league got pretty good at shutting off cap circumvention in this CBA, after the debacles with the last one; exploiting LTIR is the big avenue right now.

I know there aren't many untouchable players in the NHL. But if you had to pick the 5 most untouchable Leafs right now, who would they be? Conversely, who are the 5 most "touchable" if you will?—Blind Eye Ty

I’m reading “untouchable” as “the least likely to be on another team in one year.” In which case: Auston Matthews, Frederik Andersen, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, William Nylander. No real surprises here; this is pretty much the core of the team.

For the most “touchable”, the easy choices amongst roster players are the expiring guys of low value: Roman Polak, Dominic Moore, Curtis McElhinney, Josh Leivo, and Leo Komarov. You could tell me literally all of those guys will be gone by next season and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Top 5 Sodas.

This includes any and all carbonated drinks.

Try not to diabetes.—The Gardiner Expressway

I’m assuming this wasn’t supposed to have beer in it, since you did still title it sodas. Here we go:

  1. Dr. Pepper
  2. Cherry Pepsi
  3. Code Red
  4. Mountain Dew
  5. NOS

I am maximally bro in my soda tastes. Also, I fear I may diabetes if I do this a lot.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!