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Mailbag: I Am The King Of Hockey/Dogs Wearing Pants

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All that and much more in this week’s mailbag.

The 600th Anniversary Of The Battle Of Agincourt Is Commemorated At Westminster Abbey Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

Why does smiley, happy go lucky Reimer want to see leaf fans continue to suffer so much?—jeffgm

I blame this blog.

What is the Leafs dream 4th line C?—smalltownbringdown

John Tavares!

Okay, if I’m dreaming only so far as to include actual bottom-six centres we might actually attain: Marcus Kruger. I laid out my theory of why and how here.

Short version: Kruger fits our cap, is youngish, checks the Babcock boxes for faceoffs and PK, and has extensive experience taking terrible minutes in order to free up offensive lines. Between Kruger and Kadri, I think you could give a third line centred by Bozak—or William Nylander—an absolute feather bed of usage. You can ask Artemi Panarin how nicely that works out.

Boxers or briefs?

Boxers.

Assuming Kadri, JVR, Brown are protected what other four forwards do you protect from (Bozak, Komarov, Martin, Holland, Froese, Smith, Leivo, Rychel, Leipsic, etc)?—jeffgm

Bozak, Leivo, Leipsic, Komarov.

Bozak I don’t think you give up until you’re sure William Nylander can take his job. Even if you are, I think Bozak should have some actual trade value this summer, considering he’s a possession positive and he’s on pace for 55 points (!). My opinion on Bozak has shifted somewhat—I thought Nylander would have displaced him by now, to be honest—but even if you don’t like him, losing him for nothing is a waste.

I half-expect Leivo to be traded, possibly by the time this article goes up. But he’s showing signs of being a cheap and useful depth winger, which is nice to have. Leipsic is one of the best prospects not on the big team, and he plays LW, which is the weaker wing for the franchise.

The last spot was the one I had trouble with, and it’s a toss-up between Komarov and Kerby Rychel (both also LWs). Ultimately I’m not totally persuaded about Rychel as an NHLer, and I think Komarov brings some useful elements to the Leafs that they otherwise lack, as a physical, defensive winger who isn’t a total nullity on offence. I also think Komarov might be at some point tradeable, which would be nice. So edge to Koma. (Maybe I’m just sentimental; I love Leo.)

This isn’t what I think the Leafs will do. I don’t think they signed Matt Martin to a four-year deal in order to expose him. But it’s my best shot.

Who on the leaf management was the biggest supporter to sign Polak this off season – the coach or front office?—jeffgm

I’m sure everyone was agreeable, but the coach. Aside: Mike Babcock’s interviews are worth reading every now and then. Aside from getting off the odd great line, you get some genuine insight into his thinking For example, Babcock’s high valuation of Zach Hyman and Nikita Soshnikov, and his mixed feelings on Josh Leivo, were both telegraphed in quotes prior to this season, and both have been borne out in lineup choices.

Anyway, if you read Babcock from last year, he regularly lauds three veterans as being good citizens: Leo Komarov, Matt Hunwick, and Roman Polak. You can find a few here, for example. “He’s mean, he’s a man, he comes to play every night” is heady praise from Babs, and another quote—”we don’t have enough [competitive players] now”—suggest Polak is perceived to bring some moral qualities to the Leafs that they need. So I think Babs liked him a lot.

What do you think are the chances that leafs brass move out expiring UFAs (Polak, Hunwick, Smith, McElhinney) or others to acquire assets?—jeffgm

I’m just going to wait until right before this is published and see if anyone has moved.

But, okay, tentatively: I don’t think they’re going to move any of those guys. Babcock relies on them, and Connor Carrick just got injured, which probably makes the Leafs reluctant to drop a RHD. Trading guys who have been waived is slightly fraught, which makes an issue for Smith or McE—even assuming either had trade value anyway.

If the Leafs trade someone, my guess is Leivo or Corrado. But who knows?

What is the best drinking game to use when watching the Leafs that can get you good and drunk without causing death or alcohol poisoning?—brigstew

Sip every time the broadcast mentions Kadri. He’s critical to the team so he comes up, but he’s less talked about than the holy rookies.

There’s been some talk about Rick Nash being traded to Pittsburgh to play on a line with Kessel and 87 to form a "Crosby, Skills, and Nash" line. In this same vein of thought…

What is the best* team you can assemble with 4 offensive pun-lines?

*best in terms of pun-quality, not playing quality, although bonus points are awarded for having a lovely pun and a skilled line.—ironic username

All of these are very stupid, but they made me laugh, so here they are.

Copp - Toews - Brodin (Don’t Toews Me Bro’)

Erne - Winnik - Fehr (Erne, Win’ and Fire)

Drew Miller - J.T. Miller - Colin Miller (All Miller No Filler)

Johnson - Pulkinnen - Hyman (Yeahhhh)

Should the NHL swap to a three point system for all games? 3 for regulation win, 2 for OT or SO, and 1 for losing in OT or SO? This way you lose a valuable point in a parity filled league so there should be a push to gun for a win.—DanOfTheNorth

I don’t hate it, and virtually everyone seems to agree with you except me. But I’m fine with the current system because I hate the idea that once you get to OT you’re playing for a crap win. I like overtime and I like it to be meaningful. Think of that Leafs-Jets game we just had--I was damn near euphoric we won, and it would have been something of a let down if it had only been two-thirds of a real win. Have one contest to award two points, and a follow-up contest skewed to produce a result to award a bonus point.

Should the NHL change up the minor penalty rule? Serve the full two minutes be it one, two, or ten goals scored.—DanOfTheNorth

I think the refs should call the rulebook more aggressively and consistently for certain things, particularly cross-checks, which are called with all the consistency of a Magic 8 Ball. But to be honest I think one goal is devastating enough for one infraction in today’s NHL, where the average game ends 3-2.

This offseason, what do you do about Bozak and JVR. Move them before they head into their last year of their deals, wait and see, or something else.—Arvind

I wouldn’t want to commit to moving either without knowing the return. But: shop JVR hard the last week of June. Bozak you move if you think Nylander can take his job for 2017-18, as mentioned above; you can wait for the TDL if you’re not sure. I would be willing to risk hanging onto Bozak a little while depending on Ny’s development.

I don’t hate the idea of keeping either player, and I think both of them have become weirdly undervalued by some Toronto fans, who seem to think 30-goal scorers and 50-point Cs grow on trees. But JVR’s extension is probably not going to be manageable and Bozak is going to end his prime very soon.

Why does the Department of Player Safety alway seem to be (at least in my eyes) wrong with every punishment handed down? Is it the personnel involved? Pressure from the NHLPA? The old boys club flexing its muscles?—Bruceki

In one sentence: Teams do not want high-value players suspended.

Exempting automatic suspensions (like David Clarkson’s for leaving the bench to fight, or Dennis Wideman’s abuse of official incident), here are all the players who have been suspended longer than six games for on-ice incidents since the 2012 lockout.

  • Raffi Torres
  • Zack Kassian
  • Zac Rinaldo
  • Patrick Kaleta
  • John Scott
  • Shawn Thornton
  • Matt Cooke
  • Daniel Carcillo

You may notice that all of these players are either enforcers or agitators. The only ones who ever might have been considered skilled are Torres and Cooke; even then, they cleared 40 points one time between them (Torres hit 41 in 2005-06), they were washed up by the time of our sample, and they’re probably the two worst offenders, with long track records of vicious play. For the most part, these guys are depth that goes out to cause trouble. The league has absolutely no problem suspending these guys for long periods.

But the league does not like its skill players out. Gustav Nyquist getting six games was actually unusually severe for a player like him, although considering he nearly gouged Jared Spurgeon’s eye out on purpose, it was still pretty weak. You might say that the enforcers and the rats are more likely to be repeat offenders, which is true—but the league has been similarly reluctant to bring the hammer down on players like Radko Gudas, James Neal, Brad Marchand, and (I know) Nazem Kadri. Because they’re skilled. Skill players swing games and lead teams.

Brendan Shanahan made a very strong effort towards changing things in 2011-12, laying down heavy suspensions on players like James Wisniewski and Brendan Smith, and it seems fairly clear the league collectively decided it didn’t want that, because after that year our “skill-players-never-clear-six” rule came into play. If you’d like another angle on the softening of justice, here are the numbers of suspensions by full season since then:

2011-12: 57

2013-14: 47

2014-15: 31

2015-16: 40

The DOPS has gone weak again because the league wanted it so.

Is there a point at which the Leafs first round pick this year becomes more valuable as trade currency than as a drafted guy? If so at what number or range of numbers in the order does that happen?

Assume the trade is made for a valuable player the Leafs can slot into the lineup now in an average quality sort of deal.—KatyaKnappe

I ought to note the ideal time to trade it is when the other party thinks your pick will be higher than it is. But assuming both sides know where the pick is going to be: 16th.

The Leafs should be aiming to contend for a Stanley Cup by the 2018-19 season (the last year of Matthews’ and Marners’ ELCs.) It is unlikely whoever’s picked at that point is going to be playing in the NHL by the end of 2018-19, much less an elite contributor, which means acquiring a current NHLer is already highly valuable. Put another way: you want to maximize your teams wins in years where you’re very good (and go for a Cup), and you should trade wins in years where you’re not as good (because they aren’t going to help you.) 2018-19 is a maximize year.

16th means the pick is not in the draft lottery, and it’s probably overvalued in general anyway since most GMs don’t seem to pay close enough attention to the draft value chart. So that’s where I’m putting it.

What does the phrase "stick to sports" mean to you? PPP has been swimming in these waters for a while, but the phrase has gotten a lot of attention lately.—Achariya

Usually it’s used as a paraphrase for “shut up, I don’t want to talk about this.” It’s dumb. Sports runs very regularly into all sorts of real-life, tough questions, and cutting your brain into quarters to avoid thinking about them is a stance, too. It’s just a cowardly one.

Regarding athletes, I think they’re free people who should talk about whatever they want. For PPP: our focus should be hockey, and hockey should be the touchstone for what we write about. And it is! But when hockey, or the Leafs, or whatever else runs into the real world, retreating from that isn’t sticking to sports so much as sticking to wilful blindness.

Short version: we do stick to sports. We just don’t chicken out from following them wherever they go.

In a bloody coup, you become the Dictator of Hockey Broadcasting across the entire world.

What changes do you make to hockey broadcasting according to your whims and vendettas?—brigstew

  • The following things are henceforth banned from discussion on air: home/road splits for powerplay and penalty kill; single-game individual faceoff stats; the stats of a team when a particular player scores or does not score; plus-minus.
  • Each intermission, an analyst must break down a play from the previous period, explain what each of the players is supposed to be doing, and how this play either went or didn’t go according to plan. Analysts don’t have to make sarcastic references to what the F3 is doing on a kick out play, but it is strongly encouraged.
  • The league analysts must report one GM they think is doing a bad job and why. Picking the Florida Panthers every week is against the rules. Picking Vancouver every week is too easy.
  • Hallway intermission interviews are banned.
  • TSN can never talk about trading William Nylander again. Ever. I don’t care if he actually is traded. They aren’t allowed to say a goddamn thing.
  • Tim and Sid are fired.
  • Don Cherry is fired and, ideally, is retroactively fired back in 1986 via a time machine.
  • Dave Poulin is fired, but with a reference letter to help push him in the direction of the Ottawa Senators.
  • And finally, Scotiabank is allowed one commercial spot per fucking game.

If you had control over the NHL for a day, what changes would you make?—munniec

If I have total control?

  • New CBA extension
  • Salary cap replaced with a luxury tax model
  • Standardized, and longer, suspensions
  • Larger nets
  • Revision of the distinct-kicking-motion rule to “all intentional kick-ins are legal if the skate blade keeps contact with the ice throughout the motion”
  • Playoff structure revised to 1-16 seeding

I assume I would be fired and probably executed, but at least maybe they’d keep the damn kicking rule.

—ExitSteveLeft

You can debate the purpose of pants, but I think almost everyone would agree that a minimum requirement is that the pants cover the ass and genitalia of the person wearing them. Part of the conflict around the question is that we have to take it for granted that a dog is wearing pants, even though dogs are not known to particularly care about this central pant goal.

However, I think in this case it’s legitimate to assume that a dog is wearing pants to serve the purpose of pants, and not for some merely ornamental purpose (otherwise, of course, the dog can wear whatever clothing s/he believes to be fashionable.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but the first option is not going to cover that dog’s asshole. Second option wins.

Is $500 worth of video game pre-orders too many to have? They are spread out over a period of four months.—SuperMaurice

As a wise person once said, find something you love and let it bankrupt you.

More seriously, I do get the appeal of pre-orders. It’s fun to have stuff to look forward to, although as I learned long ago buying second-rate JRPGs, the anticipation prior to playing the game is sometimes more fun than the game itself. You just have to be conscious you’re paying for the excitement of looking forward to something. Only you can decide at one point that outweighs the potential for disappointment.

What does Polak have on Babcock that he never gets scratched?—SuperMaurice

Polak is in the lineup due to four things.

  • General good example
  • Penalty-killing
  • Physicality and conservatism the Leafs’ D is perceived to lack
  • No one has clearly stolen the job from him

While I think Babs overrates Polak, I don’t think he’d be playing him over anyone he was sure was better, and he plays Polak as a clear 6D when he can. If Marchenko can impress, I don’t think it’s out of the question he could displace RP. Corrado never did.

(Madrush decided to ask me five questions based on the ad articles appearing at the bottom of an FTB. As always, I am committed to answering.)

What are the 10 things you can’t (or won’t) say to a Canadian?—madrush

  1. Y’all complain about the cold a lot considering 90% of you live within 160km of the U.S. border.
  2. Poutine is just three bad ideas in a pile.
  3. Do you ever consider that your pacifist little brother routine is made possible by having exactly one superpowered neighbour whose existence mostly obviates your need for self-defence?
  4. Why does the CBC produce so many bad comedy shows? I did see one funny one lately, but it still didn’t make sense for the Amish to be selling cocaine.
  5. If hockey actually ever became as popular in the U.S. as it is in Canada, you’d never win a gold medal again.
  6. The only reason anyone can name your prime minister is because he’s pretty.
  7. You’re not bilingual. None of the Anglophones are. Be honest. You can ask for where the bathroom is thanks to Grade 9 French. That’s it.
  8. You manage to export all of your worst musical talent.
  9. Winnipeg is proof that hell doesn’t have to be hot.
  10. Say “about.” Say it again! Hahaha no, nothing’s funny, just say it one more ti—hahahahaha

In your view, what are the most wonderful (but mostly weird) Canadian town names?—madrush

I was going to try to answer this myself, but honestly, this list has it covered. Underrated point in this list: there is a place called Ass Rock.

Where will Tony Romo play in 2017, and does your opinion differ from Vegas bookmakers?—madrush

Dallas, I guess? Football is dumb.

What is the new technology the Warriors are using to reclaim the NBA title?—madrush

It’s called money. They gave a bunch of it to Kevin Durant.

What are the Absolute Worst Career Ending Injuries in Sports that you are aware of?

Depends on your definition of “absolute worst.” It’s either dumbest or most severe.

Remember when Joe Sakic got a career-ending injury futzing around with a snowblower? That’s one of the dumbest.

Regarding the second thing, a bunch of boxers have died in the ring, so....there’s that.

How much would Gretzky get for his California Home were he to sell it?—Madrush

Market value. 8-)

Thoughts on the English soccer goalie who was fired for eating a pie against Arsenal? Juicy context —DanRose

I hate to do this because I am normally all in favour of ridiculous shit in sports. But I think leagues are justified in taking a hard line against players acting to satisfy bets during games. I know this is kind of a Caesar’s wife standard, but it’s a bad connection to allow given the damage outright corruption does to the integrity of the game.

I hope he enjoyed his pie, though.

Which of these non-human Star Trek species would make be best asset for a hockey team?

Klingons: stronger and heal faster than humans, but would probably take a lot of penalties

Betazoids: telepathy

Vulcans: stronger, though not faster than humans, no emotions

Romulans: paranoid and cunning

Cardassians: accustomed to a structured and authoritarian society, will obey all instructions, sometimes to a fault

Ferengi: shorter and weaker than humans, but with extraordinarily good hearing

Since there are six races, assign one to each of these six positions:

GM

Coach

Goalie

Defence

Forward – Top line

Forward – Fourth line

—Species 1967

This is the most sophisticated Trek question yet. Whew.

Starting point is that the Ferengi appear to be unplayable in the lineup. Don’t think their hearing can compensate for their physical frailty. If we interpret hearing in a slightly more metaphorical sense, in terms of being well connected and aware, I think a Ferengi could make an excellent GM. Ferengi front office it is.

Next up: where do the Cardassians go? Rigid authoritarianism has gone out of fashion in NHL coaching. I think they’re better suited for the fourth line: they’re going to go out there and play a workmanlike, well-coached game. You want to be able to trust your fourth line to play their positions steadily.

Klingons are our stud defenders. I don’t love the penalty issue, but big, tough defenders are still useful in this NHL. We’re going to have a belligerent group. L.A. Kings-style.

Romulans lead our top line. Paranoid and cunning sounds to me like the kind of think-the-game-better style that’s useful in a skill forward. He’s ready for that body check you’re planning to throw, and he’s already figured out how to get the puck to the net front. Cerebral up front, physical in the back: that’s our squad.

I want a Vulcan coach. You may object that coaches should have some capacity for emotional inspiration. But our coach will also be relentlessly fair and determined to construct the best lineup on the merits. In a way, I think this might be encouraging to the players: Coach Spock might not be rah-rah-rah all the time, but you know he’s always doing what’s best for the team.

And, finally, we have a Betazoid goalie. Hard to beat a goalie who knows what you’re going to do every time—or who can flood you with an inexorable desire to dump the puck when you have a rush. Tbh I think a good Betazoid goalie trumps everything.

What would be the best line-up of Pokemon to play hockey?—munniec

Now this is the kind of nerdery I’m familiar with.

LW: Machamp. Stronger than anything for the forecheck; you’re never going to win a corner battle against Machamp. Another key feature is that he has four arms: two on the stick, two fending off opposition. No one will ever get the puck from him.

C: Alakazam. You want a playmaker? Our playmaker has an IQ of 5000 and can move the puck with its mind. I’ll show you a damn playmaker.

RW: Gengar. You can’t check our RW because it’s literally a ghost. Will also eat your dreams, which really wears down the opponent in a playoff series.

LD: Dragonite. I’m reading in a little here, but I assume Hyper Beam means it can really rifle one from the point. Also it’s a gigantic dragon. Only problem is it’s weak to Ice, so it’d better not fall over.

RD: Lapras. Rock solid defensively, and strong on Ice. Good defenders cover for their partners’ weaknesses. (Related point: this one was Arvind’s idea.)

G: Muk. Muk is an infinitely flexible amorphous blob of sludge. This means it can a) never be handcuffed by a shot and b) never give up a rebound, since it’ll just absorb the puck. Opposing forwards will also be reluctant to approach our net due to the stench.

How many Cabinet Ministers and webmasters have you blackmailed on your rise to blogging stardom?—scrambles

Let’s just say neither Health Canada nor pets.com will be giving me trouble anytime soon.

In your ideal world, who is the Leafs’ backup goaltender during the 2017-18 season? And will this individual be the Leafs’ backup short-term or long(er)-term?—stucky2

I’d like to try Michal Neuvirth. He’s had an absolutely brutal season but he’s historically been quite a decent goalie, and he’s just about to turn 29, so he’s probably not totally falling off a cliff yet.

Given his age Neuvirth might be the Leafs’ backup for a few years were it to work out, but I don’t think you should ever get too attached to your backup unless you see him as your future starter. In the circumstances, I don’t see us getting anyone like that, so short-term.

Can you recommend a good Leafs blog?—emjaymj

Leaf blogs are bad and the people who write for them are bad.

What player will be the first to 500 points first – Matthews, Marner, Nylander or the current leaf point leader Bozak?—jeffgm

This is actually pretty tricky. If he scores at his career rate and plays full years, Bozak would hit 500 points about three and half seasons after this one. However, Bozak is also about to turn 31, and there’s no guarantee he’ll keep playing with the superlative wingers he’s had so far.

I’m going to assume Matthews is the highest-scoring of the three amigos, though that’s not a guarantee. Somewhat hilariously: if Bozak scores at 35 points per year from here on out, and Matthews scores at 82, they will hit 500 points at around the same time.

I’m going to give the narrow edge to Bozak. Maybe it’s too optimistic in his ability to fight Father Time, but he’s been a 50-point player (okay, 49) for most of his career, and going point a game consistently (as Matthews would have to) is bloody difficult to do. I think Bozak holds off decline just long enough to take this one.

Two stats routinely collected that I hardly ever hear talked about are Giveaways and Takeaways. If they mean what they seem to on face value however, I would have thought they were an excellent insight into players’ skill sets. Why does no one talk about them? Bonus points if your response includes an uploaded video of your thoughts expressed in interpretive dance.—KiwiLeaf

Tragically, my video failed to upload, so I will have to explain my dance maneuvers parenthetically.

Two big problems. [elaborate gesture raising two figures]

  1. Arena bias. [miming a house, then making a thumbs down]
  2. Puck carrier bias [raises hand as if holding a basket]

Arena bias is the tendency of some arena scorekeepers to count giveaways and takeaways much more generously than others. For example [spreading hands], the Leafs have five [raises five fingers] of the top 40 [raises 40 fingers] players in the NHL in home takeaways—Matthews [puts hand over heart], Kadri [sly wink], Marner [skipping gleefully], Nylander [runs hand through hair], and Bozak [shrug.] However, on the road [indicates hands on steering wheel], Kadri and Bozak fall entirely out of the top 40 [sad face] and Matthews drops from 7th to 29th. The ACC scorers tend to give our guys a bit of a “home cooking” boost that they don’t seem to be getting elsewhere.

[elaborate three-minute routine preparing a meal in a kitchen]

Why don’t we just use road takeaways then, since the bias should wash out for an apples-to-apples comparison? [mimes walking through an orchard evaluating various apples]. That’s the second problem. Giveaways in particular punish players—especially defencemen—who have the puck more. The Leaf d-men with the most giveaways are, by a huge margin, Rielly [draws letter C on chest] and Gardiner [dances awkwardly]. The regular d-man with the least is Roman Polak [rubber duck hat.] This seems to correlate pretty clearly with how often each player has the puck. [draws graph with the power of feelings]

Road-takeaways-per-60-for-forwards might generate some limited useful value [holds thumb and forefinger an inch apart]. Even then, the stats aren’t clearly defined and can be prone to noise [covers ears]. Worse, they make Mark Stone look really good, and he’s an Ottawa Senator [vomits.]

I’ve been completely preoccupied by fascism this season. What’s going on with this team? What should I be happy about? What should I feel bad for missing out on? What should I be worried about?—Ghost of Bohonos

The Leafs are a superb offensive team, easily the best since the Quinn years, and they are the most exciting Leafs team to watch that I can remember. Matthews, Marner, and Nylander have all been even better than expected, as has the team as a whole. Each of the three of them has done things at various points that are stand-up-out-of-your-chair great. Also worth noting: Nazem Kadri has become an elite two-way centre, and he may very well score 30 goals this year while playing a shutdown role. Goddamn. This is the stuff you’ve missed, but don’t feel bad, there’s time.

Worryingly: our defence is as porous as our offence is potent. We allow a billion chances a game and virtually all of our defenders are being played one pair higher than they’re ready for except Jake Gardiner. Things can get ugly when Gardiner’s having an off night, because we need him to be good. Andersen has ridden a roller coaster from Vezina-worthy to harshly exposed, and no one knows where he’ll end up. His backup, Curtis McElhinney, has had a great year for save percentage...which is totally at odds with his career. If you don’t think he suddenly got way better at age 33, you can worry about him.

Bigger picture worries: Boston and Florida were both supposed to be good this year, but started weakly, which opened the door for us to run at a playoff spot. We’re in one now, but the Bruins and Panthers (and even the Lightning) are recovering and coming for us. Going to be a tight finish.

Did you actually solemnise the marriage with SuperMaurice? Do I need to start buying extra anniversary gifts?—GhostofBohonos

I have integrated SuperMaurice into a “B” marriage, or trial marriage, where the other parties can evaluate your collective bond for chemistry. Grade fairly and honestly.

Over under on how many mouth guards JVR goes through in a season.—ChuckDiesel

Same as for his point total, 59.5. Species says every time he chews through one he scores. Although—[narrows eyes]—wait a minute—

Thank you to everyone who contributed!