This was the week I envisioned bringing back the Mailbag, but not really the way I envisioned it. This will get published after sunrise, but it’s written about 2:00 AM. It’s very humid in Toronto, as we skirted the expected thunderstorms for yet another day, and my building hasn’t turned on the air conditioning yet. I’ve got many fans to minimize, but not enough to eliminate. So while I wait to get tired enough for my body to ignore the weather conditions, let’s pull into your questions for this week.
PS: For the record, the goal is to go back to every Monday for this – or at least once a week, and keep it that way for as long as possible. While the mailbag has been an oft-pump faked and forgotten feature, I do really enjoy the interaction it brings. Alright, on to it:
If the Leafs have cap troubles in the upcoming seasons due to impacts of the pandemic on the salary cap, what member of their core would you move and why?
— Joey (@joeycongi98) May 24, 2020
A post-pandemic cap crunch could be more of a blessing than a curse for a team like the Maple Leafs. A lot is made of the top-heavy commitment of paying four star players, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that given how many teams have grenade deals near the top of their cap commitments. Toronto gets rid of nearly all of their serious cap baggage going into this summer with the ending of Cody Ceci, David Clarkson, and Nathan Horton’s contracts; after that, the worst contracts are all players who are seen as good and reasonably young.
Those can be moved, and just as importantly, the rest of the league isn’t exactly in cap paradise anyway, meaning that those teams would be impacted by a pinch too. That likely means a slump in the market, which may add some insult to injury on not getting under the market value line on Matthews/Marner/Nylander, but could mean a deflation of market value for the likes of Morgan Rielly, Zach Hyman, and Frederik Andersen, or for the next wave of young gun deals down the line (Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Nick Robertson). This crunch impacts 31 teams, not just 1, so you can skirt issue if you know what you’re doing.
Of the teams that would’ve missed the playoffs which has the best chance at winning the Cup?
— fAegon The Great (@fAegonthegreat) May 24, 2020
I think a sneaky-interesting team to look for in this picture might be the New York Rangers. Their underlying metrics are, frankly, terrible, so it would be of equal non-shock if they collapsed in the play-in, but in a game that relies so much on luck, with a playoff format that drives that up even further, it’s hard to rule out a team that has one of the very best players in the world (Artemi Panarin), a red-hot finisher (Mika Zibanejad), and three different and capable goalies who could all land on the miracle run story.
What becomes of Bracco?
— Hamish Reid (@Hammmer47) May 25, 2020
This is a particularly interesting question, and one I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer to. Jeremy Bracco left the Marlies in the fall citing personal reasons, and only rejoined the team for informal practices in the days before the lights went out. He’s a restricted free agent this year, and when you combine his departure with a down season and some already prior skepticism towards his play translating to the NHL, I can’t imagine his value is super high.
It’s possible that Toronto brings him back for another season or two, possibly hoping to sneak him through the waiver wire, but I can also see them moving on. A big factor will obviously be the underlying cause for his departure, though it would be indecent to speculate on what that cause is.
Which long term injured player will have the smoothest return once the playoffs begin?
— Graham Renfrow (@grahamr_9) May 24, 2020
The Pittsburgh Penguins. Like, as a collective group. That team has been decimated by injuries all year, including their core leaders and top players, and I feel like a team with a player like Sidney Crosby at the helm would be the type to really see this pause as an opportunity to catch back up and get in shape. A bunch of those top players who missed time were already a few games back into the lineup when we paused, but this will see them all come back without a race against the ticking clock of the season.
On that note: I’m pretty amped to see what Erik Karlsson does with this extended offseason. No player in the game has needed one more than he does.
Do you think Joseph Woll has a realistic shot at becoming the Leafs future starter?
— GordonOTH (@RideThePine89) May 24, 2020
Woll, to put it bluntly, had an extremely rough first season at the professional level. With 32 games played, the 2016 Leafs 3rd Round Pick stopped just 88% of the shots on goal, gave up a little under four goals per game, and had an 11-16-3 record.
Even for a rookie goalie, that’s pretty bad. Okay, it’s really bad; only Cam Johnson of the Binghamton Devils last year played a regular goaltender’s workload (around 1500 minutes at minimum) as a rookie and posted a worse save percentage since 2005/06. In fact, it’s a bottom-ten effort for AHL goaltenders in general in that time span.
I also have skepticsm of taking even the best college numbers seriously, and while his Boston College results were solid (about a 0.917 over 3 years), they aren’t jaw-dropping or precedent-setting.
This all goes to say: I have no idea. Goalies are the weirdest thing, and he’s got tools. If came here via a time machine and you told me that he’ll never play an NHL game, I’d believe you, and if you told me that he wins a Vezina in the next 3 years, I’d also believe you. I’d also, in seriousness, given him the benefit of the doubt of a very rough transitional season for the Marlies, particularly with all the organizational yo-yoing with goaltenders. In a perfect world, I think they’d have preferred he got some ECHL reps this year, but it didn’t happen. Lots of time on the clock to figure this one out.
I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a “what if the OJHL playoffs didn’t get cancelled?”
— Ryan Burgess (@Burgmania) May 25, 2020
To quote steady veteran defenceman Liam Beaudoin, “the only way the Buzzwagon was going to stop was because the world broke down”. 16-1-1-1 from January 10th to the pause button. My advanced statistical model (my heart) says we go all the way. I guess we’ll never know.