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Mailbag: Plague Vacation Edition

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Featuring bad teams, Matthews vs. Eichel, the attractiveness of a serial killer, and more.

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Nashville Predators v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

Here’s another edition of the mailbag.

The Killers are interesting. They were one of the biggest rock bands in the world in the mid-00s, and they seemed to have a real mastery for arena-crushing, show-stopping hits that were so good you ignored that the lyrics routinely made no sense. (To this day, I’m not sure if we’re human or if we’re dancer.) And then they just kind of slid back to passable rock band status. They’re fine. Do they have another “Mr. Brightside” or “When You Were Young” in them now? Probably not.

The comparison I’m going with is Eric Staal, who like The Killers hit a youthful career peak in 2006. Staal put up 45 goals and 100 points at age 21 en route to winning the Stanley Cup. He went on being good for a while after that, and is in fact still pretty good, it’s just that no one cares that much now. Still, rings last forever. Except the rings in Mr. Brightside, which is a song about adultery. I never said it was a perfect metaphor.

The term is a bit scary there. A six-year deal for him would end at the time he was turning 35. There are forwards who are still effective as of their age-34 seasons, but most of them are aging stars who have a greater height to drop from than Hyman does.

That said: Hyman apparently works extremely hard, the Leafs are trying to win soon, he seems to be a very useful top six LW, and he does love it here. I would be hoping those factors—as well as the huge clouding issue of a drop in revenues—might help keep things reasonable. And if it’s a flat or very low-growth cap in the next couple of seasons, the Leafs might do a lot of trading-term-for-AAV. I would bite the bullet and sign Hyman six years at $3.5M if he’d take it.

Andreas Johnsson looks like an extremely good bet to be traded whether or not Robertson gets promoted next year. If the cap is flat or only rises slightly they can’t really afford him. The Leafs seem keen on re-signing Ilya Mikheyev, which would mean Hyman and Mickey form the 1-2 punch at LW, so Johnsson becomes natural trade bait.

Conceivably the Leafs could trade Kapanen or Kerfoot, but I think AJ makes the most sense. Godspeed, Andreas.

Brad Marchand should always be banned completely.

My slightly boring answer to this interesting question is that the actual on-ice rules will probably stay the same. The league is going to try to develop a bubble of uninfected people and players, and once they do that they’ve probably done all they can. Even if you get rid of face-washing in the crease and the like, there’s way too much close-quarter contact both within teams and in games to really control it.

They’re both genuinely outstanding players who took big steps at driving play this season. They’re both big, forceful centres with superb puck control. Eichel is more of a playmaker with truly excellent vision. Matthews has maybe the best snap shot in the NHL; if at some point Team USA puts them on the same line, I would expect Matthews to move to the wing rather than Eichel, just because Matthews is more of a finisher.

I asked good Twitter person and Sabres fan Kevin for his thoughts on this, to get a fuller perspective on Jack Eichel, and he was kind enough to give me a response here:

1. Eichel’s main ability has for his entire career been that he is an exceptionally talented puck carrier, protector and possessor in all three zones. Elite at transitioning the puck since he entered the league.

2. He has always been good controlling time on the puck in the offensive zone, and before the past couple years he was primarily looking to be a playmaker and a volume/distance shooter. As a result, he often failed to translate huge time of possession into huge finishing for his lines. He would shoot primarily to create chaos and rebounds (this is why he and Jeff Skinner worked so well, as Skinner is elite at cleaning up trash). Eichel was only the primary trigger man on the power play.

3. This year, he added the element of being a more dangerous in-zone shooter and rush shooter (he also ran hot percentage-wise).

4. Comparing Eichel to Matthews, I think they’re similar in the sense that their primary contribution is offense and have both improved to being decent defensive players. To my eyes, Eichel is the better player in transition and maybe a bit better as a playmaker. Matthews is and has always been more consistent at driving dangerous chances and more of a dangerous shooter. He plays much more around the net it seems. Eichel is like the most elite possible version of a “perimeter player,” which often gets used as a criticism of a player. He plays with a really long stick, which helps with puck protection, but harms him a bit in very small spaces in tight.

5. Poor teammate quality has forced Eichel to carry a ridiculous offensive burden on whatever line he is on. I don’t always think that’s the most efficient use of his skills, but it has mostly been the only option thus far.

Thanks to Kevin for the direct line on this. I think this about adds up—Matthews as the scoring chance machine and Eichel as the possession monster. They’re both probably top-10 players in the world at this point, and while I prefer the Leafs’ guy, I can’t really blame Buffalo fans for preferring the Sabre.

Realistically I’m in trouble against anyone since I’m bad at it. If I break 100 it’s a good trip to the alley. However:

We all know bowling is the anti-sport. Normal athletes are fit, muscular creatures. Elite bowlers are 48-year-old chain-smokers who look like the before picture in a Rogaine ad. Therefore, and I really feel like my logic is airtight here, the youngest and fittest Leafs would be the worst bowlers. I would be a strong favourite against William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Morgan Rielly, and Auston Matthews.*

*I would lose to all of them.

Honestly, I love Quebec City. Quebec City in the summer is beautiful. Put it there and then put the 32nd team there. It has rinks, it’s in the Eastern Standard Time Zone, and we could all make jokes about how it’s such a nice short drive for the Habs, it’s a shame they couldn’t make the playoffs, really.

As of right now, the league year still ends July 1 and free agents are all unbound. That fact led to this fun hypothetical DGB article. But as Sean notes in that piece, the league and the union can agree to end the league year at a different point, and they would inevitably do so in the course of settling on a plan to resume operations.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s without issues...

I have to admit: I don’t know.

The actual language of the Standard Player Contract governs the length of the contract in “League Years.” The League Year is virtually always July 1 through June 30th, but the league and the NHLPA can agree on another “one-year period.” The move they’re making here is actually to extend the existing league year beyond 12 months, though; I think there’s a fair case that’s not contained within the language of the CBA as written.

Now, the union and the league can also renegotiate sections of the CBA as required; let’s say they do it to push the league year to September 1, as indicated in the question. Our player who wants to go to Europe—we’ll call him Heinz Homesick—might have a legitimate complaint here. After all, the league and the union redefining the word “year” to not mean “twelve months” is a pretty substantial alteration of the agreement. The grievance processes in the CBA have to be initiated by either the union (usually on behalf of a player) or the league, and so how this exceptional case might be treated does sound like a see-you-in-court question.

As a practical matter very few players of NHL calibre are going to want to burn a bridge with their organization like this, and teams probably won’t hold players they don’t have use for, so I suspect there might be some mutual terminations for players like Heinz to ease business. Most European leagues also have an agreement with the NHL to govern player transfers. That said, are there fringe-of-roster guys who teams might want for a playoff run, but who want to go home and lock in a contract? Possibly! And I could see that ending in court.

It’s so hard to be a good hot-taker these days. Every major topic has had multiple sides of it argued to death. But here’s one:

Most politicians don’t lie as much as people think. Seriously. (And they definitely don’t all lie the same amount; Donald Trump, who really does lie constantly, is not merely as bad as a typical politician. He’s much worse.) Most politicians, like most lawyers, are careful in what they say to avoid too many outright lies. And that can be deceptive. But I think saying “well, they’re all bad, it can’t be helped” is a good way to stop asking for anything better...or to excuse lies and crimes when it’s your candidate doing them.

Apparently? While to me Ted Bundy looked like a jitterbug with an accordion-crease forehead, he seems to be mythologized more than even most serial killers, and his looks apparently both facilitated his attacks and helped prevent the police from locking onto him as a suspect. It seems clear he at least appeared handsome to a lot of people once upon a time. What psychological process leads some people to find him more attractive because of his hideous crimes is beyond the scope of a mailbag.

If I have to throw a pretend number at it, 10%, which is my number for “not untouchable but not likely.” Dermott is a nice young defenceman who generally plays third pair and doesn’t have high point production. He’s not a great offer sheet candidate even if teams still did mid-level offer sheets, which they apparently do not. There just isn’t a lot of pressure moving his salary up, which means that even the capped-out Leafs should be able to keep him.

Even if the Leafs make a big acquisition at 1RD—God knows how, but let’s say they do it—that still leaves you with pairings of

Morgan Rielly - Unicorn Trade Acquisition
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin - __________

Timothy Liljegren hasn’t forced his way into that spot yet and can still go back to the Marlies. You aren’t dealing anyone to give Calle Rosen or Martin Marincin regular ice-time. So again, nothing about Travis Dermott is untouchable, there’s just no particular reason to move him.

Matthews.

Marner is a very good player. He is not as good as Matthews and I don’t think there’s a reasonable case that he is. Even if Matthews leaves in free agency [gasps of horror] he arguably has a greater negative impact on the franchise by his absence. So barring unforeseeable things, it’s #34.

Surely this is a size mismatch, no? Andersen and Matthews tower over their competition. I’d have to bet on the big boys there even though Kapanen might run rings around them and jump on somebody from behind.

I am assuming that this is a one-for-one trade happening right after this season ends, with contract status as they will be at that time; I’m not considering UFAs. In no particular order:

Victor Hedman, Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Aaron Ekblad, Colton Parayko, Charlie McAvoy, Miro Heiskanen, and Thomas Chabot. If I can extend Dougie Hamilton to any kind of reasonable deal immediately on him being acquired, he joins the list.

There are a few names I would seriously consider (Ryan Ellis is the big one) but these nine are the ones I would do without needing much time to think about it.

At the time the league suspended operations, Detroit, Ottawa, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim were the bottom five teams in the standings. Los Angeles was actually on something of a hot streak when the NHL shut down—they’d won seven in a row—and their fancy stats suggest they’re better than their record. So I’m going to swap the Kings out for the 26th-place team, the New Jersey Devils. I’d entertain arguments we should flip Anaheim for Buffalo, but I think that’s partly the overall stench of failure because Buffalo has been so bad for ten years now. So: Detroit, Ottawa, SJ, NJ, and Anaheim.

From the best rebuild position to the worst:

  1. New Jersey. They’re a massive disappointment because they were expected to be on the way up this season, but New Jersey has a lot to like. Jack Hughes has obscene talent and a ton of time to improve, Nico Hischier is sneaky-good on a good deal, and Mackenzie Blackwood has provided pretty good goaltending this year. Having your likely top two centres and a potential starting goalie aged 18, 21, and 23 respectively is not at all a bad start. They have two hefty contracts including the iffy PK Subban deal and the sunk cost of Corey Schneider, but both contracts are over by the time Jack Hughes will need a second deal. The defence needs a lot of work, so I’m not predicting an imminent return to form, but I think the Devils will be better next year and, if they play their cards right, better still the season after that. And not for nothing, but they’re probably going to pick three times in the first round this draft.
  2. Ottawa. Ottawa is the toughest team to rank here because they have so much that I genuinely like and then the Melnyk ownership issue hangs over everything like a shroud. Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot are both real-deal players who already look like a 1LW and a 1LD respectively. The team has some interesting prospects in Alex Formenton, Logan Brown and Drake Batherson. They’re likely going to pick twice (!) in the top five this year, which is a huge opportunity even if they don’t win the Lafreniere lottery. And yet...is Eugene Melnyk going to pay to keep and support these players? Is the fact that the team seems to have given up drafting from Russia and much of Europe going to hurt them? Do bad deals like Bobby Ryan, Nikita Zaitsev, and (potentially) Colin White damage the Sens worse, both because of less money to go around and because of a potential unwillingness to pay a player on LTIR? (I don’t know to what extent those deals are insured.) The Sens have a huge amount of talent, a mass of draft picks, and a respectable cap sheet going forward. That plus decent goaltending ought to get them back to respectability in a few years. Whether they can be more than that, we’ll see.
  3. Anaheim. Anaheim fits a little oddly with this list because I don’t think they’re in a position to pursue a full rebuild. They have John Gibson, who could return to being the best goalie in the world next year (he’s still only 26, remember), and that would swiftly ruin any tank job. They still have several good mid-level forwards and defencemen, and while I don’t envy the Cam Fowler deal I don’t think it’s unmovable right now. Aside from the perma-injured Ryan Kesler, who can be LTIR’d if they want, the Ducks have no awful contracts. This might unfortunately set them up to just rise to mediocrity, especially if they don’t get a big score from the draft this year, but the Ducks really aren’t that badly off. Of these five teams I think that they’re the most likely to return to the playoffs next year, and so I am grading them mostly on the fact I think they can re-tool if they want to.
  4. Detroit. They’re horrible. They know it, you know it, we all know it. As far as that goes, there are some good fundamentals: they have wealthy ownership that seems willing to spend, they have a smart GM in Steve Yzerman, they have some extra draft picks (albeit no extra firsts) and they have a couple of decent players in Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. The main thing is this team is garbage. All of the teams here are bad, but the Wings are really, really bad. They’re so bad that it ironically makes their worst contracts less awful, because they can’t realistically expect to be good for a while. It’s hard to come back from being burnt all the way down; ask the Sabres. The Red Wings aren’t quite as abject as Buffalo was during their 2014-15 tank—the Wings have one decent forward line, Buffalo had zero—but the Wings need to add at every position and don’t seem to have a real star anywhere in the organization yet. Detroit is in a good rebuild position in a sense, because they have absolutely no other choice. But it’s a long road back to the top.
  5. San Jose. Oh God it’s like looking into hell! San Jose is a better team than they’ve looked like this year, and they could conceivably get back into the playoffs with decent goaltending. But this is a ranking of rebuild position and the Sharks basically can’t. They’re giving up their first-round pick this year to Ottawa. They’re paying well over $40M against the cap to several aging players for the next four-plus seasons, and I don’t think most of those deals are tradeable even beyond the various clauses they all have. Doug Wilson is a smart GM; the thing is, he built this team to contend with a clear recognition that some day he would have to pay the piper. The Sharks contended, did not win a Cup, and now the piper has sent his invoice. Unless ownership and management are content to suck for five-plus years and wait out all their many contracts, and I really doubt they are, the Sharks are going to try to compete again next season, and the season after that. Where Detroit has no choice but to rebuild, San Jose is almost compelled not to.

What is the last food in your cupboard/fridge you’ll eat in these times? How will you prepare it?—Kidkawartha

I have a pretty solid supply of cereal, including a healthy kind that I eat one bowl of aspirationally like every two months before eating other stuff instead the rest of the time. Naturally I would sautee this cereal and stuff it in a roasted turkey.

Terrific! Thank you for asking.

I was totally gonna look up what Kerry Fraser did personally to make jokes, but the first story that came back was this and now I don’t feel like I can.

I didn’t watch too many of them but if you put a gun to my head, I’ll go with House. It stuck rigidly to its formula: diagnosis, the twist in the diagnosis, the false solution, the crisis, the revelation, the actual solution. But it was good at that all the same, and it had a few good lines an episode. Note: I don’t think we should have any shows about doctors, lawyers or cops for like, fifteen years now. We need a break.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!