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Mailbag: Leafs’ Defence and Saved By The Bell

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All that and more in this edition of the mailbag.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

“I’ll Take That Applause” by Protomartyr. The actual song starts at 27 seconds in the video below, but it works so well. (Plus it only has to go for about 45 seconds after there, so I don’t have to worry about Joe Casey’s more ambiguous lyrics in later verses.)

These are the Sens, so nothing is really off the table. But to be a truly Sens debacle, I believe certain essential components are required:

a) The disaster has to somehow stem from Eugene Melnyk not being willing to either spend money or employ competent people

b) The disaster has to be made worse by incompetent, narcissistic spin from the team

So my prediction is that the Sens will be chased out of their arena by an infestation of moths. Melnyk will insist that this was actually a planned renovation and that it is entirely normal for the Sens to play in a houseleague arena with an audience capacity of 135, which they will still fail to sell out. The Sens will also try to pass off their moth-eaten remnants of their uniforms as cool new alternate jerseys. These will still look better than most of their actual ones.

Honestly just do it. The Nylander thing is causing all of us untoward misery. I normally enjoy talking about the Leafs and now every conversation about this holdout makes me want to jump a bridge.

I have, to my knowledge, never watched a complete episode of Saved By The Bell. Some might say that making such a ranking based on vaguely remembered snippets and Wikipedia articles is therefore absurd. To those people I say, you’re right, but here we go anyway.

  1. Mr. Belding. He has the best catchphrase on the show, and in 90s television that was critical because you were going to hear that catchphrase all the fucking time. There’s something about the perplexed desperation of “What is going on here?” that speaks to me emotionally.

2. Jessie Spano. Apparently she is both woke and neurotic. I approve. Also, Elizabeth Berkley’s publicist definitely wrote her Wikipedia page:

In 2008, Berkley signed on to star in a multi-episode arc of CSI: Miami, in which she plays Horatio Caine’s (David Caruso) ex-lover, Julia Winston, who is also the mother of his recently discovered son.[17] The episodes which Berkley appeared in were very highly rated and all of them featured in the top 10 Nielsen ratings chart.

Was Liz Berkley carrying CSI to ratings dominance with her guest arc? Who can say? The lines on which Zach Hyman appears are also extremely highly rated.

3. Kelly Kapowski. Girl is made up to look like an elf it looks like? Weird. Anyway she’s the captain of like nine extracurricular teams so I guess that’s good. Shows initative and drive. Also, big fan of this Wikipedia quote about her:

When Zack and Slater made guest appearances on Saved by the Bell: The New Class a few years later, Slater asked Zack how “the Mrs.” (meaning Kelly) is doing, Zack replied, “Good.”

That’s literally the end of her character. That’s all you get.

4. A.C. Slater.* Jock antagonists on every teen dramedy are the best. They’re so bluntly hateable and then if the show doesn’t write them out after a season they start humanizing them by making it so their Dad was away all the time piloting blimps or whatever. Good stuff.

5. Lisa Turtle. Turtle is a great surname. I want there to be an NHLer named Turtle. Anyway, Lisa is into fashion apparently. Good for you, Lisa.

6. Screech. Lovable loser. That sounds fine. You know what 90s sitcoms used to do, and this always entertains me, is ruthlessly black-bagging secondary characters.

Screech does eventually end up with a girlfriend, Violet Anne Bickerstaff (played by the then unknown Tori Spelling), and dates her for several episodes, even managing to win back the support of her upper-class parents after losing it on a disastrous dinner date. Violet is then never seen again, without any explanation.

Full House did this shit all the time. Danny would meet a woman, they would work through their initial issues in the course of 22 minutes, and by the next episode she would have been abducted by aliens or something. It was great. Continuity is for suckers.

7. Tori Scott. Speaking of which!

After the episode “School Song,” Tori is never seen or mentioned again.

More like Swan Song, amirite?

8. Zach Morris. He is described as “scheming and manipulative.” That seems bad? Is Zach Morris a sociopath y’all? Idk. He apparently wears down Kelly Kapowski into dating her, and I just don’t think I can approve of romantic wars of attrition. That’s not cool Zach.

Most television before like 1995 sucked anyway. I will not be accepting follow-up questions.

Update: I was so bad at this that it required colleague intervention. This is a new low. Here’s Nafio to improve things:

This man is wrong like a very wrong thing and I am going to correct his terrible notions about a mediocre yet legendary Saturday morning NBC staple.

1. Lisa Turtle - Lisa was the funniest, the coolest, the smartest and most loyal of all the characters. She gets extra points for putting up with Screech all the damn time.

2. Zach Morris - He’s a blond smartass cliché but he breaks the fourth wall all the time which means he has magic powers and you really can’t get much better than that.

3. Jessie Spano - All a lot of people know about poor Jessie is that addiction episode and the disaster that Elizabeth’s career became afterwards, but I always liked Jessie. She was a little over the top but she had brains, ambition and conviction.

4. Screech - These days I have trouble separating Screech from Dustin Diamond, who is a grade-A asshole, loser and all around waste of space. However, the character was usually at least kind of cute sometimes and made a good foil for Zach. He and Violet were super cute nerds in love.

5. Kelly Kapowski - I have a huge thing for Tiffani Amber Thiessen’s character Elizabeth Burke on White Collar but Kelly Kapowski was boring. Yes, yes, romantic lead, the girl everyone wanted etc etc... yawn.

6. Miss Bliss - Hayley Mills’ character who was originally supposed to be the central character of the show. She taught Zach’s class, but I think was gone before Kelly showed up. She was my favourite of the teachers, probably because she was less of a caricature than the others.

7. Tori Scott - Nobody fucking cared about Tori. She was a late-run add and “bad girl”. This was especially hilarious because I knew her first as one of triplet sisters who were part of a made-for-tv Parent Trap sequel thing, which also starred Hayley Mills. (And yes, the acress is actually a triplet)

8. Mr Belding - A much more likeable character on the original series than anything else but Denis Hoskins always gave me “keep away from young children” vibes, even when he was in character.

25. AC Slater - If Zach was a cliché Slater was so much worse. Muscle-bound, egotistical asshole, always shiny with oil, who thought he was cooler and more intimidating than he actually was. Pass.

There are actually multiple points of “not worth the trouble”, as you indicated.

  1. Assholery. You have to be an asshole in public, or a huge dick to your teammates, like Sean Avery, before this adds up. Even then Sean Avery made 580 GP before everyone finally got sick of his shit.
  2. Weirdness. There are certain guys who are just straight up weird, apparently, and it has honest-to-God apparently played a role. Kris Versteeg never stuck in any one place for a couple of years and apparently it was just kind of that he was an odd dude.
  3. Nerdiness. Alias museumitis. The worst of all. If it can get you to trade a top-10 RHD in the league on a great deal, uh, well, I would have to assume pretty much anyone short of elite is screwed.

To sum up with the requested chart:

What the says about the priorities of the league I’m leaving as a fun game for those of you playing along at home.

If I knew I could save a lot of money on therapy.

Muse, if you haven’t heard them before, is basically like what would happen if Radiohead tried to do Bohemian Rhapsody but about conspiracy theories, pretty much every song. They are extremely over the top, and it is never clear how self-aware they are, and this is partly why they are fun. Watch this video. Is Matt Bellamy just fucking with us? I think he is, but I don’t know!

(puts on hipster music critic hat) As for the new album, which is called Simulation Theory, I’m giving it a 5.8 out of 10. They’ve moved towards their synth-poppier sound on this one, which (curmudgeon voice) I don’t think they’re really all that good at. They still churn out the odd catchy riff (“Pressure” has one and is the best song here) but they don’t have an absolute arena-crusher like “New Born” or “Stockholm Syndrome”. That said, I’m old. I physically owned a couple of Muse albums back when people did that still. Maybe I just like how they sounded then.

Using your experience as defence counsel, try (you will fail but try) to make a case for why the NHLPA would appeal Austin Watson’s suspension, and then make a case for why the NHL would reduce the suspension. I’ve never been more upset by a series of events in a major sport.—@7lifesupport

This is the ugly side of union work. The union, to some extent, has to act in the interests of all its members, and if the union starts picking and choosing who it bothers with, it starts being a lot less effective as a union. I have to admit, though, that if ever there were a class of union members to leave by the wayside it’s people who perpetrate domestic violence, and I have nothing to say in favour of the arbitrator’s decision to reduce the suspension, which was just wrong. (For what it’s worth, the NHL actually upheld its own suspension, which was then appealed to the arbitrator.)

I am intrigued by this and by your bold disregard for handedness. If you think Gardiner - Rielly can be a top minutes pairing—and I honestly don’t know other than to say they’re both talented offensive defencemen—then do that. I might start by trying Dermott-Zaitsev second pairing and then Hainsey-Ozhiganov third pair.

That said, I actually wouldn’t rearrange the pairings just yet, although I’d have an eye to doing it eventually. Right now I’d want to gradually turn up the usage on Dermott-Ozhi (who are killing it in third-pair usage right now) and just keep adding weight on that pair until they start struggling. I’m hoping we might be able to get to an equilibrium with this set of defencemen just by rebalancing ice time amongst the options that already exist.

I’m a little unsure who’s obscure enough to count, but Dmitri Yushkevich. Defensive defenceman and just an absolute heart-and-soul guy. I just loved his attitude. If he played now I’m worried I’d find out he had bad Corsi or something and that would ruin it. Ignorance is bliss.

It’s everyone.

With appropriate caution about what counts for “excited”, Fedor Gordeev. He’s in an absolute tire fire of an OHL organization right now and I really hope he gets out of there soon, but he moves surprisingly well for a guy who is enormous. For all my new school nerdery I am easily swayed by defencemen who are big and can skate.

November 29th.

I think Dubas is the smartest, Lamoriello has the ruthlessness and the eye for his opponent’s weaknesses, and Shanahan has the grand vision. But as you noted, to play a full game of Risk takes approximately nine days. Therefore Carlton will eventually outlast everyone due to the stamina required to work long shifts in a bear suit.

Probably not. I don’t really like him. From a hockey perspective he’s very good, but I have a bit of trouble separating his elite value from the LA system that doesn’t seem to ever be as good as it should be, and his contract is going to go a long time into his decline at a premium. I also have a innate bias that most defencemen don’t actually impact the game as much as people think. A lot of people are going to call me crazy for this one though.

I think that pretty much has to be the Arizona Coyotes, right? They’re in a desert market, they’ve struggled in attendance for years. Insofar as any team can be obscure they’re up there.

That said, the Coyotes are, I am convinced, on the way up now in terms of team quality (I thought this last year and then they imploded, so, uh, ignore that). For my favourite player on that team I’d probably pick Clayton Keller, who is a legitimately awesome playmaking winger and who could put up some mighty fine numbers this year.

For least favourite I’m going to cheat a bit and mention a retired player: Shane Doan. This has been a personal thing for me and I’m insisting on it: Shane Doan was an unbelievably dirty player and he got treated with kid gloves because he was a good Canadian boy and he did a lot for his franchise. It was bullshit, man.

What counts as all-in? The Leafs should not trade their next seven first-rounders to rent Erik Karlsson for one spring, for example. That would be extremely all-in.

If the Leafs can get Nylander back, I think they should be moderately aggressive in trying to improve for this playoff run because I think they’ll be a genuine contender. I also don’t think a huge boost is going to come from the prospect group (if we get two second-pairing defencemen and a middle six RW out of the three players you mentioned I will be extremely pleased.) I wouldn’t rule out shopping our first for a rental this year, in other words.

If we trade Nylander, unless the return is way better than I expect, my answer would probably change. :(

I actually disagree with the premise here. I don’t think we’re going to move Marleau for cap relief. He has a no movement clause and I think he got it because he doesn’t really want to go anywhere else. Maybe if things were to go really sideways in Toronto he would want out, but I don’t think that’s going to happen, and I don’t think he’s going to wind up with a better shot at a Cup elsewhere...and I don’t think most contenders would want his cap hit, even if we were paying most of the real salary by trading him on July 2nd.

Before going back to Kansas City, to resume your burgeoning minor league hockey career, you are presented with a choice. If you could have Trump’s hair/ego (for the purposes of this, we’ll consider his hair where his ego resides), Kanye’s brain, or let’s say, Eugene Melnyk’s cowardice/avarice – which do you choose to advance your hockey career, and why?—Rickap

Good God. Trump’s ego would probably prevent me from ever improving myself in any capacity, and Melnyk’s weird delusional miser-greed would eventually wind up in me going to prison for tax evasion or something. I guess we’ll go with Kanye, at least he’s creative.

My question is actually more of a request for commentary, since I like the way you see life, hockey, and the Canadian dream. Do you feel that sports (hockey) fans obsess about hockey to the point where they probably don’t enjoy the game anymore?—The Constant Gardiner

(TCG had some further thoughtful comments that you can read here around his question, I just am trying to keep this mailbag under 4000 words.)

So my actual Theory of Sports:

If we only followed sports on a calculation of net joy over frustration, we’d all give up and do something else. Most teams in a given year end their seasons in disappointment. Only rarely do you get the ideal team that exceeds expectations and surprises you with joy (2016-17 was this for most of us, but compare it to the preceding decade.) Otherwise it’s championships or sadness. The average end result for fans, except those blessed few who get to witness a Stanley Cup, is letdown.

Why do we do this, then? One thing is community; it’s a shared thing with friends or family, or amusing fellow fans on the Internet. It gives us something to bicker over, invest in, and at the risk of sounding a little hokey, connect over. It gives you an identity you can participate in. That matters more than people realize.

For the nerds and the obsessives, there’s another thing: there’s a satisfaction that comes from really mastering something. It’s the same impulse that leads people to spend painstaking hours working on cars or learning to dance ballroom or catching however the hell many Pokemon they have now. Picking apart the game and understanding how it works, figuring out how it can be done better and won, scratches an itch for some people even if it seems like most of the time they’re annoyed. There is a point where you’re just causing yourself irritation—you can overdo anything—but solving problems and finding answers is it for some people. Even if that isn’t quite the same as pure joy the way we’d all get from watching the Leafs crush Boston in a Game 7 for a change, it rates somewhere along that pleasure-and-meaning continuum that we’re all trying to ride in life.

TL;DR: Sometimes obsessives do wreck it for themselves, and everyone should find their own way of enjoying, but for some people the obsession just hits the spot somehow.

What is an outside the box solution for Jake Gardiner’s impending free agency? Does it involve trading for a LHD instead of the much rumoured RHD trade?—thehumourisironic

Taking an extension or an RHD trade to be the “inside the box” solutions, it might? Jake Muzzin is rumoured to be available in a trade seemingly every few weeks and I don’t really know what the Kings are going to do at this point? If you pick him up this TDL you get a playoff run plus another year out of him at a $4M cap. Maybe that gives you more time to wait on Sandin, Liljegren et al. coming up to salve your problems, or at least to wait out the cap crunch of the Marleau deal.

Muzzin is a valuable enough piece, though, so I assume a year and a bit of him wouldn’t be cheap. You can go much farther out of the box than this, but pretty much all those solutions (college or European FAs, trades for prospects) count on you getting lucky and finding a Top 4 D where the odds say you probably won’t.

Everyone hates the constant dump-outs and icings the Leafs seem to rely on. Some people blame Babcock and his damned SYSTEMS. Others blame Nikita Zaitsev. But I have a hunch that the Leafs as a team are more prone to this, let’s call it, lazy play when they are playing a team they don’t see as a heavyweight.

So the hypothesis is this: the Leafs play the game we all want, with more and better controlled exits (and entries), and probably (as a consequence) better CF%, when they play a team they take seriously. I’m thinking teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, Winnipeg—teams that are considered serious Cup threats, or teams that have real star power.

I was going to try to figure this out for myself at some point, but here you are asking for mailbag questions, so: is there anything to this theory?—The Bag

I won’t discount it entirely (and I wish I had quality microstats to look into it more), but I don’t see it at a glance. The Leafs clobbered the Sens, Stars, Penguins and Jets in their four biggest CF% games of the year (they won three of the four), but they played other games against Dallas and Winnipeg where they went about even and one other game against the Penguins where they were very bad in every respect. I think some teams just give us hell by being aggressive on the forecheck (St. Louis and maybe Montreal) and we match up worse against teams of that description regardless of their overall talent level, and then there’s just the normal game-to-game variation.

Every player on the Leafs team must now be traded for an historical comparable. Assuming that means within 0.5 P/G of their career average and a “best guess” at salary numbers, which players are on the new Leafs and how much of a problem is the salary cap for the new team?—SlickWill

Good God, man. If I do all 23 players this mailbag will become War and Peace. I will do the classic Big Four.

Auston Matthews: Syl Apps - similar PPG, high-end Toronto goal-scoring C

Mitch Marner: Marc Savard - fantastic small playmaker, if anyone harms Mitch I will assassinate them

William Nylander: The Ghost of Christmas Past - he’s only here in our memory :(

Morgan Rielly: Roman Hamrlik - I mostly just like Roman Hamrlik’s name

I would assume the Leafs’ cap problems would be improved by the fact that Syl Apps comes from an era where the average annual income for a hockey player was like $27, so probably that’d help.

You are the Joker, recreating the ferries scene in The Dark Knight, but with Leafs fans (so to speak). What is the most sadistic Leafs-related decision you can force these ferries of Leafs fans to make?

e.g. They must either each punch Mats Sundin in the balls, or trade Morgan Rielly to Montreal for “Larry Murphy future considerations”, or along those lines.—Exit Steve Left

Matthews to Montreal or Marner to Ottawa. I think I’d just give up and watch professional darts.

What’s your prediction for the Leafs’ defence roster on opening night of the 20-21 season? What’s your (sort of realistic) fantasy of what you’d like it to look like?—Not A Real One

Fantasy:

Rielly - Karlsson

Dermott -Liljegren

Sandin - Ozhiganov

Prediction

[lockout] - [lockout]

[lockout] - [lockout]

[lockout] - [lockout]

Can you please use the word ludrious in a sentence?—Not A Real One

I don’t know how I would do that, and frankly I am OUTRAGED that you would make such a suggestion. Just by doing so you have LOST ALL CREDIBILITY. It’s utterly LUDIROUS.

You know, this is fun. Next year I should go over to TLN’s prospect rankings and just yell at them or something.

Congrats, you managed to score a hot date with SDA. Aside from the weird looks people will give you every time you show romantic affection with what appears to be an 11 year old, it’s a dream come true.

Unfortunately, totally acting the Fulemin, you never actually came up with any specific plans when you asked him out, you just mentioned a specific day which he happens to have entirely free to himself, not even a specific time. It’s the day before the date and you have to come up with plans for a date that will become hopefully the most unforgettable day of his life. This is really important to you, so some generic date plans simply will not do, you need to come up with a day to appeal to SDA specifically. Tell us how this perfect date specifically designed to win over the man-boy (boy-man?) of your dreams is going to go.—emjay

I am extremely bewildered by this question and confess I am at a loss as, as wonderful as SDA is, I do not wish to date him. I’d just try to set him up with a nice Toronto girl who’d convinced him to settle in town for his career. Sorry!

What is your opinion on these new developments in the NHL in recent years?

Divisional realignment (esp. playoffs ramifications)

Coach’s challenge (offside reviews & goaltender interference reviews)

Linesmen refusing to drop the puck

Calling stick penalties more often than before

Goalie equipment changes

Bonus question: is Elias Pettersson better than Patrik Laine?—shingo

Divisional realignment: it’s annoying and I don’t especially like it. You just see the same teams over and over. I had no problem with the 1-8 system, so this isn’t just me being annoyed that we’re stuck in a division with Tampa and Boston, but the prospect of facing the Bruins again is tiresome, I have to admit.

Coach’s challenge: I was in favour of it originally and you know what, now I’m not. Just get rid of it. Of course, the league could also try to write a goalie interference rule that made the slightest bit of coherent sense, but then, that would be pushing our luck I guess.

Linesmen refusing to drop the puck: WILD CARD I’M IN FAVOUR OF IT

(No, it’s really silly.)

Calling stick penalties: this is good. I think the league should try to let players play offence unobstructed. Next on my list is for them to call interference every time it happens, even if for the first season it means there are like 18 penalties a game.

Goalie equipment changes: I don’t expect much from them but it’s worth a try. I have, full disclosure, long been in favour of bigger nets.

Pettersson vs. Laine: This will be interesting! Laine is one of the best pure shooters I’ve ever seen and that goes an extremely long way, I think he’ll win at least one Rocket Richard. But Pettersson impresses me greatly as a playmaker. I’ll guess that in a few years Pettersson is a little ahead, but Laine is great.

How many days can a FTB be used before it goes stale?—JerseyLeaf

Three. Just spray it with some Febreeze.

What tactics are being employed to prevent Katya from being poached by the Athletic due to her ridiculously high-quality output?—Nirbo

I’ll only be worried when they offer to let her run the joint, otherwise she can do better.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!