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The Mailbag: February 22

Hey again! We’re going to give the mailbag another shot. A weekly staple that became a sporadic staple, now that The Faceoff Circle is up and running on a more full-time basis this season, I feel like it’s worth giving this another opportunity. Each weekend, I’ll take in a pool of questions, and choose the best 5-10 to touch base on come Monday. You know, just like every other blog you’ve ever read, and just like I’ve done in some way or another for most of the last seven or so years. Let’s get to it.


I don’t think this is something the Maple Leafs need to look to at the moment. There’s great added value in Nylander in the sense that he is centre-capable, but those very puck-carrying capabilities seem to benefit him best on the wing. Tavares also seems to have better off-puck strength, particularly in the neutral zone, and positions matter more in that regard than they do on the offensive side of things. As you point out, once the puck is in the offensive zone and you have control, positioning becomes much more fluid – Tavares can move to the wall, Nylander can head to the net, or whatever else they need.

The possibility of this crossover happening years from now is a little more likely, to take advantage of Nylander’s mobility. It’s a great back-pocket thing to have available to them. It’s not something to worry about at the moment.

I think we see it this week. Truthfully, if it were my call, I would’ve considered it tonight, with Joe Thornton and Zach Hyman taking the night off due to day to day injuries. Throwing Galchenyuk on that top line right from the get-go may be a higher-risk decision in terms of preparation, but it could also have doubled as a way to kickstart him while Matthews and Marner are as scorching hot as they are at the moment.

I do think the Leafs are taking the patient approach here, almost trying to rebuild fragments of his game before re-introducing him to the fracas. We’ll figure out very quickly if that’s the case, and whatever route they choose to go, I really hope that it works out. But for now, it might still be a few days until we see him.

There’s a certain difficulty the first question. As a defence abolitionist, I am always okay with trading defencemen for more than they’re worth. It’s also very likely that Morgan Rielly’s point production will lead to a large contract ask, and that it might make more sense for the team to move on from him. In those respects, if I were in Leafs management’s shoes, I would be open to moving the player.

At the same time, “should” they trade the player also requires looking at the other side of circumstance. Rielly has been a part of this group for nearly a decade, he seems happy here, and he very well might be the sort of guy who works out a deal to make an extension work. I don’t think winning is imperative on getting rid of him, and there is a pathway to success that involves keeping him. Ultimately I am not married to keeping him at all costs, and would explore options, but I’m also not pushing to run him out of town either.

To the second question, I think the Leafs are in decent enough shape for the time being. Toronto’s line construction has multiple centres playing on specific lines at the moment, while they figure out what their optimal mix is. It’s not that there isn’t anyone who can play that third centre role, so much as it is that they’d like to see what Kerfoot can do in other areas of the lineup. I think for what a traditional third centre is asked to accomplish, he’s fine if they choose to slot him back – we’re used to this team being full of gamebreakers, so him being merely decent feels like a downgrade. I’d be content with him remaining that player if push came to shove.

Truthfully, I feel that anyone who thinks they knows the answer to this question right now is lying to you. That includes Matthews himself. I look back to John Tavares’ decision to come home to the Leafs, and how that all went down – it feels foregone now, but my understanding of that situation implies that he really, truthfully didn’t know in his own heart until the eleventh hour, and that the Leafs really weren’t in the conversation at all until their management restructure in May.

This is something that’s going to be dictated by the next few years. How good the team is, how good his relationships with the staff and the players are, how marketable he is from this vantage point, what his other options look like in those same regard. The way things look right now, Toronto has a good case to make him a lifer – they’ve got money, they’ve got a platform for him to use, and there’s immense clout available in being the best player to ever play in the biggest market. It looks good for them right now. But anything can change at any moment.

In the meantime, enjoy him for what he is right now. Even if he were to leave at the end of his deal, that would still mean eight fantastic seasons. Others have earned their banner in the rafters with less time. It would be a shame to spend the whole time worrying about it.

No idea.

That’s probably a good thing, too – the goalie market has been so very inconsistent over the past few years, with values and terms of netminders rising and dipping at light speed, and we still don’t have a great grasp of how to project players deep into the distance. If Toronto had a clear plan for what to do with this group at this stage I’d almost consider it over-confidence; let’s see the season out, see who else might head to market, and go from there in terms of speculation. It’s a cop-out answer, but the only sane one at the moment.

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