All that snow melted, temperatures slowly rising, and then it hits: Lousy Smarch weather. But hey – on the plus side, there was a lot of Toronto hockey tonight! I’m going to be following this up with a recap on the Toronto Marlies’ 4-2 win in their home opener, and then something on whatever the result of the Leafs game ends up being – but as you kill time through intermission, let’s hit on some of the topics of the past week.

I’ve heard less talk about the Maple Leafs being overhyped due to the weakness of the Canadian division from American fans than I have from other Canadian fans. Truth be told, I think a lot of people in this country don’t want to admit that this group is starting to pull away with it’s process and depths of talent. The thing is, I get it – the Leafs are insufferable to hear about all the time. They aren’t always spoken about glowingly, but they are always spoken about.

It seems it’s been easier to instead downplay the other Canadian teams as weak – even if these were the same Canadian teams that were being overhyped as Stanley Cup contenders just a few months ago (looking at you, Montreal and Vancouver). The real answer here is that the Leafs are legitimately in the contender class, even if you want to put them on the lower end due to their lack of playoff success. The Senators are really bad. The rest is somewhere in the middle – teams that rely on swings of luck to dictate their positions one way or another.

It’s not a great division, but it’s not the trainwreck it’s now being sold as. The second the Leafs go on a cold streak, it will suddenly “become” competitive again. It’s just the coverage counterbalance, and it’s not worth fussing over one way or another.

Yes and no. There’s not a ton of public data on where in the net goals are being scored, but intuitively we’ve been seeing more “snipes”. That’s because teams are focusing more on shot locations and shot selection in general, which is a byproduct of the analytics revolution. A lot of these concepts have been common sense ideas for the best players for ages, like going to the slot, shaking up the opponent with passing plays, etc, but data is showing just how significant the gap between these shot choices are and teams have evolved their systems to look for better plays. That is to say – the shots that people are stopping to take are closer, and due to more thought being put into set plays, often include a player with a little more time to aim.

It’s an interesting idea, given the Sabres’ struggles and Hall’s want to prove to potential free agency suitors. The issue, obviously, is his $8 million cap hit – but there are ways around that. AAV goes down on a daily basis, firstly, which makes a player effectively cost less at the deadline than on opening night. You can also use salary retention, and even include a third party to retain a chunk of the already retained salary en route to the final destination (Toronto did this with Robin Lehner last year).

With that said, the Oilers and Leafs are really, really close to the cap ceiling, projected to either be at $0 or within tens of thousands by the end of the season. They’re going to be cutting it very close. Look instead to a team like Florida, Boston, or Carolina.

I think it’s really hard to say. There are different technicalities at play this season due to COVID protocols, and due to the Taxi Squad. The players claimed are pretty in line with the average year, with maybe a little less frequency due to teams wanting to avoid quarantine periods. The players getting waived in general are obviously a huge change of pace, but that has more to do with being able to get a salary cap benefit from putting a player on the Taxi Squad instead of making them a healthy scratch. Teams are taking advantage of this, but since the Taxi Squad is supposed to be a temporary measure, I doubt we see most of this carry over into further seasons.

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The Mailbag: March 1st