It’s Christmas, and nothing gets people in the festive spirit like grades! No? Okay, well, I’m going to do this thing anyway. Here are some grades on a bunch of Leaf-related things.
1. Kyle Dubas: A. Our nerd prince Kyle Dubas has only been in office eight months, which is why this is a (long) bullet point and not a long-ass article like I did for Lou Lamoriello at the end of his tenure. All the same, he’s had a fairly active two-thirds of a year, which we will now cover glibly.
Signing Igor Ozhiganov: It was probably Lou’s idea, but hey, he’s better than Polak.
The Draft: Rasmus Sandin looks better all the time, SDA is dope and I will hear no arguments to the contrary, Pontus Holmberg is holding a steady job in the SHL at 19, and it’s too early for any of the picks to have busted, so...neat!
Signing John Tavares: Is this good? I feel like this is good.
Trading Matt Martin: I mean it’s kind of a freebie to give him back to the guy who originally signed the deal, but I’m glad not to be paying our thirteenth forward $2.5M against the cap next year, aren’t you?
Signing Tyler Ennis: Like picking up a tasteful mid-quality painting for $1 at a garage sale.
The Carrick and Leivo Trades: We probably lost these on value, but I’m going with “we did things for the right reasons”—we found an exit for players who weren’t in our plans, and didn’t lose either on waivers. Es bueno.
The Nylander Extension: Dubas didn’t cave, he didn’t burn a bridge, he didn’t get spiteful, I’m chalking this up as a win and I’m refusing to worry about Willie’s PPG right now. So there.
Put all that together and I think you have a pretty solid start to the tenure. There’s a lot of road ahead and this team will be defined by what happens in the spring, but so far I’m happy with how Dubas has done business.
2. Mike Babcock: B+. Everyone gets mad at Mike Babcock a lot. The team is second in the NHL, guys. I would understand if this were like the flukey Randy Carlyle season where the team actually had a 43% CF and its offensive strategy was “sooner or later Phil Kessel will get a rush chance”, but our current Leaf team has looked pretty good in the early going and is poised to look better going forward. I know everyone is mad about Ron Hainsey, but come on, let’s try to big picture a little here.
Other thing: the Ron Hainsey objection to Babcock is one I can follow, at least. Some of the other criticism of him is straight up baffling to me, like the idea that he basically hates offence and has presumably produced a top-three team in Goals Per Game by accident. This isn’t to say Babcock is always right (nope) or above criticism (lol). Just that, well...
Remember four years ago? If you told your four-years-ago self that our coach played a high-octane, offensive game led by scoring talent, that he talked up Jake Gardiner at every opportunity, that he said “our toughness is our power play” when questioned about the team’s lack of fighting majors, that he’d led the team to its best-ever point total last year and that he now had it on pace to break his own record...well, the overuse of Nikita Zaitsev might sound a lot like a First World Problem.
3. Nikita Zaitsev: D. That said. :(
4. Auston Matthews: A. He’s on pace for 57 goals. Not “if he hadn’t missed any time.” He’s on pace to hit 57 goals this year despite having sat out 14 games. That is, as the Bible says, “fuckin’ bananas.”
5. The Ottawa Senators: A+. I know this is a Leaf column, but the Senators, and their owner Eugene “Broke Caligula” Melnyk, are one of the purest sources of joy in my life. Here are some recent Senators things.
- They traded the best player in the history of their franchise for a fistful of marbles and some lint
- Their owner interviewed a third-pair defenceman on their team in a weird Between Two Ferns video that is essentially an Andy Kaufman bit
- A bunch of their players got recorded in an Uber in Arizona trash talking their assistant coach because their special teams were garbage
- They traded one of the guys in the video for a sixth
- Eugene Melnyk sued his partners and blew up a deal to build the team a new arena
- Eugene Melnyk’s partners countersued Eugene Melnyk for one billion dollars
- Eugene Melnyk proposed that other people build the arena with their money and his team could just play in it
- Eugene Melnyk sent a Christmas calendar featuring photos of his family on an African safari to members of the Ottawa City Council
It's a calendar of the best photos from Melnyk's South African safari. pic.twitter.com/1O3TRfUhba— Jon Willing (@JonathanWilling) December 18, 2018
- Seriously just read that last one again
- The team is slowly descending out of the field of ordinary graphing
Shot share rates— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) December 19, 2018
I know I should say something about some other team /sometimes/ but OTT's doing something really incredible here. pic.twitter.com/xYeathP0sP
This is all stuff from the last three months. I once suggested that the Ottawa Senators didn’t need to exist, but no, they do. They need to exist and find new dimensions of surreal failure to explore. The Senators of the future will embarrass themselves in ways today’s hockey clubs can’t even conceive of. When I look to the horizon, I see a future in which Eugene Melnyk tries to relocate the franchise to the moon and NASA ends up repossessing his car. And it’s beautiful.
6. Morgan Rielly: Norris! I want him to win this so much. Does he deserve to? Who cares? I want it. I want the Leafs to win all of the awards and then I want every other fanbase to complain about it and I want to listen to “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries” on loop while I schadenread their Tweets after the Cup Parade down Yonge Street. Having stuff is the new deserving stuff. I am a Millennial. (Also, A+.)
7. The Toronto Fanbase: A+. That’s right!
Sure, Leafs fans are a pair of hysterical mobs, one of which wants to pay Mitch Marner $Texas and the other of which wants to canonize Jake Gardiner for his miracles. We went through the William Nylander thing and basically no one handled it well except all of the people actually involved in the negotiation, which I suppose is better than the reverse. At the same time: watch any other fanbase respond to the mildest critical chatter and recognize that they’d all implode if they had to deal with half the Toronto media market.*
*(I’m excepting Philadelphia fans from this, because they’re enduring a wild mess right now and also Annie might sic Gritty on me if I’m not careful.)
So, why not, we’re the best. If anyone else doesn’t like it, too bad, I don’t care. Toronto > Everybody.
Have a pleasant holiday season.