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Mailbag: Jake Gardiner and Jurassic Park’s Management Issues

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All that and more in this edition of the mailbag.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

You are on an airplane and both pilots have become incapacitated. You take it upon yourself to try to fly the plane. You need to choose a co-pilot; every other passenger is a current Maple Leaf. Who do you choose and why?—Zambulance

I’m reading this as only including players and not other members of the organization, like, I dunno, the team plane pilot. So in that case: Zach Hyman. One, he’s a rich kid, so for all I know he’s been around planes at some point, and two, he seems pretty smart. Zach and I could figure it out, I bet.

What would be the coolest animal to scale up to the size of a horse?—crazyliver

Hummingbird. I am also assuming I get to ride the giant hummingbird like a horse and attack my foes with a lance. Don’t even tell me that horse-bird jousting wouldn’t immediately become the most watched sport in North America.

Do you give up a decade of sustained success (including the possibility yet no guarantees of cups) for a guaranteed cup next season?—Alspicer

Guaranteed Cup. If we suck for ten years, whatever, I can 100% coast off that one win for a decade. I’ve worked off less for longer. And believe me, I would take full advantage of the 2019. I would write the smuggest victory lap piece you ever saw.

What are 3 things you should never cheap out on, regardless of your financial situation?

My personal example would be ketchup (Heinz is by far the best, It can make or break a meal), toilet paper (for obvious reasons) and fishing line (nothing worse than losing a fish when you know it could have been prevented).—Fishingfreak99

I’m reading this as not cheaping out to the absolute minimum, because if you really cheap out on things like food you can die or whatever. So assuming it’s just a matter of not settling for inferior quality: housing, headphones, and dentistry. Where you live is where your life is, so you want to sort of like it; bad headphones sound like trash and break down rapidly. I assume I don’t need to make the case for why you shouldn’t get your teeth done at Jerry’s Discount Dentistry and Massage Parlour.

Is it acceptable to eat peanut butter on a burger? It seems to be a thing for some reason.

On the other side of the spectrum: should bacon really be in any desserts?—BlindEyeTy

Is it acceptable, in the sense that it’s not currently a crime? I mean, I guess. For now.

More seriously peanut butter (which I like) is one of those flavours that tends to dominate other flavours, in my experience. I would think you’d end up with a slab of peanut butter meat, rather than any higher mixing of tastes, and that seems like a waste. I’m not gonna test this, though.

As for bacon, same sort of thing. Bacon should be in situations where it gets to shine, with things it works in conjunction with. If you’re throwing it into a whipped cream sundae, what are you achieving? Besides obesity.

If you could hire any GM currently in the league to replace Lou, who would it be and why? (Must already be in the NHL.)

If you could fire anyone you want from the Leafs front office, who would it be, and who would you hire in their place?

What would be the best way fate could repay Brad Marchand for his rodent-like behavior?—Achariya

a) Steve Yzerman. I think Acha knows Stevie’s not going anywhere and is just fishing for me to praise her GM, which is absolutely going to work. The Kucherov contract is one of the most valuable deals in the NHL, he’s drafted extremely well based on the principle of “don’t ignore short guys”, and his trades have been just dandy. It’s not all sunshine and roses—the Ryan Callahan deal is not one I envy—but by and large I think Stevie Y has done an excellent job.

b) I’m not jonesing to fire anybody (isn’t that a nice change?) but if you put a gun to my head, I haven’t been very impressed by Dave Morrison either as director of amateur scouting (prior to 2015) or as director of pro scouting (since that time.) I might hire whoever does the job for Vegas; fluke or not, they sure came up with some value.

c) Marchand should be suspended appropriately for one of his dirty plays and then his team should be eliminated while he’s out. But, you say, that shouldn’t require fate! That should require only an effective Department of Player Safety! YES. YES IT SHOULD.

You are hired as the new Leafs GM. When you get hired, you are told by the NHL head office that they want to increase interest in the league with trades. They have used their secret league powers to create a way to do this, centering on the Leafs.

You are told that you must trade all three of Matthews, Nylander, and Marner. They each have to be traded in an individual 1-for-1 trade. You can trade each for literally any one player on any of the other 30 teams, and the other GM has to accept. However, the trade has to appear to be legit—the idea is that the NHL wants a bunch of big-names traded around but don’t want anyone to know it’s all fixed. You can’t trade for draft picks.

Who do you trade each of them for, and why?

(You can’t make any other hypothetical/fictional moves in order to justify/make these moves make sense; assume these are the first 3 moves of the off-season and any other move would not be a guarantee, other than something like “not re-signing Bozak”, which is within your control as a normal GM).—Shield

Fascinating idea. I like it.

I think Matthews-for-McDavid is, while not quite plausible, about as close to plausible as any one-for-one trade for McDavid can be (given contract situation and so on.) Needless to say if I can do this, I do it in a second. It pains me to send Matthews to Edmonton, but sacrifices must be made.

Mitch Marner goes to Columbus for Seth Jones. Columbus gets a shot in the arm offensively; the Leafs get a 1RD who can credibly play alongside Morgan Rielly.

William Nylander goes to Tampa for Nikita Kucherov. Crazy, you say? Maybe. But I think the pressing need to pay Kucherov makes it tough for Tampa, whereas Nylander gives them the prospect of team control for a number of years. The Leafs are gonna be shelling out pretty considerably, but, uh, I think our Zach Hyman - Connor McDavid - Nikita Kucherov line is gonna do okay.

What do you think is the bare minimum you’d need to spend under the current salary cap (of $75 million) to build a team that could reasonably compete for a Stanley Cup for at least a couple of years?

As a reference point, of the teams left in the playoffs, Vegas and Winnipeg spent the least at $68.8 million and $69.9 million, respectively.—clrkaitken

A couple of years is an interesting timeline; the Jets are going to contend next year and they can probably do it for about $70M again (and then they’re going to have to pay Laine and Connor a boatload of cash.) Vegas has some brutal decisions to make and I still don’t know if they’re a contender or not, or just lightning-in-a-bottle; not to mention their method of team-building is by definition not one that existing teams can imitate.

I think you could probably go about $9-10M under the cap. That’s two decent mid-level players or one high-end star, but given how many teams blow that money on iffy UFA signings, a lot of teams aren’t actually two mid-level players ahead, and most teams get their stars out of the draft anyway. So somewhere in the mid-$60Ms is probably the high end if you’re really smart and really lucky.

Beyond that, though? I think Carolina but if Darling had not sucked is the best case scenario for doing it on the cheap, and they have an awful lot of very good deals and they’re still short a high-end offensive centre before they contend. I don’t think you can be a genuine contender for $59M.

What’s your favourite part about being a cat-dad?—Auston Matthews

The constant meowing. I swear I got the most talkative cat in Toronto; most of the time he’s not even upset, he’s just making cat conversation.

He does run to the door to greet me when I get home, though, which is the best part of having a dog, and I don’t have to walk him, so I’ll say that.

Jurassic Park is now real and your responsibility. How do you make it more idiot proof so that dumb people stop letting dinosaurs out of their pens/doing other dumb stuff so that the events of the first movie and Jurassic World stop happening?—SlickWill

Can I just make it out of herbivores? Don’t have a Tyrannosaurus Rex, or velociraptors! They’re gonna eat people! You’re opening up massive liability concerns. Look, the lawyer in the first movie was right.

Assuming I have to have the full spectrum of dinosaurs, better staff is half the battle. Get good people and pay for them. I recognize that the Scottish guy running the park repeatedly said he “spared no expense”, but he can’t have spent that much money if he wound up hiring Newman from Seinfeld to run his extremely 1990s computer system. Beyond that, you should not have these kind of security and informational bottlenecks where only one person can do a given thing and the system goes rotten if they screw up/turn bad. The real monsters in Jurassic Park....

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were the people.

Thank you.

Without looking it up, can you guess the top 5 skaters in terms of highest cap hit for Vegas this season? Fun fact, they paid Alexei Emelin more money to not play for them than they did to Wild Bill to score 43 goals for them—jdcyantsis

You’ll have to take my word for it that I’m guessing blind, but:

Clarkson, Neal, Grabovski, Emelin, Smith. If you don’t count Tomas Tatar, who they got at the TDL, the right answer was Fleury, Clarkson, Neal, Grabovski, and Smith, so hey, I was close.

VGK is weird, man. See the question later on about them.

What non-NHL UFAs (Europe, KHL, NCAA, etc.) would you consider for Leafs ELC?—Mapleson

Damned if I know! I will say, as a rule I think it pays not to expect much from these sources. You should pursue them and the Leafs have, but the NHL is a big rung up from other leagues and most of the talent in the NHL does get drafted.

But since you asked, the Leafs can always use centre depth. Mason Bergh’s name is one that’s shown up a couple of places and I like the lighter guy with a bit of skill who works hard. I don’t know much more about him than I’ve quickly read; I’m not up on prospects except insofar as I research them for the draft and the T25U25, so I am the opposite of an authority on this.

Las Vegas’ on-ice success is the most confusing thing that’s happened to the NHL/me in a long time. I keep waiting for them to turn back into a pumpkin, but it seems midnight has passed without fanfare. How should I begin to rationalize their success and where it came from, and are there any lessons for the rest of the league?—pumpedtires

I ask myself the same thing! I did not expect this, not one bit.

The first thing is that the Golden Knights assembled an elite supporting cast and just..had that be the whole team. Do you remember The Hangover, which also happened in Vegas? The cast of that was mostly people who were great supporting players in other TV shows and movies who came together to provide a really great ROI to the good people of Warner Brothers Incorporated. That movie made 1300% back at the box office because it was assembled out of the best kind of spare parts.

That’s basically the deal with Vegas. Guys like James Neal, William Karlsson, Colin Miller were all good in supporting roles, and it turns out if you build the entire squad out of that, you will be competitive at the high end and excellent on depth. Justin Bourne has noted that they got a ton of guys who were squarely in their primes, and that’s true too.

Second, goaltending. Everyone knew they were going to get Fleury and they did. Fleury is a quality starter. That goes a long way.

Third, Dale Tallon screwed up. People are tired of hearing this or want to deny it. This is rubbish and the hockey men should wear it forever. Marchessault was a legitimate top-line talent and the Panthers let him go to lose Reilly Smith, who has also turned out to be a top-line talent. There’s no excusing that.

Fourth, good luck. The most obvious example is that William Karlsson shot the lights out in a way I would be astonished to see him repeat next year (or ever again.) Vegas’ numbers also wilted a bit towards the end of the year, before they then stomped the Kings into dust.

I still can’t quite believe this is sustainable at this level. But having really, really excellent depth goes a long way, and shit...they don’t need much more luck to win it all, from where they are this instant.

Do you believe Nazem Kadri is a one-hit wonder as identified by pudding.cool?—Mapleson

Hard no. I hate to say this, but when has a generalist site ever done a decent job with hockey? Grantland, maybe. By and large, though, they offer a pretty superficial analysis.

The idea is that Nazem Kadri’s best season was 2012-13, because Kadri ranked so high in points off a 17% shooting spike in a shortened season. One, that’s a poor way to evaluate his offence (his shot rate has gone up since and he’s put up back-to-back 32-goal seasons), and two, it totally ignores that his defence has improved enormously since then. Does anyone who follows hockey really think Kadri was a better player then than he is now? I doubt it.

32 is a good number (just ask Steve Thomas or Nick Kypreos). In pro sports it is as well, since 2, 4, 8, 16 all divide into it. So lets say that the league calls it a day at 32 teams after the Seattle Kirkland Frappucinos join the league. There will be 4 divisions of 8 teams each. Is there any chance of relocating existing teams or has Atlanta’s 7 year long road trip been the last relocation we’ll see? An eastern team to Quebec City or Arizona to Houston are the only moves I see possible.—Mike Brown’s Moustache

Relocation is always a possibility once a team goes broke, and a few teams are always on the edge of that. Arizona is such a tire fire at this point financially I really have no idea how it’s going to go, but it being relocated in the next few years would not shock me.

The divisional thing will be fun. I could totally see the league trying all sorts of silly things to try to make the division structure work. Look at the current playoff setup and tell me it’s not some awkward jerry-rigged tangle.

You are the new Leafs GM and know that Seattle Golden Seals will have an expansion draft in June 2020.

As the Vegas rules will be duplicated, what roster changes/contract decisions do you make in advance (i.e. not re-signing Gardiner until July 1, 2020; not trading Johnsson as he falls under the “less than 2 professional seasons” rule)?

Who do you protect, who do you expose, and who is on the fence for someone better in the future?—Mapleson

Does Johnsson not qualify? That rule was never explained to my satisfaction, but he’s going to have four professional seasons by the time of the draft.

Anyway, I’m gonna demur on this one: I don’t think you should be making really significant decisions based on who your eighth forward and fourth defenceman could be and whether you might lose them. You shouldn’t be shelling out excessive money at those positions anyway. Maybe some last-minute finagling like you envision with the Gardiner deal, but Gardiner is going to get a term contract in summer 2019 anyway, so that doesn’t apply to him specifically.

The Leafs should assemble the best team they can in the next two years and the expansion draft should be well down the list of considerations they make in doing so.

I don’t really watch basketball, but honestly, the Raps sure had me going this year! I thought they were going to not get absolutely clowned by Lebron, but nope. This was their shot, if they can’t do it this year it’s never going to happen.

So, yeah, the Leafs.

Emily also produced this photo, which you all have to see.

Wow.

If he’s still here, Matt Martin is an obvious candidate to grow his hair out, he’s done it before and it worked for him. But I’m going to pick a wild card here: Auston Matthews has a wild-ass sense of fashion, and he’s acquiring the ability to grow facial hair. Do you want to bet against Auston having a weird art phase where he does his hair and beard like the V for Vendetta mask? Do you kind of want to see that happen?

Beneath this jersey is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.

Total failure of judgment on their part I’m sure. Though I think he and Mark Hunter might duel to the death over the London Knights.

Riverdale, if you haven’t seen it, is the worst show currently being produced for a wide North American audience. It is so, so bad. I spend whole episodes questioning how it can be awful in new and fascinating ways, and it exceeds my expectations week after week.

Anyway, I guess Jughead? I’m less of an emo kid than Jug, but I sympathize with his writing on his laptop, his weird hat, and his dating out of his league. Besides, Archie is a tool and Jughead is one of the people who tells him so.

You know, I honestly think Bettman does know? For all his flaws he’s not a stupid man, and unless he’s deaf he’s noticed he gets booed relentlessly and virtually all of his public appearances. He just doesn’t care. He’s embraced his role as the villain-king and I almost grudgingly respect that about him. Your hatred only strengthens him. He’s going to sustain that broke-ass team in Arizona until 2050 and no one can stop him.

A beverage container with an accent.

Smart betting is on one of the young guns, who are still in their athletic prime (in hockey years I’m way over the hill.) I’ll guess Arvind, who had a secret life as a high-end youth athlete that he only casually told us about a few months ago. Hidden talent.

OEL shoots left, but I suppose he could play right side. I’d rather have Tavares, though. I think as MNM grow and mature, they + Kadri + Tavares would form such a deadly forward core that the defence really wouldn’t matter. Karlsson would really make me think about it at RD, but by and large I think elite forwards impact the game more than elite defencemen do.

They will not. Liljegren isn’t likely to make the team next year regardless, and by the following season at the latest I think neither Marincin nor Polak will be in the NHL. It’ll take a while, but Lily’s gonna get where he’s going.

Bar trivia. I’m only afraid of Connor Carrick at that, he seems like he knows all sorts of shit. Maybe it’s just the glasses.

Strong case imo. Fact: Joffrey Lupul has been one of the top-three highest cap hit Leafs during this glorious rebuild era. Doesn’t that sound like a central player to you?

Realistic options is the interesting part. Fwiw, the lines in the last game against Boston:

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Connor Brown

Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Kasperi Kapanen

Andreas Johnsson - Tomas Plekanec - William Nylander

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey

Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev

Travis Dermott - Roman Polak

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney

The thing is, it’s very hard to realistically upgrade on that forward group in terms of personnel. I would flip Brown and Nylander, but honestly, who are you adding that’s really going to improve? John Tavares or Paul Stastny as UFAs, and maybe Joe Thornton if he’s not falling apart, and...that’s it? James Neal would be the best wing addition but if the Leafs aren’t splurging to keep JVR, they aren’t going to win the bidding on Neal, I think.

Right defence is a different story, of course. I’m not sure I like bidding as high as John Carlson will cost, but he’s currently slated for UFA status. In terms of acquirable RDs, Chris Tanev and Radko Gudas stand out to me as guys you could hopefully get without breaking the bank—though neither is going to fix your whole team, either.

If I have to give my best realistic option:

  1. Replace Bozak with Tavares (hey, I think we have a shot)
  2. Replace Hainsey with Tanev
  3. Replace Zaitsev with Gudas
  4. Replace Polak with Zaitsev

It’s not a superstar d-group or anything but it’s good enough, and when you add Tavares, it doesn’t much matter.

I mean literally it seems like we should, right? We were that close and lost our 2C for three games. At the same time, even in the games that Kadri appeared (1, 5, 6, 7) I didn’t feel like we were usually the better team, to be honest with you. It would have helped our chances, but we still would have needed a little luck.

Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle is never going to get the credit he deserved, but he was an absolutely fantastic passing defenceman and in today’s game I think he’d look even better. I am very, very tempted by Alex Mogilny and Gary Roberts, but Mogilny had a lot of injuries by the time we got him and both he and Roberts were getting up there in years. Prime Kaberle makes our defence much better even if he forces someone to the right side.

No I think you’re right. Our D are flawed, for sure, but defence is a team thing and our team is still sorting that out. Our biggest problems are that when teams cycle against us we seem to wind up scrambling and praying for a whistle, and that we ice the puck too often. The two are related, but forwards (and tactics!) play a role in both of them. I think our forwards will continue to improve at that, at least. There’s legit hope to improve there.

When Trump is either imploding or out of office (and I mean actually imploding, as in hemorrhaging core support.) Someone will sell it to someone once they aren’t afraid of Trump anymore.

The pee tape is real. Believe.

Pancakes. Pancakes are an enjoy-the-morning food. Things are usually going well for me when I’m having pancakes. Waffles are kind of all over the place, they’re either a dessert thing or me mowing down an Eggo because I can’t be bothered to make a real meal like an adult.

Yep!

The reality with Jake Gardiner is that he is a net positive, and that’s what you tell people. Do not deny that Jake sometimes does things that make your want to hit your head into your desk. He does. We all know the feeling. The point is that his good outweighs his bad. As much as his bad is frustrating: his good outweighs his bad. Repeat.

Putting aside Andreas Borgman and Travis Dermott, who each played cozy minutes in partial seasons, Jake Gardiner was the best Leafs defender in expected goals this year—that means the team did best in terms of the quality and quantity of chances with him on. Gardiner always looks good by this number, year in, year out. In 2014-15, when the Leafs as a whole were awful, Gardiner and Cody Franson were the only defencemen on the team that looked remotely decent by that number. This isn’t that he doesn’t sometimes make dumb giveaways—he does! But. Net positive.

You’ll also notice Jake was tied for 15th in defence scoring this year (with Rielly). All the guys ahead of him range from top pair to elite. Maybe surprisingly, it wasn’t all power play with Jake; he tied for sixth (!) in the NHL in even-strength points, with a ton of primary assists. Yes, this means he played with good forwards, but it’s also reflective of him getting the puck up and out to them. When Matthews or Nylander finish a play with a dynamite goal, it’s not uncommon for that play to have started with, or gone through, Jake Gardiner. If you want to knock his defence, you have to acknowledge that is offence is phenomenal.

Maybe your listeners don’t buy all those numbers, though. Then I’d say: last year against Washington, this year in the regular season, and this year against Boston, Mike Babcock used Jake Gardiner more than any other defenceman. “And look where it got him!” Well, it got him to Game 7. It’ll be forgotten too easily now, but prior to that awful final game, Jake Gardiner was the best Leafs defender through six games and was leaned on as a 1D. Babcock has said time and again that Gardiner may go haywire at times, but he’s a better defender than people realize, and he comes out positive in chances.

Net positive.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!