For the first time in two months, the mailbag has returned! But it looks a little different now. It will return to being weekly, it will be the only non-paywalled post of the week for now (get your subscription here), and it’ll also take a look back at the week that was on the site. Sound good? Perfect, let’s get to it.

New This Week

Since this is the first time we’re doing this, I’ll cheat a little and stretch to the start of the subscriber-wall, eleven days ago.

  • Who are the NHL’s top line matching coaches?
    There’s a lot of talk in the NHL about coaches knowing when to put certain players against others, to give them a bit of a tactical advantage in game situations. That especially gets brought up in high-stakes situations like the playoffs, and there’s no better platform for it than when teams get home ice advantage, and as such, get last change. With that in mind, I looked at how every coach that led an NHL team this year has done with matchups at home versus on the road over the course of their careers. A lot of the results were to be expected, but some are shockers, and this post goes through the results while highlighting some particularly interesting observations found along the way.
  • On Igor Ozhiganov, and the case for tempered expectations
    The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Ozhiganov to an entry-level contract recently, ending a year or so of speculation about the right-handed Russian defenceman. I wrote about his down year in the KHL, and why I’m not as excited about the idea of adding him as when the speculation began.
  • Par Lindholm: A bigger risk than advertised, but still a worthwhile add
    Toronto also signed middle-aged SHL centre Par Lindholm to an ELC on the same day, and I was curious to see how players who had similar career pathways to him fared in North America. I outlined the results and gave an idea of the type of expectation we should have for him.
  • Marlies win back-to-back on weekend, take 2-0 series lead
    Marlies advance to Calder Cup Final with sweep of Phantoms
    The Toronto Marlies continued their steamrolling of the Calder Cup Playoffs this past week, and I talked a bit about all four games in their sweep of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in two separate posts. The recap for Games 1 and 2 includes some underlying data that I’ve been counting by hand at home games – if there’s a demand for that, this might be something I carry into next season.
  • Which Leafs might Lou Lamoriello target this summer?
    With Lou Lamoriello heading to the Islanders, I took a look at New York’s strengths and weaknesses and identified some players that the Leafs might not need as much as they did when Lamoriello first got here, but that the new team president might see some value in bringing to his new home.
  • Examining what the Leafs gained, and subsequentially lost in Mark Hunter
    After the Leafs opted to promote Kyle Dubas to the General Manager’s chair, Mark Hunter decided that there wasn’t much climbing room left for him in the organization and stepped down. In this post, I scoured through the public record to figure out what we can likely credit Hunter for contributing to the team. This post goes into a lot of detail, scouring through all sorts of coverage and information that has been released throughout his tenure with the team.

The Mailbag

Personally, I feel that Justin Holl has a very, very real shot of making the Maple Leafs next year. He’s been an unbelievable presence for the Marlies over the past three seasons, and that side of the organization seems to be head-over-heels with him. That’s the part of the organization that ranges from “has more influence than ever” to “are the ones in charge” now that the staff shift has happened, so you’d imagine he has a lot of voices vouching for him. He looked excellent in his cup of coffee with the big club in January/February and an intelligent, mobile zone-escaper like him would’ve been really useful against Boston.

LIljegren is a little bit further away, but we won’t have a real grasp on his timeline until the offseason passes. He’s looked excellent for the Marlies this year, but sometimes shows signs of, well, being an 18-year-old in a league that doesn’t historically host too many teenagers, both in terms of his decision making and in terms of his physical makeup.

If he comes back to training camp armed with a conditioning summer like the ones William Nylander had in his first few years, his rise could end up being just as meteoric, with a graduation potentially coming as soon as next spring. Save for maybe doing a Nylander-like contract burn, though, I’d put 2019/20 as the realistic expectation for full-time Timoth.

I want them to pick whoever is the player that they most strongly believe can become a superstar at that spot. I don’t care if they’re a centre, winger, defenceman, goaltender, or the guy selling concessions. Positional need changes so much over the span of a development cycle, and you never know who is or isn’t going to work.

No team has so much depth in a position that they can push it aside on draft day – get the potential impact player and if you end up with a logjam, make a move to make room. It’s better than drafting a worse player for position and maybe ending up with nothing.

I’m simultaneously in the “people don’t give Sundin enough credit in these listings” camp (blame generational divide), and in the “he’s still not quite the greatest, though” spot.

The player that I’d have as my top seed, interestingly, finished even lower than Sundin in the official Top 100 rankings that came out in 2016. My guy here is Charlie Conacher, if only for the fact that you can argue that he was the best player on the planet over the course of his tenure with the team – there aren’t too many guys who have played for this team who can even say that for a single season.

Another first-round exit would definitely be a disappointment for the fans; there’s a degree of expectation for the team now, and they can’t hide behind the “aw shucks, we’re just kids” wall forever. To management? Yes and no. I think it would be a disappointment in the sense that everyone wants to win and that they likely believe that they have a contender on their hands with a window to pursue that, but I also don’t think that this group would be the type to make a dramatic reaction to losing just for the sake of making a “statement” or whatever.

Moving Kadri down? Tavares plays on the fourth line, to fill in the “ex-New York Islander” quota for Matt Martin.

Nah, it’s far too early to tell. Ryan would be a nice fit, but I’m pretty sure the Leafs would like to see if Aaltonen and Lindholm can be Ryan-like players for a fraction of the price first, especially given age gap. Frederik Gauthier might work himself back in the mix as a combination of Mike Babcock’s fondness for trying him out and his fantastic playoff round. Chris Mueller’s a bit of a longshot, but he’s produced for the Marlies and they seem to trust him to take big faceoffs, which is something Babcock definitely keeps on his mind. They could also slide a few guys on the wing over to the middle if they needed to.

The point is, they have enough options to decide from as suitable fallbacks that they don’t need to head out in July and swing for a ground-ball single. I think that’s a battle that sorts itself out, rather than being an offseason focus point.

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