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Mailbag: Angry Fanbases and Time Lord Dubas

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All that and more in the mailbag.

Lamborghini With The Cinema Society, Jaeger-LeCoultre & 19 Crimes Wines Host A Screening Of Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange” - Arrivals Photo by Matthew Eisman/WireImage

Let’s get to it!

If I turn up murdered in the next month, I bet it’ll have something to do with my answers to this. But hey, viva la vida. Let’s go:

#5. The New Jersey Devils. This isn’t entirely fair—many of the Devils fans I know have a great sense of humour of the kind that comes from a long stretch of failure—but it’s because of one specific thing I’ve noticed. I grew up watching the Devils play stultifying, dirty, horribly dull trap hockey and being very successful doing it. It was excruciating and half the value of the most recent rule changes is that that style has never really come all the way back.

Devils fans do not like hearing this. They will yell and scream that the Devils were actually near the top of the league in goals for game (with like one per game, because the trap era was hell), that they were very exciting, you just don’t get it, on and on and on. The word “gaslighting” gets overused a lot these days, but friends, the Devils fanbase is absolutely trying to gaslight us all about what those old Devil teams were like. They were abhorrent in every sense. There was nothing fun about them for anyone outside of the Tri-State Area and they threw cheap shot hits that should have gotten the whole team imprisoned as an organized crime syndicate. They were boring, awful and vile and their name should be cursed in polite company. Accept it, Devils fans, you were...the devil.

Sorry.

#4. The Montreal Canadiens. We’ve had our fair share of belligerent, unreasonable, semi-unhinged Habs fans, but I have to acknowledge: I have made much more fun of them than any other franchise and I have by no means gotten the worst feedback from them, and so I have to give them a grudging kind of credit. Some of them even play along with the jokes. I assume they just wrap themselves up in banners from the 1970s and it helps comfort them.

#3. The Ottawa Senators. Honestly when the Sens fanbase gets mad at us it’s kind of cute. They talk about how we’re “big city assholes in love with our own reflection in the mirror” and “Alfredsson was just as good as Sundin” and “hey, you’re being really condescending, stop it.” It’s like when your four-year-old tells you he saw a unicorn in the backyard. Did you? That’s adorable, honey. Now it’s nap time for a couple more years while the team finishes in the bottom ten.

#2. The Edmonton Oilers. The real issue with the Oilers isn’t so much that the fans take it poorly when other fanbases make fun of them for overrating Leon Draisaitl or whichever create-a-player is currently a first-line winger. It’s that the fans who take it poorly are also the newspaper columnists who cover the team.

#1. The Vancouver Canucks. Oh good lord. The Canucks could honestly have had all five spots on the list and it would be no more than merited. Making the mildest of jokes at the expense of the Canucks gets the angriest responses you’ve ever seen. Because, and I’m like 60% serious here, the Vancouver Canucks fanbase is a conspiracy theory.

Vancouver genuinely seems to believe everyone, especially the east coast media, is out to get them. You can see this whenever those people say anything that touches on Vancouver at all. What seemed to you like a fairly innocuous joke about Tyler Myers’ Corsi Against is yet more evidence of the Toronto media’s determination to tear down everything they love and have built. It’s not so much a joke as an existential threat. The Upper Canada Illuminati at the Toronto Sports Network are determined to deny Elias Pettersson credit as part of their New World Ontario or whatever the hell it is.

Speaking as a card-carrying Toronto jerk, I have to tell you: if the Leafs could influence the league in any meaningful way, do you think [gestures at the last 50 years of Leaf history] or that [points at the constant chatter for us to trade our best players] or even that [holding up four fingers and then one finger.] The paranoid anger that seems to come roaring back in response to ordinary trash talk is misplaced. We’re not Goliath, we’re Mr. Bean. We’re a comical franchise in a country that, as this division has made evident, is mostly composed of comical franchises. Don’t take it so personally.

I’m not expecting Canucks fans to link arms with us in the spirit of brotherhood or anything, but maybe someday the replies to a Canucks joke article won’t feel like Van-QAnon.

What am I missing when it comes to Jimmy Vesey?—Ian Tulloch

Jimmy Vesey is a guy with exactly one skillset at 5v5: he is a big boy who can stand in the slot and finish plays at a competent rate. He seems like he should pair with offensive players because of that, and he can score goals doing it, and I think both Dubas (in signing him) and Keefe (in playing him in the top six) have focused on that trait. He was also, to be fair, very cheap.

The problem with Vesey is he doesn’t really do anything else at even strength. This was the opinion of a Sabres fan who gave me a scouting report (@ntrider825), it’s consistent with the numbers profile, and it’s borne out by everything I’ve seen so far. Vesey isn’t such a great finisher that he can get away with being that limited, and so he’s not really good enough that you want to play him in your top six. He’s passable there played with elite players, as are a lot of wingers, but he’s going to disappear for long stretches and then pop-up for a tap-in, and that’s it. He kills penalties okay too, I guess. You can see why the Leafs are rumoured to be kicking the tires on top six wingers, though.

I wonder about the defensive consequences of making it so much harder to fully clear the zone, but maybe the two-line pass rule would help with that. You would have to restructure a ton of modern hockey strategy that the players and coaches have learned since childhood (which, by the way, is why this will never happen), but it’s possible this would work. I would only say that any rule you have based around a line is going to lead to whistles because teams will try to maximize the advantage by playing as close to the line as possible, and sometimes they’ll go over. I don’t really feel too much eagerness to try this, but I don’t hate it.

Eliminating faceoffs seems unnecessary to me. Replacing a dynamic event with a gifted possession just seems like it slows things down. You need it in basketball to allow some balance between teams, whereas in soccer it’s a factor in soccer being super boring. Leave faceoffs alone.

I will be honest, until I somehow get rich, I’m never going to be big on travel. Spending considerable money to spend a week somewhere isn’t really worth it to me as compared to something that can measurably improve my life on a regular basis. Gun to my head, though:

  1. Berlin
  2. Prague
  3. Tokyo

Favourite player to watch: This is a pretty cliched answer, but in terms of “the reason for the most non-Leaf games I have gone out of my way to watch in my life”, it’s Sidney Crosby by an enormous margin. He’s great at everything even now, and he regularly finds plays to make with vision, hands, and everything else that just aren’t options for normal NHLers. He’s the tell-your-kids-about-him player for me.

Most irrationally hated player: I can recognize I am a little unfair to Tyson Barrie. I still think I have a rational basis for being annoyed at his play though. All the other players I hate are mostly for cheap shots (Tom Wilson etc.)

Player whose numbers and eye test don’t match: These players tend to be speed demons for me. A lot goes into hockey, but I always think a player who can operate way faster than most of the league ought to be able to be at least average. Andreas Athanasiou is an example: great speed, and yet it translates to poor defence and, for a lot of his career, less offence than you’d think.

Trade speculation is the easiest way in the world to look silly. One because it’s so hard to gauge the market, two because every fanbase hates trade ideas that aren’t wildly skewed in their favour, three because the individual psychology of GMs changes the whole picture.

It’s kind of hard to find a deal-out here anyway. Muzzin and Brodie have no-move clauses, and I can’t imagine we want to trade Muzzin (who has been our steadiest defender) or Brodie (who we just signed) even if they waive. I don’t think Holl returns you much and he’s more useful as-is; nor does Dermott. That leaves Morgan Rielly.

Do you want to trade Rielly (who has a limited NTC, by the way?) There’s a case. He has his defensive flaws, some team might love his power play points, we might not want his next deal, and so on. It’s a nervous trade to make, though, and there aren’t that many teams that need a PP1 guy. Call Jim Rutherford and ask if he’s tired of Jason Zucker, maybe.

Sure, it’s possible. Do I believe it? No. If Sheldon Keefe thought these players were going to make his lineup markedly better, he would play them more. Barabanov and Lehtonen are 26 and 27, respectively, and while I’m sure there’s an adjustment, I don’t buy that it’s that huge that you need to play these guys under ten minutes a game through some transition period. Not to mention, Keefe didn’t play his fourth line and third pair all that much last year; I don’t think this is special treatment for his KHL signings.

This is mostly just a feeling. It’s exacerbated because the Leafs have almost always been active in signing older free agents (especially pre-salary cap), because the Toronto media market is a funhouse, and because there’s a natural instinct to get overexcited about new signings, whereas when you watch players and deal with actual results, you have to live with reality. Also, for a long time, we had bad GMs who signed bad players, so that didn’t help. That said, plenty of recent Leaf signings have turned out decently, or at least not worse than you’d expect (I’m thinking of Tavares, trade acquisitions like Muzzin and Andersen, etc.) We mostly have bad memories of the team because the team has been disappointing, but I think by and large the Leafs have a fine enough record with this stuff.

Jason Blake was also better than it felt like. The team just sucked.

There is no way I am in the least competent to answer this question. My answer is that all the bad guys would align with the Empire but they would lose because the Star Wars empire is a bunch of incompetent dorks who leave their exhaust ports unshielded.

It’s very funny to me to think of us altering the entire power structure of world events just to add a hockey market. We could add the Rangers and totally warp the financial landscape of the planet. I think I’ve gotta pick that just to see what happens. Occupy Wall Street!

There is a saying—I think Micah McCurdy came up with it, but I’m not 100% sure—that for a middle-range offensive player your primary memory of them will be them missing scoring chances. They’re good enough to get them, but they’re not good enough to score on them all the time (or they’d be high-end players.) That goes double for fast players who get breaks. Mikheyev definitely does seem reminiscent of Kapanen that way, but I try to remember that’s part of the deal with those kinds of forwards.

I’d have to bet the under, much as I like the guy. If we take all the GMs in history and then toss out the ones who lasted less than a year to get rid of the interim options, the median tenure for a general manager is right about four and a half years total. Dubas is now coming up on three years in the job, so he would be solidly beating the industry standard if he made to 7.5. He hasn’t yet had any of the exemplary results that would make that likely. Winning a Cup would help.

The eye test is a strange thing. It hasn’t looked like that to me. It did seem to me like he wasn’t able to be as effective on the early third line with Alex Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev, mostly for want of options to do offensive work with, but beyond that Hyman seems like his same delightful self to me. His numbers look great, too. Hyman’s awesome.

Smart bet is against a player learning a new position at age 26. I won’t say it’s for sure undoable, but you have to do a lot more offensively at forward, and I’ve never seen much evidence Rielly is an especially great shooter. (I know, he had 20 goals one time. He has a neat floating wrister from the blue line on the power play, and that’s fine, but you’d want more at F.) Could he skate well and pass fine? Sure. I don’t think that’s worth it to make a meh LW, despite team needs. The ugly truth is, were this magical circumstance to arrive, you’d probably consider trading him.

It’s an interesting question, and I’m afraid it’ll be hard to tell. The impression I get is that a lot of hockey coaches don’t alter their plans that significantly in season—the game rewards being able to make very fast plays under pressure as if they’re automatic, and shifting that too much slows that process down. Definitely there’ll be no excuse to be surprised, and so the game planning should be well-informed by March and April, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the difference were fairly modest. You can know Connor McDavid very well, and obstruct him all you can, but he remains Connor McDavid.

Last weekend I listened to The Origins of Totalitarianism while vacuuming. It felt very dadlike. Also terrible puns.

I think “sheltering” can be an unfortunate choice of words because it seems like a moral judgment, as if Alex Kerfoot is out there like Boromir getting riddled with arrows to keep John Tavares snug and warm. Really the goal is just to maximize outcomes, as you say. We know full well that John Tavares can play well as a defensive centre, we just figure we can do better this way. You can call it “optimized” if you want, instead of sheltered, given that’s the goal.

Honestly I think the Leafs will be fine on 2-on-1s. Teams do miss them sometimes. It happens.

You know, I can’t say I’ve been impressed by most of the complimentary players. I’ve liked Zach Hyman and Justin Holl, but they’ve mostly just done what they did last year, which was good. I suppose that’s impressive nonetheless. T.J. Brodie has been fine. No one new to the team has been all that great.

The most surprising team, in a weird way, has been the Buffalo Sabres. If you told me the Sabres were 2-3-1, I would not be surprised, because that is a very Buffalo Sabres record to have. If you told me their underlying numbers were better than that sounded, I would have been a little surprised, but I would have figured their strong top six did it and they had good offence. Instead, at present, Buffalo has the best expected goals against in the NHL, but has been ruined by goaltending. The Sabres as a defensive fortress is not something I ever thought I’d see.

We’ll never truly know. It was either Tony DeAngelo or a person of like perspective and brains, I guess.

I am instinctively sympathetic to this idea, because visually I’ve always preferred Matthews/Nylander and Tavares/Marner; they just look right to me. That said, xG says the currently layout (Matthews/Marner and Tavares/Nylander) has had better results, although really any combination of these players is good. Tavares-Marner did score a bit more together, and sometimes I think Marner gets underrated stat-wise because he’s a good passer and our metrics don’t fully account for that.

Still, the bottom line is probably the point I made in the middle—there’s not really a wrong answer here and no line has been so clearly better that it’s the obvious choice. If this is how the players and Keefe prefer it, that’s fine by me.

Taylor Hall LW rental, baby. Palmieri would also be a fun rental option, if possible, though I’m sure the market will be silly and as a rule I don’t love paying for rentals. Assuming those are pie-in-the-sky options, I’d probably turn my attention to a competent 3C type like Alex Wennberg in Florida; he’s not going to light the world on fire, but we could put Kerfoot up to 2LW and I think I’d like that.

Because gold is the only safe store of value in a world of fiat currency, blah blah blah, audit the Fed, other libertarian stuff.

I think so, yeah? The Leafs’ offence doesn’t look great 5v5 and that’s kind of important; if you want to do an autopsy on the CBJ qualifying round loss, that was probably the most immediate cause of death. This is just asking for a hundred annoyed people to sarcastically ask if I’m seriously worried about the offence from a team with Matthews and Marner and so on, who have all these points, etc. etc. And yeah, I am a bit. We need to be dominant offensively to be a contender, I think; we’ve gotten to “passable” on defence and I don’t see it improving much more than that.

Once again I am asked about something I know nothing about. But quickly:

John Tavares: Freddy Krueger. John Tavares is a jack of all trades and a master of several. He can produce offence in any way he wants, which seems consistent with the dreamlike horror of Krueger, where anything can kill you.

Auston Matthews: Jason Voorhees. Despite repeatedly being knocked down, he comes back to kill you again and again, with his unanswerable weapon (snap shot/machete.)

Zach Bogosian: a zombie. Mobility approximately the same.

Seems a bit harsh, but you marry Rielly because he seems like such a nice guy, you re-sign Hyman because he makes our forward lines better, and Andersen, well, he’s going to a nice farm upstate, sorry. I don’t like big goalie contracts running into a player’s 30s.

Waived goalies just disappear into the ether, you know.

I don’t think there was really a way around it. There was going to be demand for goalies this season, and goalies of a decent calibre (e.g. in the NHL backup range) get claimed.

Things is alright.

Screw royalties, screw if a band supports a political party, screw if they made a social media faux pas and are now evil … What would your ultimate goal song be for the Leafs?—DanOfTheNorth

I change my answer to this every time I’m asked, but “Mr. Motivator” by Idles would be fun.

There is a lot of talk about how terrible a teammate Tony DeAngelo is. Citing things like the time he got suspended by his OHL team for using a slur against a teammate. But on January 6th the NYR failed to storm the Capitol building in solidarity with his world view. Why is all the dialogue surrounding the toxicity of having DeAngelo on the roster about his consistent racism and not about his teammates refusing to unify the team by adopting his racism?—Redonred

In all seriousness, though: I would not be surprised if a lot of the Rangers are sick of DeAngelo’s shit. Not because most hockey players are progressive or anything like that, but because what most of them want out of politics is to be left alone and enjoy themselves and their money. A guy who’s making a circus out of himself every week with some dumb outburst isn’t really all that appealing.

1) How much money is Zach Hyman making in 21-22, and who is paying it to him?—I Am Rad Boss

I’ll be an optimist and say it’s Toronto paying him $5.5M per. But boy, it gets tight.

2) Same question, only with Morgan Rielly and 22-23?—I Am Rad Boss

Very uncertain! But let’s say the New York Rangers at $7M.

3) You are arrested in a sting by the RCMP, and after a short trial, you are convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit public nudity, reckless deriving, and accessory after the fact in the kidnapping of an unnamed member of the Philadelphia Flyers. You are sentenced to renounce Leaf fandom for all time, including participation in PPP and your now world famous Magnitogorskian moniker, and become a fan of another NHL franchise. Upon reluctant adoption of your new “favorite” team, what is your new SBNation handle?—I Am Rad Boss

The Seattle Kraken, 100%. Might as well start from the ground up. The SBN handle would depend on whoever they claim in the expansion draft, but you can rest assured it would be a terrible rhyming pun.

How will the curse of Leafiness (i.e. finding new and extremely innovative ways to lose important games in jaw-droppingly epic fashion) strike anew this year?—Adzbass

The answer in the thread was “losing to Montreal in the playoffs” and it’s hard for me to think of much else. It seems very Leafy.

If you have the power to do so, what position of need or specific player would you like to see the Leafs trade for this season?—thehumourisironic

Left wing. I’m not sure I see a great fit—you could see me daydreaming about Taylor Hall above, but I doubt it happens, and what I really want is someone like Chris Kreider without Chris Kreider’s contract, which I suspect will end horribly and would be a cap burden right away. I would not be surprised if the Leafs go ahead with this approximate team into the playoffs.

If you could add ONE of the career-prime versions of MacArthur-Grabbo-Kulemin to this season’s team (being paid league minimum so they can fit under the cap), which one would you pick, and where would you put them in the lineup?—Zone Entry

This question seems designed to pain me, but the reality is it has to be prime Grabovski. He would be a fantastic third-line centre (and presumably, since he’s in the aforementioned prime, he’s healthy.) I would find a way to sneak both MacArthur and Kulemin in too if you let me, though.

If ONE Maple Leaf could have ONE super power, which would you select, and for whom, to ensure Leafs Stanley Cup wins for years to come.—JerseyLeaf

As Zone Entry said in response, anyone we sign is going to become prohibitively expensive. (Zone’s solution was to give powers to Kyle Dubas.) However, if the powers are very obvious, the games will begin to seem pointless to everyone because a predetermined outcome is no fun. Therefore I vote we give Kyle time-reversal powers. He can find the team that wins across the infinite timescapes and then build it, and we can enjoy it in this one, and no one’s the wiser since they win normally. [taps forehead]

Thank you to everyone who contributed!