FanPost

Let's Go Rando, Leaf Fans.


Let’s go rando.

1st Up. Leaf wingers. I don't love the way how the game is played [and reffed] changes during the playoffs, but facts are facts: Come the playoffs, you need some players who are gonna score in tight. Now,we’ve got two magically high-end wingers in Nylander and Marner, and if anyone can open the ice up through skill alone, it’s them.

But Babcock and Shanahan and Lou aren't going another year without having some big damage-dealing Wingers to block the goalie's sight-lines…. to tie up Defencemen… to knock in rebounds… and generally cause havoc in front. "Heavy" guys in Babcock's terms.

Already this year, you could see Babcock trying to deploy various players to take on that Big Winger role. Like using Leo on the Powerplay. Or trying Boyle out front. Or talking up how JVR was playing "heavier."

But it’s not there. Really, it’s not.

There’s no Johan Franzen or Claude Lemieux or Brendan Shanahan or Tomas Holmstrom there. And the Leaf hierarchy know it. They've all won Cups, and they've all won them with Big Wingers JUST. LIKE. THAT. on their rosters.

ADMIT IT, LEAF FANS. WOULDN'T YOU LOVE TO SEE SOME BIG OLE FAT-ASSED LEAF WINGER STICKING HIS BUTT UP IN CAREY PRICE'S MUG?

YOU KNOW YOU WOULD.

EXHIBIT #1 -> HOLMSTROM'S BACK END.

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Let's look at the Leafs main INTERNAL candidates.

1. Hyman has no hands. Plus, he isn't a good OFFENSIVE body in terms of his net-front play. Now, before anybody freaks out, just pause and ask this question.

If Hyman DID have the hands, or even DID have the net-front presence, don’t you think Babcock would have put him out on the powerplay?

Sure he would.

Because Leo - God love him - clearly wasn't up to the job. Neither the hands nor the size. But Babcock so wanted such a presence, that he used Leo there, a lot, through the season.

2. And with JVR... well, the thing is, Babs keeps talking about him as "learning" to play heavy, or "getting better" at playing heavy. Which is what you say about a guy who ISN'T the heavy Winger you need him to be.

[DEAR DIARY. AT THIS POINT IN THE BLOG, I CANNOT BELIEVE HOW POLITE I AM BEING. WHY AM I EVEN DISCUSSING HYMAN OR JVR AS A HEAVY NET-FRONT PRESENCE? AM I SOME KIND OF MORON?

MAYBE I SHOULD POLL ON THIS.

YES. THAT SOUNDS LIKE A SOLID IDEA.]

3. And Brown and Leivo and Sosh don't even come into the "heavy Winger" conversation with Babcock. So they're not the answer.

4. Now, some people are wondering about the fact that Matthews himself is a big boy with a good net front presence and hands. And surprisingly, Kadri has even grown to where he can play that role a bit.

Thing is... you do not want those high-end talent, $5-$10 million guys having to do that job all day. Players who hang out net front take awful beatings across the back, and it often ends careers. You want some moose, or mule, who can handle it. In fact, you want a couple of them on the roster, and - because even those guys are gonna get hurt - you want a half-dozen more, always developing, in the minors.

Heavy guys.

And that's not just guys who are high-energy in the corners - because Sosh and Hyman and Brown and Komarov are all that - but guys who can also take it out front and cause trouble for opposing goalies, and handle the 220-230-240 pounders other teams seem to keep around on Defence. The Chara, Weber and Hedman brigade, plus the dozens of lesser skilled guys who do nothing but move people from the front of the net, the hard [and often illegal] way.

So where do the Leafs turn? They‘ve got a dozen kids they’ve drafted or brought in in trade, and some of them maybe get a chance in the years to come. The big Russian kids they drafted maybe someday get a spin, the Korshkov-Chebykin-Bobylov-Korostelev brigade - but they’re not ready next year. And Kappy and Bracco and Timashov and Johnsson and Engvall inhabit the skilled end of the spectrum, so no help there.

Which leaves us with Rychel, who isn’t quiiiiiite setting the world on fire.. and our two up and coming young rodents, Grundstrom, and Leipsic. I’d predict one of those two new rats moves in next year, but perhaps only part-way through the year... triggered by whenever one of Leo or Hyman exits.

But while the kids are developing, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see the Leafs bring in not just for a Top Defenceman, but... a Big Winger.

Been saying this all year, but if the Leafs behind to feel they're ready, they're gonna look for a talented big body for the Wing. Maybe two. Not sure which line they'll slot in on, or how people shuffle, but he or they will be capable of playing the Powerplay, and of going out there when you’re down a goal late. And while we all have candidate names from the NHL [Wayne Simmonds, come on down!], I've argued about 1001 times [to the point you're all tired of it] that...

Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock LOVE European and Russian players... they believe other teams undervalue those players... and they have fond memories of guys like Homer Holmstrom and Johan "the Mule" Franzen parked out front.

So the Leafs will try to air-lift the guys needed to fill this gap out of Europe. Because the Leafs weren't drafting big over-age Russian wingers last Summer as a lark. They consider that their hunting ground now. [And gee, Kovalchuk sure is big, eh? Although 34... and not sure how much net-front time he wants....]

FRANZEN'S FRONT END. NOT PRETTY NEITHER.

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2nd. Zaitsev and The Age Curve. This is one of those fabulous curves that aggregates everything in the world under it, that some people then seem to interpret as though it's some Iron Law of Hockey History. Like this one concept is such goddamn solid ice that they can walk out on it and jump up and down and shout their opinion about Inevitably Aging Player X....

Except that, years from now, we’ll have broken that one great curve down into a dozen sub-factors. And today's great big lumpen-curve will be seen as old-timey and dumb, and we'll all be happier with the smart new analysis.

For example, do European players have the same age curve as North American kids? The question sounds stupid, except that European minor hockey may not play as many or as intensely physical games at an early age right? And they might be happier to develop young players to show their potential by, say, 21… rather that 18, as in North America. So maybe they peak later or have a more extended plateau to their game.

I donno. Do you?

Or, maybe we’ll find that players who are high-end skaters or don’t fight or who avoid hits stay on top of their game longer.

I donno on that one either.

And ok, sure, YES, Zaitsev is my case in point here. He comes in from Europe, and is still, even by season-end, obviously [to my eyes] sorting out how he wants to play, still unsure about how to use his skills offensively, for instance, but somehow he’s being nailed by the critics to The Age Curve, who all seem to have 100% confidence that he's just had his peak year, at 24 turning 25, the poor old goat.

And it's all, frankly, more than an age curve should be asked to support. [And no offence to DTM for the chart below, rather to those who perhaps "over-interpret" these things.]

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Here. Just as a double-check, let’s scan - for just a second - to see if we can think of any other smooth-skating, high-scoring Russian D-men who came over to the NHL.

Hmmm, nope.

Oh hai:

  • Sergei Gonchar. Peak scoring seasons age 28-32.
  • Andre Markov. Peak from age 29-36.
  • Slava Fetisov. Scored as much at age 37 as age 31.
  • Vladimir Konstantinov. Best seasons at age 27-28, before car accident.
  • Sergei Zubov. Huge performances from age 23-36.

HEY HO, SOME 40 YEAR OLD RUSSIAN DEFENCER GUY WITH A GOBLET. [LOOKIT THAT FACE. GUY'S PROBABLY NOT TOUGH ENOUGH, EH DON?]

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Now, NO... I’m not saying Zaitsev is quite as good as all these guys. But. He was a 1st team Russian All-Star, he’s a great skater and has quick quick hands, and over this past season his scoring rate trended up from 30 points to a 40 point/season rate.

So why do Zaitsev’s first 82 games on NHL-sized ice, playing the NHL kind of game mean he’s automatically shown us his peak? As though he's moved up the same curve as North American kids hitting the NHL at age 21, and who have hit the 300 game mark by now?

Now, to me, Zaitsev looks like… a really nice - in fact, almost ideal - 2nd pairing D-man. Right now, he doesn’t look like he’s got quite the physical oomph to handle the very best forwards coming at him, and not quite the confidence to move the puck out quickly and consistently enough to be a #1D.

But as a 2nd pairing guy who can play the powerplay, skate like hell, and get you 40 points? I’m good with that.

And.... a little voice inside says maybe Zaitsev hasn't shown us his peak quite yet.

3rd. Concussions. Or... "How about we all make a commitment to just be a little less certain about our hockey rants this Summer? [Especially since we claim to be more empirically-based and statistically savvy.]"

I gotta say - and this as a fairly cranky and opinionated guy, who doesn't mind cranky and opinionated discussions, i.e. "frank and open debate" - that there’s a metric shit-tonne of people out there these days who seem to be just

REAL. FUCKING. CERTAIN.

About all sorts of shit. And on a daily, hell, an hourly basis.

You know, like concussions.

Suddenly, we’re surrounded by hockey-savvy brain surgeons. Who knew? Anyway, THEY seem to know. They know PRECISELY how many concussions a player can have before they should retire, and PRECISELY how many hits a player can absorb before they lose the ability to speak.

Which is odd, given that… the docs are now telling us that micro-levels of brain damage are occurring, but at much lower levels of impact than a "concussion"... and that most players don’t really know how many "concussions" they’ve had… and so on.

Not sure why it's important to these folks to over-reach and make a play for that "Big Statement On Twitter."

And… [WARNING: fog of reverie closing in…] old-timey players often had a LOT of concussions. They got dinged, stunned, knocked out, whatever it was called, as they grew up. And nobody even really bothered counting them.

My doc made me count them one day, and I quit counting at 19. And I missed plenty. And yet... I played my best hockey after 16 concussions [thank you, Jofa, for your "3 bungee cords and a plastic cap" helmet concept], and even graduated from some pretty good schools in that time. And my friends weren’t much different. You’d get "dinged" playing all sorts of sports [lousy headgear, high sticks], in cars [lousy safety equipment], from outdoor work [woods, farm, construction, mills], fighting, etc.

With the headlights pointed at the dawn,
We were sure we'd never see an end to it all.

I'm not trying to downplay the importance of concussions here, because 20 years later, I slipped on some frozen stairs in the 'Peg, got Concussion #17, and had to work for two years with the lights off in my office because the pain/pressure was so bad.

My point is just... how about we all commit to keeping the debate a few feet back from the ledge over which the fucking know-it-alls keep trying to drag us? We want fewer concussions, and fewer bad ones, sure, great. And let's make the changes needed to get that.

But next guy who tells you, authoritatively, how the "next hit" on somebody [like Crosby] they're gonna turn into a drooling mass, how about we just... unfollow.

UN. FOLLOW.

It's a thing.


4th. You know who Nylander reminds me of?

Phil Kessel.


Which is kindof good news and bad news, eh? But same mix of high-end skills as Phil, just in slightly different proportions. With Phil, you notice the shot first... then the speed... and only after a while, just how good a playmaker he is.

With Nylander? The playmaking shines right off. But dear God, can that kid shoot a puck something fierce. I think because Matthews ended up being the one with 40 goals, some fans underestimate just how great a shot Nylander has... and how many goals he might end up scoring.

Because 22 goals... for a 20 year old... is pretty damn hot stuff.

How hot? Well, let's just say that Nylander's 22 goals were more than Phil was scoring at that age. Or JVR.

[still. kylie's hotter.][and don't argue with your elders.]

Nylander looks to me like he has 30 goals well within reach, and maybe if that line adds more muscle to tie up the front of the net, screen things a bit, maybe even 40. Because that shot is a frigging rocket already - and he’s gonna get stronger as he moves into his 20's. Add more muscle.

But then as soon as you notice how good his shot is, you have to turn around and remember…. 39 assists. You know how many Leaf forwards his age have had that many assists? Ever?

One. Mitch Marner.

These kids 'sploded history this year. But Nylander? Look. This kid could score 30... or 40. And assist on 40... or 50.

Wowza. That's thin air, way up there.

Kessel country.

And oh yeah. There's that one other similarity with Kessel. The one I wrote about back when Kessel left town. That kids like Nylander would be the next targets of the same anti-skill idiots who helped run Kessel out of town. And Frank Mahovlich. And others.

So when the goonie-birds gear up again this Summer on Nylander, and next season, and the next... let's make sure they get tamped firmly down and Nylander knows he's got some friends and admirers in town.


5th and 5inally. One of the smart things GMs can do is to trade guys whose stats they’ve just fattened up. By playing them more minutes on the PP, or with better linemates, or under easier circumstances.

So who we got?

Well, the obvious wingers who got lots of ice-time with high-end linemates were Leo and Hyman.

* Leo’s Leo, and I love him, and yes, he had to check like hell this year. But. He had Kadri for a center, and he got some serious PP minutes [almost as many as Nylander and JVR!], and Leo scooped 10 points from the PP alone. Also, he plays hard, and plays hurt, and he’s 30. So... we probably DO know Leo's exact peak abilities. Quality defence, PK, irritation, etc.

But scoring-wise, it's 15 goals and 35 points with PP minutes... or without, then maybe 10 goals + 25 points.

So the call is... if other teams will overpay, we DO have a tonne of wingers looking for minutes. And so, if you want to trade a player after you’ve fattened his stats, well… my old buddy Leo might well be prime trade bait.

* Hyman’s the other obvious candidate. I may have mentioned, in passing, that he never scored a goal using his stick after Christmas, and never once converted an Auston Matthews pass for a goal, and a couple of other minor points. But, you know, apparently there was that time he dumped the puck in and tied up a defenceman - a play many had never really seen before in hockey - and thus, is untouchable.

But. Look. Hyman is 25 years old already. [Age curve alert! Just 6 months younger than old man Zaitsev!] Plus, he played with Matthews and Nylander.

And still only got 28 points.

That’s fewer points than Leo, while playing with better scorers, and facing lesser opposition, and with 160 of Leo’s defensive end face-offs moved to the offensive end. But Hyman's reputation is sure as shit sky-high right now, and an old-timey grit-loving coach elsewhere might pay a pretty penny for him. Anyway, the other GM's have damn sure all heard of him.

But if the offers came, I’d look at moving both.

* The other possibilities to trade at their peak are Bozak and JVR. Yeah, their numbers looked good this year, but…. they got fed lots of PP minutes... never faced any PK minutes…. and faced weaker opposition than the big line… and they’re 28 and 31 years old. [Amazing to me why people aren't babbling about THESE guys and the age curve and their inevitable decline/collapse.]

Anyway. Sure, it all depends on what you can get for them. But to my eyes:

  • 4 of 4 of these guys got to play with top-end linemates….
  • 3 of the 4 got lots of PP minutes….
  • 4 of the 4 are age 25 or up… and,
  • 2 of the 4 faced weaker competition…

IF you can get someone to pay full freight for their "peak" performances this past year.

Fatten 'em up, and move 'em out, I say.

RANDO THOUGHTS IN SUM:

1. EURO WINGERS ARE GO.

2. ZAITSEV AIN'T SO OLD, MAYBE NOT PEAKED YET.

3. CONCUSSIONS NOT EASILY QUANTIFIED.

4. NYLANDER > KESSEL? [OH YEAH, I SAID IT.]

5. SELL 'EM WHILE THEY'RE HOT: LEO, HYMAN, BOZIE, JVR.

ROSE DOES GORDO. NO, REALLY. LISTEN GODDAMMIT.

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