The Mailbag: June 29th

Last week’s mailbag is gone, but not forgotten. My mind was elsewhere earlier last week, but fear not – the questions remain and we’re going to spin back and answer the ones that our still applicable. Let’s get to it!

In Case You Missed It

Before we get started, here’s what I got around to writing last week:

  • If I Had A Vote: Hall Of Fame Edition: My selections for this year’s Hall of Fame Class, which ended up 2/4 on the Men’s players, 0/1 on the Women’s, and 0/1 on the Builders. I think I’m going to come back to this topic again at some point because there are people in the latter two categories that both I and the Hall glanced over, but for now, this outlines a few people who deserve their looks, and two who got them.
  • The NHL and the Pursuit of Mediocrity: We got the chaos result at the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery. It’s fun in a vacuum, but when you look at it amongst the bigger picture, you see a league that incentivizes being in the middle more than any other spot. So, I did just that, and put all it in context.

The Mailbag

While some might brush this off as optimism, I don’t think that a stagnating cap really hurts Toronto as much as people think it will. It won’t be the market value of superstars that crashes in this time – premium players will always get premium payment – but the support talent will be what drops.

That could almost be opportunistic for Toronto, as it will create more Jason Spezza-type situations in the free agent market, allowing them to stock the “scrub” part of the Stars & Scrubs strategy with better talent per dollar than they would have before.

The risk for Toronto now comes in the sense that they can’t afford to miss on a medium to high range, second layer type contract – they can’t overpay on a Frederik Andersen or Zach Hyman extension, for example – but beyond that, I see the Leafs as one of the teams in the best shape to get through to the other side of this salary freeze, rather than the worst – their most important hits have already been taken.

It would be immensely difficult, right? That’s one of the reasons I’ve given in recent weeks to argue against the NHL trying to figure out this year – so many players in teams’ umbrellas are assigned to other leagues that will likely move on a mutually similar, but vastly different to the NHL return-to-play plan, focusing on when it’s safe for them to open up with fans rather than planning for bubbles at the like. This is because the other leagues tend to rely on gate revenue as their driving force rather than TV and streaming, making a gated return unviable.

So if the NHL isn’t on the same schedule, what happens with prospects that you would normally have at training camp before deciding whether they play in the minors, in major junior, or in Europe? Do top CHL prospects get pulled away from their leagues, brought to NHL camps, and then maybe get sent immediately back, serving no purpose besides derailing their junior season?

There will a lot of complications that arise here, perhaps more than what we’re already seeing with the 2019/20 RTP. That’s, of course, if September/October look feasible for the other leagues to begin with; the NHL could get lucky enough that the other leagues’ window of opportunity pushes back to where they already project to be.

I think it’s important to keep expectations on the tempered side. I know everyone is excited for the big Leafs’ semi-prospect because he’s a 6’6 winger and he was able to put up a bunch of points in his first pro year with the Growlers this year, but it’s worth remembering that the Growlers had ten players (!!!) in the point-per-game bubble this year; though him and Riely Woods were the youngest.

It would be nice if Brazeau pans out; skill in a large frame is hard to find, after all, but as a 22-year-old with just one AHL game to his credit so far, he’s still at the stage where even just drawing into more games than not would be a win next year. We can shift expectation once we get a bigger sample of him with the Marlies, but for now, let’s wait for the egg to hatch before we count it as a chicken.

This is a pretty creative question, and I’m going to cheat a little with guys who really shouldn’t be making what they make right now.

  1. Kevin Shattenkirk ($1,750,000) – Shattenkirk got a bit of a raw deal over the past few years, as his hype balloon over-inflated due to a lack of other good puck-moving defencemen in the market. It allowed him to pick his venue and practically his salary, and the Rangers, as much as they were his childhood preference, weren’t a great hockey fit for him. His bounce-back in Tampa Bay was entirely expected and everyone with a brain outside of Florida groaned mightily when he signed his prove-it deal, but he’s more than lived up to it.
  2. Ilya Kovalchuk ($700,000) – The man still has the sauce, as he’s shown in his post-termination spurts in Montreal and Washington. The release is still deadly and he’s still got strength, and once he escaped Los Angeles, he began to use the body and drive play again. He’ll get a raise next year for sure, but he fits the qualifications.
  3. Blake Coleman ($1,800,000) – I like Coleman a lot, and clearly the Lightning did as well given the price they paid for him. Part of that is because of his salary extending into next year, but he also plays a hard-nosed, in-your-face style of game while putting up decent middle-six production. He’s probably the best player who fits this description and whose contract bleeds into next year.

The Thunder. Silver will be their primary colour. Their arena will seat 18,538 people. Yes, I’m petty.

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