Mailbag: Home Stretch

Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
June 14 2014 09:39PM

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It's been a heck of a weekend. I helped out Five Hole For Food's spinoff Waterloo tournament all of yesterday, inched my back home today, and got into Toronto just in time for the kickoff of the Italy game. As I had hoped, the Azzurri came out on top, and naturally, I headed to Dufferin and St. Clair to celebrate. But now, I'm home, and can spend some time relaxing. But first, we're still clearing out all of the old mailbag questions! So here's a few more, and hopefully the next few days will provide us with some news so we don't see as many of these posts.

To submit a question, send me a tweetemail meask me, or leave a comment.

Peter Holland has put up AHL numbers over a couple years that are very similar to Nazem Kadri's numbers - almost point per game. Do you think Holland is capable of having a break out next season with the Leafs next year (assuming he plays more minutes with better linemates)?

It all depends on what you're expecting out of him. I see him playing for the Leafs next year, but the top six is unlikely. He's probably going to be on the third line, but you know what? If the Leafs don't completely gut their winger depth, there's still wiggle room for him to produce. Now, it won't be like Kadri in the lockout shortened season (On-Ice Shooting Percentage showed him to be more than a little lucky), but he's already shown that he can make some offensive contribution to the team.

Hi Jeff. On more than one occasion, you have written that you were not expecting the Marlies to be contenders this season. Are there any reasons for that?

This is definitely the case. As for why? Well, the team was missing a huge part of its nucleus from the two years prior. They had no "blue chip" prospects going into the start. Nobody confidently thought that Spencer Abbott and TJ Brennan were ready to become elite-level AHL guys. Steve Spott was entering his first year of professional hockey, and the rest of the team consisted of a bunch of kids. 

Clearly they had other intentions, though.

Can you see Carter Ashton becoming a productive top 9 forward in the NHL?

I think the ship is sailing on him being a top six guy, but a productive third liner isn't out of the cards. He's physical and likes getting the puck to the net, things that teams look for in that role. Now, whether it happens or not depends on whether the Leafs will give him some time with legitimate linemates. Jay McClement and Colton Orr aren't the guys that will get him there, but that's all the supporting cast he's really had to date at the NHL level.

Realistically speaking when do you think that the Leafs will win a cup again?

"This team is perpetually cursed" me says never. Realistically speaking, though? It seems like any team can build themselves up to that elite level in about 5 or 6 years these days. I think Toronto has made some ground and could get there a little sooner, but it all depends on what decisions the team makes moving forward. Even a wholesale cleanout wouldn't make the wait eternal if the right cards were played.

straight up yes or no: should the Leafs trade Dion?

No. This is a lot more complicated than "no", but if I'm forced, no.

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I bring news about the Toronto Marlies, opinions about the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a bunch of ridiculous thoughts about everything else.
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#1 Dion
June 15 2014, 12:06AM
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Yes, No or Maybe. Should the leafs trade Dion?

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#2 Skill2Envy
June 15 2014, 04:02AM
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@Dion

The question was answered.

Why? Because no one can straight up replace him. Sure Reilly and Gardiner are good but not ready and don't play the way Dion does or at least should, hard hitting defence first.

I say put Gardiner with Dion so he can be the puck mover/carrier. Let Dion focus on defence because Gardiner is better offensively and can get back a lot quicker.

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#3 oldhockeyfan
June 15 2014, 07:22AM
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Dion playd the toughest minutes of any Dman in the league last year, that is really tough to replace. He was a +player on a-team. Dion would be better placed if he did not have the C on his sweater, then his game would go up a notch in my view.

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#4 Jeremy Ian
June 15 2014, 08:49AM
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Hey Jeffler,

Maybe the Carter Ashton question could be rephrased as: can the prospect of CA invite the Leafs to rethink the concept of 3rd and 4th lines?

Successful teams this playoffs had deep rosters with less distinction between the 1st and 4th lines (that is, conventional "grinder" lines had to be fast and opportunistic). A dominating 1st line is a necessary condition for success. But it's not sufficient.

I'd be happy to see Ashton NOT on the top six. Those who yearn for it, or feel that anything less is a signature of disappointment, may be missing how the game has changed. If he were a solid bottom 6-er, it would mean a deeper roster. We should be happy about that.

There's a paradox here. Just as deep rosters have become more important than ever, the salary cap makes it harder to have flabby lineups.

Lesson to Nonis et al.

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#5 Leaf Fan in Mexico
June 15 2014, 03:13PM
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@Jeremy Ian

Interesting thought Jeremy, why do teams follow the conventional 1-4 line strategy, perhaps thinking out of that box leads to a better result? I agree you see less flab and deeper rosters (if that means more than just grind at the bottom end).

I don't follow other teams well enough to know if it has been tired consciously or not.

What I do know is that I have never really challenged the top 6 offense threat, third line mix of talent/grind, fourth grind strategy.

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#6 Skill2Envy
June 16 2014, 12:36AM
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@Leaf Fan in Mexico

I do somewhat agree with your statement but I personally think a 4 line team needs to work something like this.

Your top 6 should be offensive threats which is a no brainer and where we agree. Look at Pittsburgh, Chicago and LA.

Your third line should be able to contribute offensively and be made up of TWFs (two way forwards) that could contribute at least 20 points, hopefully around 30 and if they have a good season get 40 - think MacArthur, Kulemin, Raymond, Shaw. They should also be good enough to get bumped up if injuries occur and be able to spend time on special teams.

Your fourth line can be "grinders" but my definition is as follows - able to keep pressure in the offensive zone on the opposing defence. Be able to limit opposing teams time and space when defending, block shots and take to body to separate the opposing player from the puck, force turnovers or takeaways. In other words be good defensively while creating pressure to cycle in top lines when in the offensive end. Think - McClement, Komarov, Abdelkader, Ashton, Tim Brent.

I don't believe that an Orr/McLaren is required in todays NHL when you can insert an Ashton/McClement/D'Amigo, for example, instead to give you 10 minutes a game even-strength.

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#7 Jeremy Ian
June 16 2014, 10:26AM
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@Skill2Envy

I'd add to the list of teams with balanced and diversified 4 lines: Bruins, Rangers... One thing Alain Vigneault said after Vancouver lost to the Bruins was that Julien taught him about the value of the 4th lines. Interesting how things come around...

Can you come up with an alternative word than "grinder" for your 4th line player concept. The "grinder" plays into an archaic model.

I think the 4th line innovators may have been Scotty Bowman and Jacques Lemaire in the 90s. So, it's not like we haven't had the concept around. But it's not just about the roles, it's about how management handles the money with the cap. The opportunity costs of NOT adapting are getting higher and higher.

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#8 Skill2Envy
June 16 2014, 03:41PM
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Well if you wanted another word instead of "grinder" I'm sure Don Cherry would call them the "lunch pail" line because they are the guys that "put on their boots, hard hats, and bring their lunch pails to work".

If your top lines would be scoring lines, I would suppose your third line would be support and fourth is often now called your energy line.

It could also be referred to as shutdown line when paired with my explanation above. I think people often think of shutdown meaning defensive but when in the offensive zone you have to shutdown, or make their defence ineffective - shutting them down. Not letting them get back up the ice.

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