The Mailbag: July 6
Happy Monday! I hope you all had a fantastic weekend – and to my American friends, I hope the fireworks have stopped by now, and that you’ve gotten some sleep. Let’s kick this week off in the usual way – by looking back at some content and answering some questions.
In Case You Missed It
Before we get started, here’s what I got up to last week:
- Despite potential lottery rewards, the Stanley Cup should remain the Ultimate Goal: An argument against the idea of tanking the play-in round, despite the allure of being in the Placeholder Lottery and potentially getting the first overall pick. In short: Never punt in scoring position.
- Building A Superstar: Another variant of the dollar game comes to the hockey world, and I unpack a few archetypes that would be fun to see on the ice.
- An Ode To David Clarkson: “I’m not worried about six and seven,” rings in our memory as David Clarkson’s contract hits Year 8 on a technicality. I look back on the moment of signing the gritty winger, and look to revise his legacy into something a little more positive on the individual level.
- What sot of home ice advantage to the NHL hub cities have?: With Toronto and Edmonton looking poised to host the playoffs, I look at what those teams have to gain in their own barns; what’s mitigated by the circumstances, what’s all in our heads, and what’s legitimate.
- Veillette: There are so many areas in the NHL where there is a benefit to be in the middle ground: I appeared on TSN 1040 Vancouver with Matt Sekeres and Jon Abbott to talk about my piece from last week, “The NHL and the pursuit of mediocrity“
Who's Stanley Cup window will be closed by 2020?
— Chengy (@chengypoker) July 5, 2020
This might be a bit of an uncomfortable take, but I think we’re starting to move past the point of declaring windows as inherently open or closed in today’s game. Parity has consumed most of the league, and to be an elite or terrible regular season team has become an outlier, not it’s own tier. The post season is, for all intents and purposes, a weighted coin toss. There are windows for being the among the favourites to win, and there are timeframes for being in a scorched-earth rebuild, but in a league where 19 teams finished within eight wins of each other this year, it’s difficult to commit to anyone as firmly “out” unless they openly pull the plug.
San Jose and Chicago are likely the closest to those descriptions, but both could easily get themselves back into the middle-ground in a couple of years and neither are committing to an implosion.
Is it a good idea to play Marner behind the net on the pp?
— Herm (@hoimburger) July 4, 2020
This is one of those answers that falls into “couldn’t hurt”. I’d like to see more variety in powerplay schemes in general; that is to say, teams should have 4-5 schemes that they rotate through to fool opposing penalty kills, not just one or two set plays. A behind-the-net based system with a high-vision playmaker is among those concepts that could be integrated; we haven’t seen many of those in North America post-Gretzky, though they remain somewhat popular in Europe.
North American powerplay schematics are very inclined towards maximizing how many open shots you have, while a behind the net-based strategy pulls your shape closer to the net and increases shot quality for the options you do have. Sacrificing a second point shot to pull your best scorers into threatening areas is an option that deserves more weight than currently given.
Will the Leafs have to move a forward for cap room? If so, who?
— Dale 27138725, Esq. (@Dale27138725) July 4, 2020
I don’t think they’ll “have to”, in the sense that I don’t see this upcoming offseason as a back-against-the-wall scenario. The two big LTIR contracts come off the books, as does Cody Ceci; that should give Toronto enough flexibility on the fact to take care of extending Dermott and Mikheyev.
Now, as far as upgrades go, that’s a different story; they’ll likely have to clear salary to bring in substantial salary. I imagine their ambitions will be in the mid-tier here, though; think players like Alexander Kerfoot and Andreas Johnsson.
who’s a better winger for matthews marner or nylander? if you tackled this in the past then just fire me the link id love to read it
— karl (@karlandtheleafs) July 4, 2020
This is similar to the powerplay question for me; I don’t think there’s a direct answer to this question. Historically, Matthews has had better shares of shot attempts (Corsi) or on-ice goals (a slightly improved +/-) with Nylander, but has a better share of the Expected Goals (shots weighted by location and type) with Marner. He produces a higher rate of points per hour with Nylander, but scores a higher rate of goals per hour with Marner.
Both wingers are able to get some of the best qualities out of Matthews through their own strengths, and in a sense, there is a real value in the fact that you can rotate between the two based on what style of team you’re facing, what game situation you’re in, etc. The numbers above tend to mesh with what our eyes often tell us. Matthews and Nylander are the stronger duo when it comes to things like cycling or tandem breakouts, chaining together multiple passes and plays to get to a scoring opportunity. Matthews and Marner are a better duo at making something out of direct plays, creating fast counter-attack rushes and threading single passes into dangerous areas.
This is a benefit of having both Marner and Nylander on the roster that cannot be understated, and one that many in the hockey world glance over. We treat skilled wingers as one archetype, when in reality, there is so much more nuance available than that – while the nucleus of their games is the same, the methods are much different – they create versatility, not redundance.
Just how bad has Anaheim’s de-evolution of their blue line been over the last few years?
— Puck Follower (@puckfollower) July 5, 2020
They’ve managed to not lose Hampus Lindholm, so they aren’t totally at a loss yet. But losing so many other functioning pieces, particularly emerging talents like Shea Theodore, is definitely a sign of misevaluation – I’m still not totally sure how Cam Fowler earned himself his deal.
Which Leafs player opting out of the NHL play-in would create the most havoc on Twitter?
— Dale 27138725, Esq. (@Dale27138725) July 4, 2020
Honestly, there are so many compelling arguments here. If its one of the Big Four, they’ll be called out by the old-school for “giving up on the team” while the “new-school” crowd back the players’ right to make the decision (unless it’s Mitch Marner, in which case, it’ll be weirdly reversed). Supplementary players would lead to more nuanced (but still not very nuanced) discussions about the validity of the tournament. Bottom tier depth that isn’t particularly liked would likely get dumped on as attention-seeking.
Frederik Andersen may be the best answer, though, because he would be the one who would give people an actual fear of losing. You need a starting goaltender in the playoffs, after all. With his contract up after next year, he’d likely also get the abandonment angle, with more permanence speculated.
Of course, all of these outcomes would be questionable. Every player has the right to opt-out, and given the complexity and threat of this virus and the absurdity of this playoff format, it might be the smartest decision one can make. We’ll see what happens, I guess.