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The Mailbag: March 29th

After a week off, the mailbag is back! There’s actually a bit of a possibility that this feature may reshape itself in the near future – I’m considering some options for how I want to put out content down the stretch and the mailbag obviously has a role in that. Doing reader-response is going to be a mainstay no matter what, but in what form it comes through for the next little bit, we’ll have to see.

For now, though? Same ol’, same ol’. Here’s the best of what you had to ask:

I think Jake Muzzin put it best this morning when he talked about his work ethic. “He’s the come in and he’s the hardest working guy on the team right now,” Muzzin said. “You know it’s contagious when you see a guy working like that, you want to continue working.”

That is to say, Galchenyuk knows that he’s been given a second lease on life with a contending team here, rather than being just another shuffled-around piece that ended up with a bottom feeder. He knows he’s got a great opportunity to go on a playoff run if this works out, while also being aware that he has a chance of washing himself out of the league if he doesn’t put his full self into it.

Even in his AHL games with the Marlies, you could see a player who was obviously interested in making a mark, someone who was around to treat every game like it mattered. The skill level he has is obviously still high-end, but his mind needs to be able keep up with it both in terms of hockey IQ and confidence. Those few games helped him build up the latter, and while the team has done some work with him on things like refining his skating and making sure that his legs are able to keep in in more ways than one (he’s not an overly fast guy, and his knees have been prone to injury), I think that’s the biggest thing for him.

I do also like the idea of stacking him up top with the star players. There are certain players who can make plays for big players, and vice versa, even if they themselves aren’t the full package, and I wonder if there’s a bit of that there. He’s got the sense to read a high-end play from a Tavares or Nylander that another accessory winger might not be able to, and they’re more aware of what decisions he might make than a depth player might be.

Whether every night looks as good as Saturday remains to be seen, but I’ve been a long-time believer that there’s a really good player in Galchenyuk, and it’d be nice if he could figure it out in Toronto.

This is a tough one. There are really only two answers here, for me.

On one hand, you have the “undo the trade” option with Nazem Kadri. One more chance at at being the hero after his mistakes in the post season, one more chance for the fans to appreciate what they had in him instead of making him an easy asset to move. He was a remarkably premium third option for the team that deserved to be treated like a cusp-star.

On the other hand, Phil Kessel was probably the best Leafs winger of my lifetime until Marner and Nylander showed up, and to have all three together would be incredible. Yes, he’s not the most defensively responsible player I’ve ever seen, but having another player with an elite release and very good puck distribution skills would be incredible. Obviously, we’re talking 2011-2014 Phil here, and he dragged some miserable teams on his back.

I think I lean a little more towards Kadri because I’d like to see him in the Keefe system, I’d like to see him get his due, and he hasn’t yet gotten his rings. He also adds even more edge and I think with players like Wayne Simmonds and Jake Muzzin around, there’d be a bit of a release valve there for him. But either of the two works for me. No disrespect to Dion, Joffrey, or JVR, who were all very good in their primes, but it’s 43 followed by 81 over here.

I’ve actually been sitting on a similar thought for the past week or so, though not exactly with Fleury. The issue there is, now that he’s having a renaissance year, it would be just about impossible for the Golden Knights to move him, particularly if they want to “go for it”. He’s the city’s first franchise player and will go straight into the rafters at the end of this.

No, I’m wondering more about Robin Lehner, who has only played 7 of 31 games, has had a mediocre start, and not a lot of time to dig out of it. I see a potential turning of the tables there, and if that’s the case, having him signed for four more years after this probably isn’t pleasing the Golden Knights very much.

A swap based around Andersen and Lehner could also work for both teams from a cap perspective as their $5 million AAV’s wash out. It gets the Leafs a younger goaltender who is likely an upgrade, while it gets Vegas out of the contract and lets them ride the Fleury train for all they’ve got. Now, is the appetite there? I don’t know. But if it is, I could see this being the type of out-of-nowhere trade we see soon.

Worrying about nay-sayers is a fool’s errand. If they make the second round, they’ll say “still not a deep run”. If they make it to the conference finals, they’ll say “still not a finals appearance”. If they make it to the finals, they’ll say “still not a ring”, and if they win it all, they’ll say “what took so long”, “asterisk season”, “they got lucky”, or “still not a dynasty”.

Perception is the enemy. If you like your process, ride it. If you worry about others, you’ll run into a wall of your own design.

Toronto’s ice-cold powerplay is an obvious topic of discussion, as one of the hottest starts you’ll ever see has crashed to a 4-for-31 effort in March, including a 1-for-27 run since scoring on their first powerplay on March 3rd.

Here’s where it kind of gets weird though: Let’s break things down into the sorts of offence they’re generating in this slump. Since March 3rd, Toronto ranks 1st in shot attempts per hour on the powerplay, 1st in unblocked shot attempts, 5th in shots on goal, 1st in expected goals, 1st in scoring chance attempts, and 1st in high danger scoring chance attempts.

In other words, they’re shooting the heck out of the puck. The issue, of course, is that they’re 25th in powerplay goals per hour, and 28th in shooting percentage. So really, this is an issue of results, rather than process.

I don’t think that necessarily means that they can’t improve upon this, however. If you’ll remember, that game on the 3rd was the last of the games in the Edmonton series sweep, where the team was without Auston Matthews. They’ve had him for all of the games since, and as we’ve seen, there’s been some hesitancy in his shot, and definitely not as much pop.

As such, it might not surprise you that Matthews lead the Leafs in powerplay attempts, unblocked attempts, high danger attempts, expected goals, and goals on this run. Forcing him to take lower quality shots than he usually has, has come to the benefit of the opponents. It also allows teams to put a bit more pressure on others – one will note that Matthews still has the lone powerplay goal in this skid.

So, there’s a lot of ways to look at this. His wrist’s gradual improvements will allow him to take cleaner, deadlier shots, which should help with the process. Getting him a second shooter on that top unit to open things up would be useful too, which might be the thought process today in switching Joe Thornton and John Tavares around. In short, I think this is a finishing issue, and one they’ll work their way out of, but sitting there and hoping for just the luck component to sort wouldn’t be a great idea. Better than blowing the units up solely out of frustration, but still not great.

Green Peppers – Pepperoni – Mushrooms

Onions – Sausage

Extra Cheese (Bocconcini)

“Jeff, you just invented a deluxe but swapped the cheese”

Yeah, what of it? For real, though, I’ll have just about anything besides olives. I’m not picky. Except when it comes to Olives. Olives are the only bad food.

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