Who’s your big sleeper prospect in the Leafs system that you’re probably higher on than most? Why?

This is a tough question, and I can think of a few different answers here. I don’t think many of my friends know of Trevor Moore, so he’s a big sleeper for the general population, but not necessarily for the regular readers of this website. I see him as a defensively-responsible winger who is likely to be his coach’s favourite player, and while he won’t be a superstar, he could play on a NHL fourth line sooner rather than later. He’s a great worker, and can help generate plenty of takeaways.

I’m higher on Jeremy Bracco than many other Leafs writers. He was scratched for most of the AHL playoffs, and everyone seems to be down on him as a result. However, he was very unlucky last season, yet still managed to post 32 points in just 50 games in his rookie season. With some better shooting luck, and an opportunity to play on a better line, I think he could breakout in a big way next year. He doesn’t offer a ton of two-way ability given his size, and he’s not quite fast enough to drive a line to the same degree as Mitch Marner, but he could be the Marlies most dangerous weapon in the offensive zone next year. I’d be thrilled if Bracco could become a 40-point scorer at the NHL level, even if that’s with sheltered minutes and plenty of powerplay time.

I’ve also liked what I have seen out of Sean Durzi in the past. He’s a decent skater who sees the ice well, and while he doesn’t have a huge shot, he’s learned to get it off in a hurry. I think over-age draft picks don’t always get the credit they deserve.

Are there any leafs players you’re worried about potentially taking a step back this year? Also is there any worries about Freddy possibly being worn out from playing so much last year?

I’m not worried about Frederik Andersen being worn out from last year, as he’s has a full offseason to rest, and I doubt that there is a huge carry over from year to year.. He is the player who I’m most worried about taking a step back though, as goalies are incredibly important, and aren’t always consistent year-to-year. My answer to this question will almost always be the team’s starting goalie.

I don’t think we can expect 32 goals out of Nazem Kadri again, but I’ve mentally accounted for this, so it doesn’t exactly worry me. A better answer might be Nikita Zaitsev, as while I don’t expect him to take a step back, the amount of term left on his contract makes him an important player to watch.

As we all know, Ottawa has no first round pick and probably no Erik Karlsson. We also know that Jack Hughes is considered in a similar tier to Matthews and Eichel entering the league. Do you see Hughes in these terms? On a scale of 1 to 10, how f*cked is the Senators franchise?

The Senators will basically have a year wasted, as their poor season won’t get them a good draft pick who can help their future. They would look a lot better if they can get a haul for Karlsson and Duchene, so I will be paying close attention to what prospects they can land.

They are going to need to draft well if they want to turn this organization around, and at this point, I don’t have a ton of faith in their ability to maximize each pick. As we saw with the pre-McDavid Oilers, you will eventually acquire enough early picks that you will almost fall into a playoff spot eventually, but this rebuild could drag out for years.

Jack Hughes is amazing to watch, and I think he’s in the Matthews-Eichel tier. He’s a high-end skater, puck carrier, and playmaker, similar to Barzal. He’s going to be a 70+ point player at the NHL level.

In lieu of a big move for a top-4 RHD, which undervalued puck-moving D would you target in trade?

I would consider moving Morgan Rielly or Travis Dermott over to the right-side to solidify the top-4. I’d be interested in Rasmus Andersson if he continues to be blocked in Calgary, or Nick Leddy if the Islanders will retain salary in exchange for a bigger haul of young talent. However, I’m not sure that there is anyone out there that you can steal in an amazing deal right now, so they are probably best-served to be patient.

If the Leafs can’t re-sign Gardiner this summer, do you see them trading him or letting him walk like JVR? Can the Leafs afford to keep letting players leave for nothing?

Even if they can’t re-sign him, I expect Gardiner to be around for the playoff run. Adding Tavares makes the Leafs a true contender, rather than a major underdog against Boston and Tampa like they were last year. They will be buyers at the deadline rather than sellers, and Gardiner would basically be their own rental.

I expect that they will try to re-sign Gardiner. They just signed Tavares for “nothing”, so it’s not like they are major losers in the free agent department.

Next offseason is probably just as pivotal for the Leafs as this one with Matthews and Marner needing extensions and Gardiner being an UFA. Also, the class of 2019 is absolutely stacked. What do you think the Leafs should do next FA period?

If we assume that Marleau plans to play out his contract with the Leafs, they’ll have to add some cheap depth options to fit under the salary cap. They won’t have the money to do anything major, so they will have to get creative. I think they could be ultimately deciding between Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner, as they will have a tough time fitting both in under the cap.

I don’t think that next offseason will be all that exciting, given the lack of cap space. I could see them shopping Nikita Zaitsev or Connor Brown to free up a little bit of space, but all in all, it should be rather uneventful.

What does the Marlies D look like next year and what is Subban’s ceiling?

The Marlies have way too many options on the backend at this point. Timothy Liljegren, Jordan Subban, Vincent LoVerde, and Justin Holl all play on the right-side, so there will be a bit of a log-jam if Holl gets sent to the AHL. I think that Sean Durzi will likely head back to the OHL as a result, and I’m not sure what Igor Ozhiganov’s plans are if he does not make the NHL lineup.

Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Martin Marincin, and Andrew Nielsen will play on the left-side. Any of these players, except for Nielsen, have at least an outside shot of making the Leafs out of camp. I will guess that the opening night pairings are something like: Marincin-Liljegren, Borgman-Subban, Rosen-LoVerde, with Holl in the press-box for the Leafs.

I think the Leafs would be thrilled if Subban could become a third-pairing defender for them at the NHL level. He’s undersized, so I’m not sure if he will ever be a major factor in a shutdown role, but he can certainly keep up at any level. I’ll certainly be rooting for him, and it will be great to see him play in his hometown.

How high would you rank the Leafs in the East now that they have Tavares?

I think they are second to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa’s roster is also quite deep at centre, they have Nikita Kucherov on the wing, plus Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, and Anton Stralman on the back-end. Their defence gives them an edge over Toronto, but this would surely be a great seven game series.

Pittsburgh and Toronto have similar rosters, so I won’t argue with you if you have Toronto third. I think the depth on the Leafs roster puts them ahead of Boston and Washington at this point. The fact that they can run Matthews, Tavares, and Kadri up the middle with Marner and Nylander on the wing is incredible. They are better on the back-end than they are given credit for, and there’s fewer weak-links on this year’s roster.

Who’s the backup to Freddy? Does Sparks get a shot? How would you handle the Pickard/Sparks situation?

They will probably decide based on everyone’s performance in the preseason, but I expect it to be Garret Sparks. He’s coming off a strong year with the Marlies, and I imagine that he would be claimed on waivers if the Leafs tried to pass him through to the AHL. Curtis McElhinney is 35 and has one year left on his contract, so he doesn’t offer a long-term solution behind Andersen. From an asset management perspective, I’d be surprised if they didn’t at least give Sparks a shot.

Pickard will likely be on the Marlies if he passes through waivers, and I expect that he would clear like he did last year. I assume that he is expecting this to happen, but he could be called up if Toronto’s backup struggles.

What are the differences/challenges in drafting and building teams from the Major Junior, AHL and, NHL levels?

There are huge differences. The main challenge with building a team in Major Junior is that the players have such short careers, so your window to contend is often quite small. For example, Erie only had Connor McDavid for three seasons, whereas Edmonton could have him for 15 plus. You really want to ensure that your core is going to be at their peak at the same time, and your chances can take a huge hit if your best player leaves for the NHL early.

The AHL presents its own challenges, especially if your team does not have the budget to sign high-end veteran players. You need a ton of depth, as your best players can get called up to the NHL, which would leave you with a depleted roster. For example, if the Marlies never got Andreas Johnsson and Travis Dermott back for game-5 against Utica, they might have been out in the first round.

Could you touch on a realistic take on the offer sheet ‘buzz’ from anti-Leaf hockey people as it relates to the big 3 (34/29/16)? Specifically, Nylander’s situation right now, and people saying Arizona will offer sheet Matthews. Someone put this to bed.

Offer sheets just don’t happen anymore. The team would have to offer Nylander roughly $8 million per season, which would mean giving up a first, second, and third round pick. Not many teams even have the draft picks or cap space to do this, and many of the teams that do could be handing over a potential lottery pick. Until we see another offer sheet signed by any player around the league, it’s not worth worrying about.

Can you do a short note of what hockey stats there are and what the refer to?

I will keep this brief, but a good site to start with is Corsica. I am usually looking at 5v5 numbers, as it creates a level playing field.

P1/60: Primary points per 60 minutes of ice time. This takes second assists out of the equation, and it’s important to adjust for ice time, as players who log major minutes are bound to rack up more points as a result. Points per 60 (P/60) is also one of the first stats I look at as well.

CF% and Rel CF%: CF% is Corsi For Percentage, and tells you what % of shot attempts are taken by your team, rather than by the other team. Players like Patrice Bergeron excel in this statistic year after year, and Boston is constantly outshooting their opponents and spending a ton of time in the offensive zone while he is on the ice. Rel CF% compares your team’s performance when you are on the ice versus when you are off the ice, which often helps to account for how good your team is. A good player on Buffalo (in recent years) might have a CF% below 50%, but much better results than the rest of his team.

xGF% and Rel xGF%: Expected Goals For Percentage. It’s similar to CF%, but now shot quality enters into the equation instead of just shot quantity.

ZSR: Zone starts relative. If a player is getting sheltered minutes by starting every shift in the offensive zone, most of their stat line is a little bit less impressive. If they are getting buried with defensive zone faceoffs, it’s more impressive if they are scoring at a solid clip.
TOI% QOC: This helps to see who is playing against top competition. Players like Kadri and Rielly may not have the best shot attempt differential every season, but part of that is because they are going up against the team’s best players night in and night out.

If you’re interested in learning more, I would recommend reading the Corsica glossary. Also, feel free to send me any questions you may have. There’s plenty of more stats out there, but this should help to get you started.

Final Notes

Thanks to everyone who asked a question in this week’s mailbag. If you are looking for a Leafs or Marlies roster projection, I gave it my best effort here:

Feel free to share your version in the comments!