Welcome to another addition of the Maple Leafs Mailbag. While you no doubt are familiar with the concept of mailbags, this one comes straight from under the desk of the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran – I sneak in when he’s on lunch and steal it!!!
Jokes aside, McGran does a great job covering the Leafs but I think offering an alternate take to the same questions has value (and I include up to ten% more indie-rock videos to listen to while you read) so let us get it on.
To the bag……
QUESTION: Are players such as Brandon Kozun, Richard Panik, Tim Erixon, and kind-of-getting-up-in-years Zach Sill legitimate rebuild possibilities, or are they just placeholders until younger players develop? You mentioned re-signing Eric Brewer, sounds reasonable, how likely is it to happen? And other than saying anything is possible, would Steven Stamkos ever come to Toronto as a UFA, and if so, what would that do to the cap as they rebuild?
ANSWER: Outside of Panik, they’re all – as you say – placeholders. Maybe Erixon could become something, but that’s a pretty big longshot. Last year when the Leafs were putting out Erixon and Brewer and MacWilliam near the end of the year, it was one of the worst groups of defensemen I have ever seen. Realistically, say they enter the year with Gardiner, Rielly and Percy, unless someone at camp seems to break out (like a Loov or someone similar) I think you can call just about anyone else they dress a placeholder. The Leafs need at least three new, good, defenseman and I’d be shocked if any of them are currently on the roster.
Re-signing Eric Brewer is the opposite of reasonable, I don’t see that happening. As for Stamkos, I didn’t like that McGran told you to “stop it.” I mean, Stamkos is a hometown kid and one of the best in the world. He just came off a Playoffs where there was at least rumours that he was not happy with his team, a team which is going to have a hell of time keeping their young players together under the cap. It’s at worst, a somewhat reasonable fantasy to imagine him coming home.
And this is sports, the only reason we care is because it’s fun. So if imaging that Stamkos is gonna come to the Leafs is fun for you (it’s fun for me) then why not discuss it? If you’d have asked me which was more likely a year ago, the Leafs having a front office and head coach that is the envy of the NHL or getting Stamkos, I’d have said Stamkos, and we all know how that turned out.
So why not? As for what it would do to the cap, who cares?
QUESTION: The Leafs players are saying things like ‘being excited’ about playing for Babcock but what does a new coach with a sound reputation really mean? Other than Babcock can enforce his will without anyone questioning him, what will be different for the players?
And since I haven’t had a twofer in at least a week, a GM question. Shanahan said he’s pleased with the relationships his assistant GM’s have been building. How important is that? Do more/better deals get made because a GM has had conversations with another GM in the past?
ANSWER: In my opinion, we probably put too much stock into what a coach can do for a team. Yes, it matters if guys “want to play for him,” but how much is debatable. I mean, they’re already professional athletes and the best in the world, so how much can a coach add to that is not something that is easily quantifiable.
In my mind, the coach’s main job comes down to strategy and player usage – Randy Carlyle, for example ignored all the stats that empirically show Kadri is superior to Bozak, while playing a system devoid of defensive responsibility. I don’t think the Leafs – given who their management team is made up of – are going to allow things like that any more, and I think Babcock is better than that, so he’ll definitely help.
Having a guy like Babcock will definitely help in areas that are difficult to assess – like, is it even real that the Leafs have a team that doesn’t try and which the “inmates are running the asylum” ? Because while that is the perception, reality is often different. However, if that is even slightly the case, I think a guy like Babcock helps with that.
But, as for what players say in public, who cares? Last time I checked virtually nobody gives honest, unfiltered answers about what they really think to the press, so when someone says something like what you quoted in your question, how much should we care, because what else are they going to say?
As for the GM question, I think it’s obvious relationship building helps, but again, what is Shanahan going to say in public? Nothing. I for one don’t care at all if the Leafs have an “official” GM and I think experience is so massively overrated that it’s a joke. I predict the Leafs just go with a Shanahan, Hunter, Dubas triangle and that it is massively successful.
Good people, with strong communication, who understand how to analyze information and who don’t make decisions based on what fans or the board want are all that you can ask for. These guys provide it and I don’t think a failed ex-GM needs to brought on board to give them credibility. That’s just people being too comfortable in the way things always are.
QUESTION: (Regarding declining NHL ratings in Canada). How about the cold winter and people are happy to be outdoors – how many have weaned themselves off TV (Netflix etc) – changing tastes?
Do you have numbers for viewership on the women’s soccer games? I read somewhere that stadium attendance is greater for MLS than the NHL for North America.
ANSWER: Who could possibly care? Ratings are down because HNIC sucked this year and since Rogers completely ignored all criticisms, it probably will continue to. When more Canadian teams are competitive, ratings will also go up.
Why did you ask about women’s soccer? I don’t see the connection, and personally, I think soccer (men’s or women’s) is about as equally exciting as televised golf, which I also hate.
QUESTION: Wondering your thoughts on the new look HNIC?
Personally I don’t like it. I don’t understand why Rogers felt they needed to change anything.
The tradition a lot of Canadian hockey fans have is tuning into HNIC starting with the opening Montage that would give you goosebumps and get you excited for the game. The new opening was like listening to the trailer for a new action movie with the creepy voiceover.
People love Ron and Don because they have been apart of the show for as long as most of us have been watching HNIC and we want to hear what they have to say.
As far as the new host goes, he just doesn’t seem like a hockey guy. Ron was able to make keen observations and was able to keep the panel focused. We watched the intermission because they had unique and insightful analysis.
And it seemed like Kipper was always annoyed with Strombo. Haha.
I also feel like Rogers gave up on a living legend in putting Bob Cole on the backburner. In my opinion he can make the most boring game seem exciting.
Sure he missed a play here or there and called the wrong players name. Who cares??
Anyways, good article man. Sorry for the rant Just my two cents and I was wondering your thoughts.
ANSWER:Yup, it was brutal. I agree with you almost point by point. See above for more thoughts.
That’s it? I guess Kevin didn’t get too many questions this week, so here’s a couple bonus ones:
QUESTION: What do you make of all the talk the Leafs will end up drafting Provorov?
ANSWER: I don’t make anything of it. I think that Provorov is a great prospect but I don’t see enough Junior/non-NHL games to make my opinion worth anything on the topic. What I do know is that based on the things I have read, I’m hoping they pick Mitch Marner.
But, I also am skeptical of any supposed rumours about who they like because they are obviously going to interview and do due diligence on more than one player. Also, this is a notoriously tight-lipped management group – nothing they have done has leaked ahead of time – and I doubt they are revealing their true plans to anyone, no matter how highly placed the source.
Finally, even though Shanahan came aboard in April 2014, Dave Nonis still was in charge until at least the time when Carlyle was fired, so there is precious little past actions of this group of managers to base any guesses on.
QUESTION: Do you think the Leafs will have to take back a ton of salary on a Phil Kessel trade?
ANSWER: No. Kessel is the third or fourth leading scoring over the last several years. He’s a superstar in the prime of his career and his contract is reasonable. The Leafs may have to take back several bad contracts to allow the trade to be facilitated and increase the teams they can trade with, but come on, are they really going to retain salary for eight more years? If that’s the cases, they’ll just keep him.
I could see them taking back a LOT of salary for this year or the next two or three, depending on the team that wants him, but that is way different than actually retaining salary.
Thanks for reading.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.