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:

The Mailbag

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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