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Mailbag: Curtis McElhinney and the Seattle Draft

All that and more in this edition of the mailbag.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

If this “Parks & Rec” style show starring Phil Kessel and Auston Matthews and other NHLers actually existed...

1) Would you watch it?

2) Which NHL player (doesn’t necessarily have to be featured in that video) would match up best to which Parks & Rec character? For example, I would say Phil Kessel is totally a Ron Swanson, since they’re both white guys from the American Midwest with a love for meat-based foods.—canuck89

Honestly, the problem is so few hockey players get to show any kind of personality at all. I’m sure a lot of them have it, though. If you could find the ones that do and let them show it off, I’d at least watch a six-episode run.*

I think Jonathan Toews would make a great Ron Swanson. He’s extremely serious-seeming but has a good heart and is surprisingly funny underneath it all. P.K. Subban would be a somewhat more reasonable Tom Haverford. Taylor Hall is Andy, and Patrick Marleau is Leslie Knope in my mind because this makes me laugh. I don’t care how you get Phil and Malkin in there but you do it.

*If this is the first time you’re watching Parks and Rec, the first six episodes that make up Season One are bad. It gets much better.

Is Andreas Borgman in the starting line up for next season?—smalltownbringdown

I think this depends on whether the Leafs acquire a RD (or, less likely, if they trade away a key defenceman they have now.) Right now I think Rielly, Gardiner, Zaitsev, Hainsey, and Dermott are all clearly ahead of Borgman in any formation, but Borgman has a decent chance of displacing Carrick for 3RD. Borg is physical and probably has more to offer on the PK than Carrick, whom Babcock doesn’t appear to trust anyway.

But if they pick up, say, John Carlson, Borg gets bumped, at least to start. So: he’s in if they don’t add a top four D. He’s out, at least initially, if they do.

Has Tomas Plekanec hit the highest peaks of his career, finally being good enough to play for the Leafs?—smalltownbringdown

I doubt anything will compare to this moment for Plekanec. After years of having to wear the Shirt of Nessus that is the Habs’ jersey, he now dawns the heroic mantle of Toronto. What a time.

Additionally, would you attempt to sign him for next season and at what cost?—ThickSkinnedAlive

Yes. The money on Plekanec is less of a thing for me than the term. If you can keep it to one year you can probably give him $3M or something and be fine having him as a 3/4C, depending on what Nylander does. (This is assuming the Leafs don’t go big and sign Tavares, in which case it’s more of a squeeze.)

Someone might give Plekanec a couple of years or he might just want to go back to the Habs, but he’s probably going to finish the season under 30 points and he’s 35. Besides, maybe this will save us dealing a second-round pick for a 4C next deadline.

The stain on the sun that is the Boston Bruins just signed their draft pick Ryan Donato. He is the son of Ted Donato (who also played with Patrice Bergeron for one season). The Leafs have a bunch of guys whose fathers were in the NHL.

Part one is you have to name all those guys on a Leafs contract who had an NHL dad, and part two is what do you think it means for a player really. Does it matter? Do the sons of hockey men get drafted too high? Is everything people say about them nonsense or is there something to the idea of a family business?

Bonus question: which Leafs player has a dad who played over 800 pro games not in the NHL?—Katya Knappe

William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen are the only ones off the top of my head that had NHL dads, but I bet I’m missing somebody.* I would guess this doesn’t matter THAT much. Maybe Michael Nylander or Sami Kapanen passed down some specific advice, but I don’t know what it is or how it would differ from conventional hockey wisdom. I think sometimes people overestimate based on family lineage, but on the other hand: talent is partly inherited, and being involved in the game from the earliest ages with access to elite coaching sure gives you a leg up. With regard to the social advantages, the fact that we funnel a ton of our country’s athletic talent into hockey from a very early age, and other countries do not, is partly why Canada is dominant at this sport despite having way fewer people than the U.S. or Russia. The family business thing is just a variant on that.

Andreas Johnsson’s father Jonas had a long and glorious pro career in Sweden, to answer the last question.

*I was indeed missing somebody: Mason Marchment is the other one.

What do people in China call their good plates?—crazyliver

没有人喜欢聪明的嘴巴

You are William from Almost Famous. An enthusiastic young writer with a bright future ahead. All of a sudden Doc Brown’s Delorian appears, and he approaches you with a nervous excitement, mentioning Gigawatts and someone named Great Scott. He hands over the keys to the Delorian and tells you that you can travel to any point in time post-1960 and you will be granted the ability to shadow and travel with one band/artist throughout their entire career, hanging out with them, partying with them, seeing them play, etc. Which band do you choose? Keep in mind that if you choose a band/artist with a short career/life (e.g. the Doors, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix), your trip will be limited in duration.—The Constant Gardiner

I’m gonna be a huge buzzkill on this one. Be warned.

So the answer that comes to mind here is Led Zeppelin. Legitimately one of the most talented rock bands of all time, legendary for their parties, all that stuff. Except, well, read this. The “red snapper” thing is usually played up as a crazy joke, and who knows if there’s anything to that, but some of the variants on the story ain’t so funny. I get the feeling this would be the case for a lot of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll crowd of that era. I don’t judge anyone for them as long as everyone involved is of age and on board, but...

Anyway, I have no idea if this applies to The Clash, and I will be devastated if it does, but my answer is The Clash. Best punk band of all time. Don’t @ me.

How do you account for the remarkable improvement in McElhinney’s play since he came to the Leafs? Is it just luck? Or is he really a better goalie now?—driedchar

Damned if I know! But here’s a bit of a look at it:

The most notable thing about McElhinney in the past two seasons is that his save percentage on “high danger” shots has gone through the roof. Have a look at his HDSV%, care of Corsica:

2013-14: .713

2014-15: .762

2015-16: .760

2016-17: .848

2017-17: .918 (!)

That last number, at time of writing, is #1 in the NHL. Over the last five seasons, McElhinney’s low-danger and medium-danger save percentages have been basically flat, so the improvement is coming on those high-danger chances. I haven’t included his whole career here, but the story is basically the same; his high-danger save percentages were no better than .780 until last season, and LDSV% and MDSV% have been in the same range the whole time.

McElhinney is an extremely athletic goalie—I always think of Jared’s description of him as “wacky inflatable tube man”—and you can sort of envision how his never-say-die scrambling might allow him to pull off miraculous saves. There is some limited research that says HDSV% is closer (still not very close) to being a real measure of goalie skill than unadjusted. But does it make sense that McElhinney suddenly got way better at this at 33 years old?

Maybe! Goalies are strange. I poked around looking for something on whether McElhinney had changed his style, or preparation, or taken up yoga or something, and I didn’t find anything. Even if he did, I think that HDSV% is going to come back to Earth a bit.

But even if it does, he can be a decent backup, and he seems like a solid guy for the job. So eh, power to Curtis.

You and Arvind discussed the rather weak free agent class of centres outside of Tavares this off-season, and how Bozak might end up getting re-signed just because of a lack of options. Assuming Tavares is most likely to stay on Long Island, would you rather re-sign Bozak and say goodbye to JVR, or try to fit JVR under the cap, and work out some sort of deal to bring a mid-range centre here, or switch Nylander to centre and bring in a new winger via free agency?—Goldenhawk99

I am very, very tempted to re-sign JVR, and I think the loss of him is going to be more painful than people realize. But I think I would move Nylander to C and then keep my eyes open for wing acquisitions, while primarily focusing on the defence. The FA market at wing is such that if you’re going to explore it, you’re either bargain bin hunting or you ought to just hang onto JVR.

What book/story that has not yet been adapted into a movie/TV show do you think should be soon?—ExitSteveLeft

Can I cheat and say Watchmen should have been made into a Netflix series lasting a season or so instead of that super-disappointing movie where pretty much every role was miscast? There aren’t too many books that I’m otherwise needing to see filmed.

Your suggestion of Artemis Fowl was cool though. That would take some finesse but those books were underratedly funny, which a lot of YA stuff is not.

What happens with Connor Carrick this summer?

He’s an RFA with Arb rights, so is he trade bait in an attempt to upgrade the defense? His role has been shaky at times this year with the team, so just wondering if he’s no in the org’s long term plan.—thehumourisironic

I would be surprised if Carrick had much trade value right now. I expect they hang onto him because they can and because he’s an RD. He could easily be a lesser part in a trade package if that’s how things go, but on his own account he’s probably going to be in the 6/7 slot next year.

With Bettman’s insistence of having teams in the desert, when should we expect expansion to the Sahara?—R. Fraser

2024. The Cairo Expansion Draft is gonna be a doozy.

I think the Arizona situation is going to come to a head in the next five years or so, tbh. They franchise is debt-loaded into the sun, as Katya has pointed out, and they’re about as close to being profitable as as I am to landing on the moon. I know we’ve said it can’t go on forever and it has apparently done so, but at a certain point this team is too much of a white elephant for any purpose at all.

In TV broadcasts of the Stanley Cup Final of your dreams, featuring the Leafs defeating the Oilers in five, who does the play-by-play, who is the color commentator, who does the in-game updates, and who is on the in-studio panel between periods?—I Am Rad Boss

Play-by-play: Bob Cole

Colour: Ray Ferraro

In-Game: Christine Simpson

Panel: Andi Petrillo, Martin Biron, Bob McKenzie, Elliotte Friedman

Bob Cole isn’t what he was, but his voice remains unparalleled for high drama, so I want him there. Ray needs no explanation, Simpson’s good at the in-game stuff. I don’t really watch panels ever anyway, but I’ve named the people I found the most interesting whenever I had one on.

If the Leafs sign Paul Stastny in the off-season could he put up the best Leaf season ever by a member of his family?—Back In Black

The standard here is Marian Stastny’s 53 points in 1985-86, as none of the other Stastny family members (Peter, Yan, and Anton) ever played for Toronto. Paul very well might clear that if he stayed healthy (he has 50 points in 74 GP this year, but he seems to miss about 10-15 GP most years.)

If you had to redo your rankings of the T25U25 for the top 5 who would you slot from 2-5 behind Matthews, based on their performance this season?—FishingFreak99

For the record, my personal rankings 2-5 last season were:

2. William Nylander

3. Mitch Marner

4. Morgan Rielly

5. Connor Brown

“Based on their performance this season” is the crux of it, because while I still rate Willie as narrowly more valuable—I think he’s a viable C and I think his powerplay slump this year is fixable, while his even strength scoring is actually better than Marner’s—Mitch’s season is hard to deny. So I would move Mitch up to second if it’s just based on this year. Beyond that, I’ve now seen enough from Kappy to feel comfortable bumping Connor Brown to sixth for him.

2. Mitch Marner

3. William Nylander

4. Morgan Rielly

5. Kasperi Kapanen

How and why do spiders and insects flip over on their backs when they die?—Mr Smithy

According to this article I Googled seconds before typing this response, being stuck on its back is actually a symptom of the failing nervous system of the bug, and may be a side effect of convulsions brought on by pesticide. If its nervous system were working, the bug would be able to right itself, because flailing on your back is a very bad situation for a bug. If a bug is stuck on its back and unable to flip back over, either a) whatever is impairing its nervous system is going to kill it before long or b) its impairment will make it easy prey.

Either that or that article is lying, idk.

Did NASA invent thunderstorm sounds to cover the noise from space battles? Also, in a battle of sneaky but not hard shots, who has a better one, Doug Gilmour or Mitch Marner.—GilDugmore

a) NASA invented the ozone layer to block the SIGHT of space battles, but the sound of thunderstorms is natural, caused by the god Thor.

b) I’m not really competent to evaluate Doug Gilmour’s shot because I was quite young when he played for us in his prime. Re: Mitch, it’s a sneaky shot because he has so many other options that he can open up chances to catch goalies and defenders off guard. So it’s not so much the shot as the offensive IQ that lets him employ it so well. I’m told Dougie’s was pretty swell also.

You’re the new Lou (the rest of the front office is the same) and it’s time to do a sales pitch for Tavares on those days leading up to UFA day. He’s agreed to take a hard look at your team. Earlier in April the Leafs lost a grueling 7 game series to Boston, but it wasn’t a blown series like ‘13. What does your sales pitch involve? Do you bring in Toronto’s mayor and the Canadian Tire guy? I would think our big 3, team culture, and Scotiabank sponsorships are a great sell, but what do you do to put it over the top? Bring in Drake?—Mike Brown’s Moustache

Honestly I don’t think you gild the lily. There aren’t that many teams who can offer Tavares $11M and an excellent Cup chance, while being close to home. If we don’t make the sale on that score I don’t think Drake is going to—

[God’s Plan starts playing]

Of the 6 Unsigned Draft Picks that are expiring this summer, who do you sign to an ELC, an AHL contract, an ATO, or just let walk away?—Mapleson

The six in question:

D Keaton Middleton—AHL Contract

Pierre Engvall--AHL Contract*

D Nicolas Mattinen—Release

J.J. Piccinich—Release

Nolan Vesey—Release

Vladimir Bobylev—Release

Middleton has “future AHL Captain” written all over him, and if he’s up for an AHL deal, so am I. Engvall would probably prefer to return to Sweden rather than sign in the AHL, hence the asterisk, but ultimately I don’t think I would give him an ELC, so that’s his choice. None of the other four is going to come within a country mile of the NHL.

I recently saw a story online about an Empire State building-sized asteroid that might possibly be on a collision course with Earth (eta: 2135 or something like that) that NASA says they are currently unable to deflect or destroy.

Given that the Leafs seem on the verge of contending for a sustained amount of time and multiple Cup wins, what do you think the odds are of this asteroid deliberately speeding up its attack on Earth just to keep us from enjoying nice things and/or the possibility that a completely different planet destroying asteroid will appear in order to keep us from ever experiencing a Leafs Stanley Cup win?—Slick Will

Honestly I think the Leafs will win and then the meteor would crash into Earth, instigating the apocalypse. Toronto winning the Cup is obviously the beginning of the End of Days.

How concerned are you about possibly two key pieces of the team having recurring injury issues?

Also, who are you most concerned about:

1. Auston

2. Freddy—BlindEyeTy

I’m concerned, but probably not that much more concerned than is natural simply because they’re key players and I don’t want them to get hurt. Neither of them has yet racked up an injury history that really scares me. I suppose I worry a little more about Auston because he’s the franchise player and really injuries are the only thing that can stop him, but both are essential.

Garrett Sparks in the #1 goalie in the AHL by GAA and #2 by SV%.

Curtis McBackup is the #1 goalie in the NHL (with 5+ games) by SV% and #2 by GAA.

Who rides the pine behind Andersen next season and how do you decide?

How many goalies do the Leafs lose on waivers next season?—Mapleson

I think you trade whichever of Sparks and Calvin Pickard seems likely to fetch you something at the draft, then let the remaining dude audition for the NHL job to displace McElhinney in camp. Whoever loses, you attempt to send down in the big rush of pre-season waivings when pretty much everyone clears and hope for the best. My guess is if they make one deal, they get away without losing anyone on waivers, but we’ll see.

Assuming Seattle is given the same conditions Las Vegas was… which players do you think the Leafs will protect? Which (exposed) player do you think Seattle will take?

This will HAVE to sting more than losing Leipsic.—The Constant Gardiner

This is hard to answer. We’re assuming the Seattle team is doing the expansion draft in summer 2020. The rule reading “first or second year professionals” is a bit vague; it’s still not totally clear to me why William Nylander was exempt last time around, other than he was in the second year of his ELC because it had slid. This is primarily significant because Timothy Liljegren will have played three professional seasons in North America by the time of the draft, and so in the strict wording of the rule, he would have to be protected. But his ELC may slide, in which case he might mimic Nylander and be exempted. That would be neat.

The other thing is we have no idea how the contract situation is going to change in the next two years, but we can be quite sure it will. Who will be handy to meet the exposure requirements? Will we still have Jake Gardiner? God knows.

Anyway:

Forwards

  • Auston Matthews
  • Mitch Marner
  • William Nylander
  • Nazem Kadri
  • Kasperi Kapanen
  • Zach Hyman (fight me)
  • Andreas Johnsson

Defence

  • Morgan Rielly
  • Travis Dermott
  • Timothy Liljegren/Nikita Zaitsev

Goaltender

  • Frederik Andersen

There are some people who would be happy to expose the Zaitsev contract in any event, so we’ll see how that goes. The problem with projecting from now—aside from my issues following the rules in some cases (sorry)—is that the core of the team we’d be working with is not clear. If the above list is reflective we probably just lose Connor Brown. But I hope the team has more talent than this on it by that point.

Would “parity” and “fan accessibility” be better served by removing the “loser point” and just going with wins and loses (shootouts losses only coming into play as a tie breaker)? Would this make the hockey better on ice to watch?—Mapleson

I am significantly less bothered by the loser point than pretty much everybody, so my answer is “not really.” Teams do play for the tie in the last five to ten minutes of the third period, so I guess you would remove that. But then you get to go to overtime, which is the craziest thing in the NHL regular season. My main discomfort is teams losing in the shootout or OT and walking away with nothing because those are overdriven situations. The shootout especially is a coin flip. If you want to go to the 3-2-1-0 system, sure, I’m down with that.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!