clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mailbag: Basketball Engvall and Action Heroes

All that and more in this edition of the mailbag.

“John Wick: Chapter 3 ñ Parabellum” Photocall In Berlin Photo by Isa Foltin/WireImage

You know, I hadn’t done one of these in a while, and I was worried I wouldn’t get enough responses. And then all you inquisitive folks asked me four dozen. Thank y’all. There were a couple of questions that were duplicates or covered the same territory, so I only put the first one of those; other than that, I’ve tried to answer everybody.

Here we go!

I’m playing to type here: the 2010-11 Leafs. This was the peak year of the Nikolai Kulemin—Mikhail Grabovski—Clarke Macarthur trio, when the Leafs looked briefly like they might have a real second line made up of three immensely likeable, hardworking forwards. It was also the first year of angelic James Reimer, who provided the first competent goaltending the team had had in several years. It wasn’t enough to quite make the playoffs; the rest of the team got outshot all to hell and the other goaltenders were a totally washed J.S. Giguere and a comically inept Jonas Gustavsson. But it was a fun ride in a decade of darkness.

Assuming a healthy lineup (which the Leafs currently do not have), this essentially comes down to a choice between Pierre Engvall and Wayne Simmonds. I’d play Engvall there too as an albatross-sized defensive forward, but I don’t think the Leafs signed Simmonds not to play him. I can’t speak much to his leadership qualities and general good fellowship, which I figure is most of what Simmonds is there for, so we’ll have to hope they’re worth it. Simmonds is on the edge of the NHL as an on-ice presence, I’m sorry to say.

Tricky. They’re all trying to do somewhat different things in the same action framework.

Craig’s Bond movies are trying to turn what was usually a hollow character—the classic Bond sleeps with beautiful women, kills people, and reverts to status quo ante by the start of the next film—into one who seems to accumulate injuries and heartbreak until he’s a worn old shell. Sometimes this works (Casino Royale, Skyfall) and sometimes it doesn’t (Quantum of Solace, Spectre), but I wouldn’t characterize any of those movies as pure fun.

The John Wick movies, despite the dark premises, are clearly made by, with, and for people who really enjoy bananas action films. They don’t have complex stories and they don’t make a lot of sense and it absolutely doesn’t matter because they kick ass with terrific style. Keanu Reeves is a limited character actor but one of the best physical actors of all time. It’s also the series that seems most aware its hero is a huge badass; one of my favourite things about the first John Wick is that the antagonist is pretty much aware that he’s fucked for the entire film.

There are currently six Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movies, and you can split them into three sections. The franchise started with an excellent paranoid 90s thriller. Seriously, kids, go watch the 1996 MI—the tech is dated but it’s full of shadowy tension and Cruise actually does some acting in it. After that, the series dicked around for two films that could have been called Mission Impossible Xtreme In10sity and that wasted Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Happily the franchise retooled again for the fourth movie and hit on their current formula, which is to watch a bunch of charming actors (Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson) go fancy places and save the world. They’re basically now what James Bond used to be: fun, with character development as static as Cruise’s weirdly ageless face. They also blur together; if you can remember which details were in Rogue Nation and which were in Ghost Protocol, you’re a better viewer than I.

Sum up: I think the Bond movies tried the hardest thing to do and half-succeeded. John Wick tried a very specific thing and completely nailed it. Mission Impossible has settled for making three-star, fun action films. I’d have it as:

1. John Wick;

2. Daniel Craig James Bond;

3. Mission Impossible

But if the Craig Bonds had all been closer to Casino Royale, my answer would be different.

I feel like the Leafiest thing would be to not even make the elimination game this time. Just go in favoured into a first-round series and then get swept.

Oh, by the way, in a mailbag in January 2021, someone asked what the Leafiest outcome would be and I said “lose in the playoffs to Montreal.” It’s a fun life.

No, there will not. The Leafs don’t throw their weight around league-wide as much as you might expect, but they’re absolutely not going to tolerate a significant competitor in their own backyard.

I’m going to be real here: I have not watched any of All or Nothing and I never intend to. I know I seem like a sour old blogger, but it’s a PR exercise, it spotlights hockey players who are by and large not allowed to be interesting, and it memorializes a weird season that ended in tragedy and farce. So, uh, I guess my favourite part was Sheldon Keefe saying “fuck”, which both he and I do a lot watching the Leafs, apparently.

Neither helped, but the answer is Tavares. Aside from the fact Muzzin played five and a half playoff games while Tavares was injured before he’d played three minutes, the immediate cause of death in Game 7 was that the Leafs didn’t get to the slot at all. Look at this heat map from that game (this is adjusted 5v5):

See that big void in front of the net and the total lack of red anywhere below the hashmarks? That’s about as dead as an offence can be. Toronto didn’t score 5v5 at all doing this, unsurprisingly (the Leafs’ lone goal that night came with the goalie pulled) and not coincidentally, they lost.

John Tavares would have helped that. Obviously he’d still have run into Montreal’s stifling slot defence, but this is what he’s best at and what we needed most.

For a Batman actor playing Bond: I don’t see how it’s not Christian Bale. He’s the best all-around actor to have played Batman, he’s actually English, and he would throw himself into the role like a lunatic. This is putting aside that the Daniel Craig Bond movies had a lot in common with the Bale Batman films; Skyfall owes a huge creative debt to The Dark Knight when it’s not borrowing from Home Alone. Aside, though, it would be fun for Ben Affleck to play Bond and somehow turn him into a guy from Massachusetts.

For a Bond playing Batman: Pierce Brosnan would ace the Bruce Wayne scenes where he’s playing a smug playboy. It’d be less grim and dark, but hey, we could use some light in our lives.

I am well, thank you. The Leafs haven’t been eliminated yet.

The Evander Kane allegations are well into the territory where I won’t joke about them, so I’ll just say I think the Sharks and the league would very much like him to go away and will look closely for a chance to do that. Kane was the Sharks’ best player on-ice last year and I think San Jose might have hoped to either play or trade him, but at this point, even cynically, he’s a toxic presence.

Well this is uncomfortable. While I am unwilling to apply the usual verbs of marry, fuck and kill to three characters from the TV show Family Matters, I will note that Urkel is basically well-intentioned, Urkele is much cooler, and Urkelbot is—like all artificial intelligence—ultimately a terrifying threat to his creator that will lead the human race in the direction of the Singularity. So really the priority here is whether you want to marry, fuck, or kill Urkelbot. This was basically the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, by the way.

He could do almost any one stupid thing and I would still probably have a little faith left in his brains, unless it were like Matthews for a 7th. But if he were to acquire Evander Kane I’d lose faith in his better qualities pretty completely.

This is a creative one, although depending how you interpret the words, I think it swings pretty hard towards Matthews.

Being unable to pass at all basically precludes Marner from functioning as a professional hockey player. It doesn’t just stop him getting assists, it also ends him as a transition or breakout threat and frees up the opposition to just run at him and strip the puck. He would be out of the league within a week.

But let’s read it as “Marner can’t get assists and Matthews can’t get goals, but they can do anything else.” It gets more interesting there. Marner’s shot is much-lamented, but he does have very good hands and he scores at a decent clip. Still, I think Matthews has too much of an advantage to overcome: he’s strong in battles, he can protect the puck long enough to find passing options, he can still shoot for rebounds, and most importantly, there are more assists than goals in the NHL. Matthews still wins.

Your friend who’s had a G2 driver’s license for the longest time and never gets around to taking the final test, but who drives a really nice car.

Yes. Mainly in games of hide and seek, or other situations where kids hide in cupboards and such.

I think it’ll be a tandem at first until one guy takes the job and runs with it, or the other falters. I wouldn’t be surprised if Campbell and Mrazek each started 30+ games, so closer to 1A/1B.

I take no joy in this, but Seldo is right. To miss something, the thing has to be capable of apprehension; the playoffs did not exist in 2020, therefore the Ice Dogs cannot have “missed them” because it was not possible for them to make them.

No. Muzzin is a better 5v5 defenceman right now, in my opinion; he’s five years older and has had some injury issues, but Rielly is probably going to make $3M+ more per season. I don’t want Morgan’s next contract, as much as I like him.

Acha amended this to the AHL in a follow-up tweet, where JHS is currently plying his trade. Anytime you watch Ho-Sang he does a few things a night that seem like “separator” moves: he stands out from the pack with his ability to rush the puck or find space on the ice. There were several moments during the preseason where he did things that most of the other players on the ice simply couldn’t do. There’s a reason people still want to try him in the NHL after a bumpy career and despite some flaws. (I think the AHL is a good place for him to start this year and we’ll see how it goes.)

Meh. Nylander is an okay faceoff man, although he actually did it a lot less last season in deference to John Tavares. But he’s not dynamite at it, and after that you have to decide if you want to spend the energy of a prestige offensive player on the tiring, stop-start intensity of being a real PK forward. Unless he’s truly spectacular at it, I’d probably rather give the work to someone else and just play Nylander more 5v5. (That said: Sheldon Keefe looks like he’s going to try this, so I guess we’re going to find out how it works.)

People have tried, and the general conclusion seems to be they don’t make a difference on the whole. Here’s one study; here’s another that I don’t have institutional access for but that reaches the same conclusion as per the abstract. My suspicion is that fighting tends to get the blood pumping for both teams, which is why it feels meaningful to them but doesn’t really change the outcome of the game much (or, if the first one is to be believed, helps the team that’s already winning.)

Yes—or at least, I’d do it to get a better 3C. This is a painful thing to countenance after all these failures, but the Leafs are still in a win-now position, however little winning now they’ve actually shown an interest in doing. The Leafs don’t seem very efficiently constructed, with a player making $3.5M in Alex Kerfoot they seem unsure what to do with. I’d play Kerfoot at 2LW, but if you don’t want to do that and you don’t want him at 3C, you have to look at reallocating the money. There’s no time like the present in a tough Atlantic; go get better.

I think Kyle Dubas will be dismissed, and his successor will trade either Mitch Marner or William Nylander—Nylander, if you put a gun to my head, but it’ll depend how the year goes and what the market is. Sheldon Keefe will remain as coach in the short term, looking over his shoulder to start 2022-23. Daniel himself gave a suggestion not very different from this.

The follow-up Q a lot of people have is: well, does Shanahan get fired? And that’s hard to say. The further you get from ice level the longer it takes for on-ice events to impact your job. Shanahan is subject to the MLSE Board and if he manages up well (as I suspect he does) he may be relatively safe. If not he could be gone any offseason. But my guess is he stays.

It’s Canada and the five are:

LW: Brad Marchand
C: Connor McDavid
RW: Nathan MacKinnon
LD: Alex Pietrangelo
RD: Cale Makar

I have three of the best skaters in the sport in this group (McDavid, MacKinnon, Makar), and all of them are also so good with the puck that I think this team should be essentially unstoppable on the rush. There’s a cycle-heavier version based around the classic trio of Marchand-Crosby-Bergeron, and in a full lineup I would have that group together as a second line, but you asked for the best five. In both cases, Marchand is on the line to cause havoc and cash tap-in plays from others.

Team Canada is much stronger at right defence than at left, so I’ve taken the liberty of playing Alex Pietrangelo on his off side to make this unit. If you insist that we get a natural left D there, I might put hometown hero Morgan Rielly; his defensive flaws are many, but this group is going to be in its own zone about one percent of the time, so this is the ideal scenario for him.

At the risk of sounding simplistic in comparing defensively stout Russian wingers: I think he’d be where Ilya Mikheyev was prior to his hand injury on the weekend, the LW to John Tavares and William Nylander. Kulemin wasn’t as good a skater as Mickey is, while Kulemin had somewhat more offensive capacity. I think Kulie would be a slightly better fit.

I’d look at Mike Gillis, who was an innovative GM for the best Canucks teams back in the day but who seems to have annoyed too many people to get another GM job. I think he’d at least be bold at looking for ways to rework the team. If the Leafs do turf Dubas, though, I think they’ll go a little more conservative with their choice and try to find a caretaker type.

Most overrated: Life of Pi. It takes itself real seriously and it has about as much substance as cotton candy.

Would recommend to anyone: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. It’s a short, non-fiction read about the state of Black civil rights in America in 1963. Plenty of it remains applicable. Baldwin is one of the greatest writers ever at putting complex ideas in succinct phrases that hit the bullseye.

None of them should have to, given their salaries, but I’ll say Matthews. Strong with incredibly deft hands should be enough to get him through.

If you haven’t made the foolish choice to become a lawyer: the rule against perpetuities is a nightmarishly complex legal rule that’s meant to prevent people tying up property long times into the future. Say I have a house and I want to keep it in the family literally forever. I write up a will that says: “the house goes to my son; after that, to his eldest child; after that, to the eldest child’s eldest child, after that...” and I go on for a hundred generations because I am insane. If this were allowed, a dead person (me) could still be controlling what happens to a property hundreds of years after my death. The rule against perpetuities stops me from doing that, but it does it in an extremely frustrating way that we’re not going to explore here.

So! Which Leafs player is doing a basically useful thing, but in the most annoying way imaginable? I am afraid Ilya Mikheyev has duffed too many breakaways for me to pick anyone else.

Brigs is doing a funny. For what it’s worth, Arvind’s post-doc in NJ seems to be going well.

I thought it would be funny for Nik Kulemin, who always worked very hard, to goof off and miss practice, and the coach would very somberly say to the media that he had been “acting the Fulemin.” I was probably listening to DMX at the moment I thought of it. Now it’s like, half my identity.

There’s no point arguing about flavours! It’s, by definition, a matter of taste. But cheesecake sucks.

Who says I’m self-loathing? I’m great. It’s this stupid team that’s the problem.

Let’s say a round dozen. I know people have had fun with how much Keefe swears but like...he’s a hockey coach. That’s how 90% of them talk when they’re with their teams.

It does. Only until this summer, though. Long-term retention stings, eh?

They don’t. He was the pin holding the dress together.

Who are some trade targets that you’d like to see the Leafs go after this season if there’s a still a need in the top 6?—thehumourisironic

I think there’s too much between now and then to really say. If things have gone badly and the team is trading Nylander/Marner, there’s an opening at RW; if not there’s probably one at LW unless Michael Bunting takes it. I’d look at Tomas Hertl or Filip Forsberg in FA, but the trade market is going to be governed by what happens this season anyway.

Who will go farther in their playoff run, Leafs, Marlies or Growlers?—shinson93

The Marlies should be a very strong team this year as long as the goaltending holds up. I’m assuming Michael Hutchinson is still up to the challenge at the AHL level. If that’s the case they’re a championship threat.

Should people who propagate fruits and vegetables for competitions be called Growers & Show-ers?—Kidkawatha

[Sighing] yes.

If you were forced to bet your PPP salary today on which Leafs goalie will start game 1 of the playoffs-would it be Campbell or Mrazek or Hutchinson?—Robert610

Oh, gosh, that’s so much money! I’d narrowly bet on Mrazek because of a longer track record. It’s a near-coin flip between him and Campbell, though, and Hutch is obviously the “break glass in case of emergency” option.

Which Leafs’ player jersey would make the scariest Halloween costume?—Species

Marner still looks like a kid and yet is now weighed down with expectations and failures. It’s like if Peter Pan had to manage a bank through a recession but still looked about the same. Real life is the scariest of all.

What percentage of games do each of Sandin, Liljegren, and Dermott play? My guesses: Sandin 100%, Liljegren 40%, Dermott 65%.—Robert610

My original answer was this:

Sandin: 90%
Dermott: 70%
Liljegren: 10%

Then Ilya Mikheyev got hurt, and some of the roster pressure that would have squeezed Liljegren was allayed. He also seems to be poised to start on the third pair. Nonetheless, I think Dermott still has the edge here.

Who will score the most points this year: Kase, Ritchie, Bunting, or Kampf?—WrapAroundShadesPickupTruck

I’ll guess Ritchie because the Leafs seem to want him at 1LW as well as on PP2, and those are terrific places to get points. If he stays healthy I think Kaše is actually a more talented player and Bunting could make it interesting if he gets better opportunities, but Ritchie has to be favoured.

If you had to swap 2 players between the Raptors and Leafs, who would they be and why?—shinson93

From the Leafs to the Raptors: Pierre Engvall. Look, neither of these players is going to be anything but awful at their new sport, but Engvall has the height to be a credible basketball player and is a good natural athlete, and he already worked his way up from being a 7th-rounder in 2014. He’ll need that determination to improve in the NBA.

From the Raptors to the Leafs: Pascal Siakam. Sort of a similar logic to Engvall (he picked up basketball late and made himself a very good player); he’s also huge and a very dogged defender, so maybe we can turn him into a defenceman. Hey, it’d be more fun than arguing about Alex Biega.

Someone suggested that if we won’t be resigning Rielly, Jakob Chychrun would be a good replacement target. Arizona is selling right now, but would they consider trading him? If so, what do you expect the trade to look like? Also, how would you feel about this move in general?—Bobq27

I would be interested, but no, Arizona wouldn’t consider it. Chychrun is on the edge of establishing himself as a 1D at 23 years old and has four seasons left at $4.6M. He might actually be the only player on Arizona that the team would not be open to trading, unless the Leafs offer such a ransom that it gets stupidly lopsided. Put it this way: any offer that wouldn’t make you really uncomfortable from a Leafs perspective is an offer Arizona laughs out of the room.

Who’s going to win a playoff series first: Leafs, Jays, or Raps?—HaveYouMetTed

As absurd as it sounds by this point: the Leafs. First off, the Leafs and the Raps have the obvious advantage over the Blue Jays that their next shot at a playoff series comes six months before the Jays’ does. Second is that the Jays are in a murderous division that makes making the playoffs quite difficult, while the Raps are in a transition stage and can’t expect more than a shot at the play-in tournament. The Leafs are strong favourites to at least make the playoffs, and since making a round is a precondition to winning one, the Leafs are the best of the three. Sigh.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!