In a recent FTB, I solicited questions from our commentariat. I committed to a column answering them all regardless of what they said. Here is that column.

1. If you had to write fanfiction about a Leafs player, which would it be? Can be from any point in history. Explain why.--Achariya

I honestly think the 2002 Maple Leafs, as a collective, would make an incredible adventuring-party fantasy novel. You have all the types: the white knight (Sundin), the veteran warrior (Roberts), the rogue (Darcy Tucker), the magician (Alex Mogilny), and the cherubic Czech puck-moving pass-happy defenceman (Kaberle.) You have an impressive villain (the Islanders), a hilariously inept villain (the Sens) and a terrible foe of unexpected power (Arturs Irbe.) Also pretty much any of these characters can conceivably have sex with one another depending on the preferences of the audience, so suggestion box is open.

2. Why are mailbag articles so popular on blogs? Is it laziness or just a writer out of ideas?--clrkaitken

At the moment, laziness, but I reserve the right to go back to the well on this one if I run out of ideas later.

3. Just how hardd are goals thouhg?--FiftyMissionCap

It are very the hardd.

4. If you had to trade for a player who is currently playing in the Western Conference, who would it be, and what would you give up for him?—Achariya (A player with term and not NTC—likely suspects, not a dream scenario.)

This one was neatly canvassed in the FTB already, with the two leading suggestions being Tyson Barrie and Nail Yakupov. Both of those are interesting, but Tyson Barrie is soon to be looked at by a better analyst than me, and Yakupov was pretty thoroughly canvassed in the thread (FWIW, he looks like a chance for a cheap reclamation project.) A third possibility, Sami Vatanen, is in the process of being talked to death in the Leafs blogosphere because he's an extremely good player at a weak position for us.

So for the sake of variation, let's look at Minnesota's Matt Dumba. Dumba is obviously a very talented, young (he'll be 22 in July), slightly possession-positive, point-producing defenceman, not to mention he shoots right. He was a seventh overall pick, he's about to go RFA, and normally I would assume any trade offer for him would get laughed out of the room. The Wild, however, are going to need to use most of what little cap space they have next season to sign a bottom six, as they try to make the next jump before Ryan Suter and Zach Parise get caught by Father Time. They also have four defencemen under contract until 2020 or later (Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, and Marco Scandella.) Between the Wild's situation and the probably spectral but nonetheless conceivable threat of an offer sheet, I think the chance of Dumba being traded goes from zero to merely low.

So what would we give up for him? It's worth noting that, while the threat of an offer sheet can exist without us having to be the team who issues it, we lack a third-round pick this year due to that bullshit compensation rule the league kept around just long enough to screw us. You can't issue an offer sheet without being able to provide the requisite compensation, any offer sheet in a range plausible for Dumba will require a third, and you can't use picks other than your own for offer sheets. So if the Leafs really want to make the threat of an offer sheet seem plausible, they'll have to get one of their thirds back, either from Detroit or New Jersey. This would certainly help us look a lot more credible if we want to throw our weight around this summer. (This logic is not unique to Dumba, obviously. It's come up in the Vatanen speculation as well, for example here.)

(Update: after I drafted this article, Oilers Nation posted a link to a Google-translated Lavoie piece indicating the rule on "you can only offer sheet using your own picks" has just been slightly altered in response to an NHLPA grievance, with a potential benefit to teams who owe picks for executive compensation. I'll await some confirmation as to how this will impact the Leafs, but it sounds like they might be able to acquire third-rounders other than their own for offer sheet purposes, which would be helpful. Stay tuned.)

Beyond that? I'd be willing to give up the first and the third for Dumba if he'd sign an offer sheet in the mid-$5M range with some term. A proposed trade around those terms can't really get too far away from the offer sheet compensation value, or else it stops making sense—the Leafs can say "why should we go higher when we can just offer sheet him?" and the Wild can say "why should we go lower" for the same reason. I recognize it's a hefty price to pay, and it's a bit scary for a team that just finished last to give up a first. But I think there's a real chance to make a major improvement in our defence greater than the likely value of those picks, and also, if it isn't clear by now, I would be the most dementedly aggressive GM in the NHL if I ever got hold of a team. (And so there is a considerable chance I would be unemployed one season out.)

5. Would you rather have one Brian Boyle-sized Mitch Marner or 100 Mitch Marner-sized Brian Boyles?—thistypeofthinking

What am I doing with them? If I'm GM of the Leafs, as Jared and others have pointed out, a player with Marner's skill and Boyle's size would probably be a Hall of Fame player. I suspect even mini-Brian Boyle would be a decent fourth-line forward, but there's essentially no marginal benefit to having more than, say, two of him even if they're prime-era mini-Boyles. Get Giant Marner.

On the other hand, if I just have them for any purpose I choose, then one hundred Marner-sized Boyles would be a personal army. Even at 5'9", they would be a large group of men with impressive athletic capacity. I suspect I could take over a small town for perhaps three months. You can't pass up that kind of opportunity.

6. Since you are PPP's resident expert author on whether or not to sign Stamkos, how much AAV are you willing to give to him and how much is too much for you (if at all?)--brigstew

When I wrote the Stamkos article a ways back, I said "sign him for less than $12M AAV" and treated $11M as being about the logical upper limit (hence its status as the maximum pro-Stamkos option in my poll.) Since then, Original Six Analytics wrote an excellent article suggesting the Leafs should have an opening offer at $9.5M and be willing to rise into the $10M range; I continue to be pretty bullish on Stammer, but would say that the Leafs should go into a negotiation treating >$11M as the walk-away point (something the article rightly points out the Leafs should have as a prudent negotiating tactic.) I tend to think $11M should be sufficient to satisfy the "money" end of the appeal to Stamkos—it would make him the highest-AAV player in the NHL, and I doubt any team in the league is going to seriously outbid us at that level, meaning other factors would likely drive the decision beyond simple digits. Unless Stamkos is monomaniacal about maximizing the dollar value of his contract, $11M ought to do it, and I wouldn't go significantly higher.

I might as well take this little spot to talk about the blood clot issue again, since it keeps coming up. The Leafs have an obvious duty to learn absolutely everything they possibly can about any potential health issue of any player they sign, and in doing so, they will wind up with more information than I have. I am also not a doctor. I am a hockey blogger wearing a jester hat. I recognize that there is a big gap in my knowledge, and there could be something in the gap that seriously impacts my argument and Stamkos' future.

But as it stands, I don't think there's enough evidence out in public to really affect the conclusion of signing Stamkos. What information we have is generally positive on Stamkos' recovery. I think the fear Stamkos' issue causes is partly based on how strange and frightening the idea of a blood clot is, whereas a more typical health issue—like a back or knee injury—might provoke less of a reaction. People also analogize to other athletes who have experienced blood clots without really following the analogy beyond the fact the same words are used in both descriptions. To take one example, Chris Bosh's blood clots, which are idiopathic (unexplained), are distinct from Stamkos' effort thrombosis, which is caused by a repetitive strain. Does that mean Stamkos' blood clots aren't scary? No. But they're different, and their chance of recurrence is different. Which is important.

Again, the Leafs have a responsibility to learn all they can, and I am a very long ways from expert on this issue. But I haven't seen anything that, right now, alters my desire to sign Stamkos to a seven-year contract.

7. At the risk of this turning into a 20,000 word essay/if you knew you’d be hired by a NHL team, why do you think it’s so hard to draft and develop goalies?—munniec

Two reasons. The first one is that, for whatever mysterious reasons, goalies take longer to develop than skaters. A high-scoring talent has usually shown some of what they're going to be by age eighteen, and many more forwards have done so by age twenty-one. It's a rare goalie who's playing in the NHL at all at twenty-one (though some of this is due to the fact there are many fewer goalie jobs for teams to gamble on young'uns with.) Too much needs to happen after draft day for predictions to pan out, because even the successful ones take so long.

The second, related point is that the game is so competitive at the highest level that very small tweaks make enormous differences. The difference between the best and the worst starting NHL goalies, in any given year, is about one goal every two games. That may still seem like a lot, until you start thinking of it as the difference between a goalie making 28 saves on 30 shots instead of 27 every other game. If you adjust for number of shots and games played, that's nearly enough to make up the save percentage difference between 2014-15 Carey Price and 2014-15 Curtis McElhinney. Imagine all of the things that can affect your performance enough to make an extra split-second mental error a week and you quickly get to seeing how much variation is possible. A nagging minor injury, or a newborn interrupting your sleep patterns, or adjusting to life in a new city, or a new defenceman struggling to learn the team system could all have a pretty meaningful impact. Or on the other hand, a hot streak of luck can make any goalie look incredible for a month. When there's such a fine line between great and inadequate, it's bloody hard to predict who'll fall on which side.

Might be a good reason to keep an eye on goalies with a longer track record of NHL competence, if you ask me. Hint hint.

8. (Via Simpsons gif) Could McDavid microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it?—the Constant Gardiner

The omnipotence paradox has a long and storied history; students of Catholic scholastic philosophy will remember St. Thomas Aquinas' answer that God can do anything logically consistent, and thus that He is unable to create a task He is unable to perform. As shown in the Wikipedia article on the topic, the issue comes down to a definitional contest with the word "omnipotent"; omnipotent is linguistic shorthand for "this entity may complete any activity within a given set, where the set contains [x] activities." The difficulty comes from a poor clarification of terms and bad process; the capacity to complete tasks should be evaluated prior to any entity being deemed omnipotent, not the reverse. In ascribing any level of potency to a being, we should clarify at the outset what tasks that being is to be deemed capable or incapable of; we should form our conclusion based on our knowledge of the entity in question.

Has there ever been an instance in which McDavid's powers—unquestionably Godlike—were insufficient to enact his will?

Q.E.D.: McDavid cannot microwave a supernatural burrito.

9. Who's Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms ulemin?—Exit Steve Left

My badass alter ego.

10. What player do you think best exemplifies "Canadian hockey" (aka hustle, leadership, character, heart, grit) in the NHL?—Exit Steve Left

It's the cliché choice, but Shane Doan, both because he has all of the traits people talk about and he also exemplifies how people use said traits to overlook unpleasant facts about players who have them. Doan does shit like this and this, and yet he's still treated with a surreal reverence.

If I have to pick someone I actually like? Patrice Bergeron. (I know, he's a Bruin.) Plays a highly effective game, plays through injury, is fearless, and is respected by damn near everybody.

11. How is babby formed?--emjaymj

They need to do way instain mother> who kill their babbys. Becuse these babby cant frigth back.

12. Who is the one player that’s undervalued on the trade block that you think could be a nice fit for the leafs this summer?—the_humourisironic

Okay, stay with me here. I like the idea of trying to make a reclamation project of Penguin Justin Schultz. I know, I know, he's become a punchline and his name was made into a verb for indifferent defensive play. On the other hand, he's a right-shooting defenceman, his possession stats have recovered remarkably the past two years, and he entered the league playing for Edmonton, who are a pile of tragic garbage. The odds are we won't have to trade for him at all. But he's probably on the trade block, so I figure I'm legitimately answering the question.

Justin Schultz is an RFA in July, and should the Pens or whichever team trades for him want to hang onto his rights, he will have to be qualified at $3.9M for next season. (Note that as the Oilers elected salary arbitration with him last season, Schultz cannot now be taken to club-elected salary arbitration; see 12.3 (c) of the CBA. Not that I think the Penguins would necessarily bother if they could.) If the Penguins fail to qualify him, he will become an unrestricted free agent immediately. I will be absolutely stunned if the Pens qualify Schultz. The Penguins have a huge number of cap commitments and are not going to pay $3.9M for a lower-pair defenceman. The Pens would therefore probably take literally anything they can get in exchange for Schultz's rights between the end of their playoff run and the point where he has to be qualified—though anyone trading for him would be planning on qualifying him. Hence the trade block thing.

I don't want the Leafs to pay Schultz $3.9M next year, though if they don't expect to sign Stamkos or offer sheet anybody, they may have enough cap space it doesn't really matter. What I would like is for them to start kicking the tires on Schultz should he go unqualified. No, he's probably not going to dazzle anybody at this point. But he conceivably might help a bit in our position of need, and if he doesn't achieve anything, he's gone next summer.

13. Several people have opined that with Matthews/Nylander/Marner plus possibly ole whassisname, the Leafs need big wingers to wrap around that core of skill. Is this really a need or is it outmoded thinking?—KatyaKnappe

The idea of putting a big winger on a small line is, so far as I can tell, is based around three things: a) puck retrieval b) capacity to stand ground effectively in front of the opposing net and c) to provide some kind of physical protection or deterrent. Like any good PPPer, I tend to doubt that c) has much real impact in the modern NHL.

Options a) and b) are real things, though. JVR, our current big winger, makes a lot of his money from having the size not to be moved from the net front and the hands to work while he's there. But the best evidence that he's effective in that role isn't his height, but his goal total. And as Leafs fans of recent vintage fondly recall, there are some very effective puck-battlers who have been average-size or smaller. I would be more concerned to put skills a) and b) on a line with Marner than the size that's supposed to represent them, because the two aren't perfectly correlated. If we get them from a big man, and we might well do so, great. If we get them from an average-size player, that's fine too. Falling in love with the idea of a big winger seems like a great way to overpay for the wrong thing, so as much as possible, let's separate out the skills.

Other little note: I'm a bit wary of how we're getting these wingers, especially if we start drafting for size. The old adage comes to mind: "a big man has to prove he can't play, a small man has to prove he can." Big guys in junior have a huge advantage that doesn't always translate, and small guys in junior have usually been running uphill their whole careers. If we're trading for a hulking forward who's shown he has the NHL abilities, that's cool; if we're drafting a huge teenager who's been riding a size advantage to dominate other teenagers, there's an added risk there.

14. Are the San Jose Sharks a sandwich?—FiftyMissionCap

Are you asking me if I'd fuck the San Jose Sharks? Because like, probably.

15. Has the pendulum swung? Is the "eye test" coming back into vogue?—the artist formerly known as Buddha hat

Leafs hired analytics guys, finished 30th. Checkmate, nerds.

To give a briefly serious answer even though I'm sure Buddha was just havin' some fun, the eye test—as in, watching players play and drawing conclusions based on it--never went out of vogue in the NHL. Going the other way: it's possible that better analytics have actually given some of the nerd-folk a greater appreciation of the specific value of scouting. But most of the analytics community has never been hostile to good scouting; rather, they hate the cherry-picked mental highlight reels to substantiate a preconceived bias. That "eye test" is slowly, agonizingly slowly, starting to die in front offices around the league. Now somebody fire Healy.

16. Jegus fuck, this subthread has taken up a fifth of the page. What do you have to say for yourself?—Ghost of Bohonos

Thanks kindly to everyone who contributed.