Also anonymous, but for entirely different reasons
For some reason, my Ask.FM inbox was full of anonymously-sent Leafs questions when I went to go check it yesterday. Of course, the usual was there (hate mail, luvudangler questions, spam, career advice requests despite my ineptitude, angrier hate mail), but there were enough Leafs questions to do a separate mailbag. Here we go:
Q: Who on the Leafs has surprised you the most this year?
A: In a positive sense? Tyler Bozak.
Everybody on Twitter’s reaction to me saying that
No, but seriously. Thinking that a move is bad asset management at the moment it’s made is independent of the actual success of the player, and Bozak has had a hell of a year so far. Is a lot of it because Phil Kessel has become a world-class player and because James van Riemsdyk is making his own contract look like highway robbery? Perhaps. Is his shooting percentage really high? Yes. Have his recent numbers hit the point of “yeah, this isn’t staying this way” compared to his career totals? Likely.
But that’s stuff to worry about in the future. Talking about the immediate past, he’s produced well and his management, coaching staff, and teammates are happy. Kadri is a bit off this year, David Bolland’s best friend has been the IR, Peter Holland is pretty raw still, and the other options have been offensively terrible, so what he’s done so far is valued. I’ve got more good things to say about him in a piece coming soon (maybe even tomorrow).
I’m not exactly holding my breath on what we’ve seen so far being a permanent change, but he’s the best positive surprise this year.
Q: Do you like Leafs jerseys? Should I buy one? They’re expensive. Would it be weird if I bought a Schenn, because I can get one for $20.
A: Leafs jerseys are alright, I guess…
I think a jersey is a great way to pay tribute to a team and/or player you look up to when watching and/or playing hockey, and as see in the above, make for good decoration. I used to think they were every day clothing (hence having so many of them), but have since realized that there’s a fine line between “I want to play hockey like that guy” and “I want to be that guy”, which is what the latter does if you don’t have a reason to be wearing it.
Jerseys can definitely be expensive if you walk into a store and pay retail, but there’ are other ways. The likes of eBay, Craigslist, and Kijiji can be great for finding a good deal (stay cautious for fakes). Thrift stores have been the location of tons of my pickups. The Leafs’ retail stores (Gate 1 shop, Real Sports Apparel) sell brand new player jerseys for 75% off after a guy gets moved. Lots of ways to go about it.
Paying $20 for a Schenn jersey is a good deal. He was a key name in this long-winded rebuilding process that fans will remember for a long time. Beyond that, 2 is a pretty common number and you could always swap the nameplate. I’d bite.
Q: What is your high level strategy on your AHL and ECHL teams? With respect to the mix of youth with NHL upside, AHL / NHL fringe players and veterans?
A: I think that this year’s Marlies roster has unintentionally become a solid example of the framework you want for your team, to an extent. ECHL teams are usually afterthoughts (most don’t have enough prospects to worry; Toronto basically has Zach Yuen and a rotating goaltender), but your AHL roster should be filled up with as many prospects as you can and rounded out with a few top end fringe players to keep the team competitive. The motive is to let the kids do their thing, but they also need to play as many games as possible.
Let’s say you have 15 prospects that are 20+ but not NHL quality. You get the opportunity to ensure that your team makes it to the conference finals, you have to send down your worst four to make room for four AHL world-beaters. Otherwise, you miss the playoffs. Those four aren’t getting the spotlight, but if they’re that low in the chain, they’re unlikely to be NHLers, where as the ones in your system that could make it add as much as a quarter of the schedule to their experience for the year. Overall, it works to your team’s benefit. In Toronto, the Leafs make sufficient enough money that they can throw high AHL contracts at these guys and take a loss on the team to make it work. Korbinian Holzer is making nearly $900,000 with little to no chance of playing for the Leafs this year, for example.
You shouldn’t be building teams just to win minor league championships, but you should be building them to have the appropriate mix of prospects and playoff games.
Q: Are the Pavelski to the Leafs rumours true?
A: The internet has taught me that no rumour is real. Seriously, even if there is legitimate backing on something that comes out, I have to imagine the attempted moves by a GM and his staff in a year have to be in the hundreds if not thousands. They wouldn’t be doing their job right if this wasn’t the case.
Add in the people who have no connects, but have an easy place like the internet to relay pure fiction, and it becomes a gigantic mess. Wake me up when deals are done.
That said, I don’t think it’s in the Leafs’ best interest to pursue Pavelski. He’s quite good, but I think that the upgrade down the middle, if done via trade, must be for an upper-echelon, indisputably great top line centre, which I don’t think he is. He’s also very shoot first, which doesn’t fit into Kessel and JVR’s system. He’s done pretty good with the US, but I imagine it’s easier to convince someone to act differently for two weeks while a gold medal is dangling slightly ahead than it is to make that person keep it up indefinitely.
Basically no, probably not.
Q: Do you think players are more open to media that they can relate to age wise? I know it looks like you and Garret Sparks are good pals, Dangle has NHL buddies and I know Avry from Edmonton from what I’ve heard through mutual friends is really close to Mark Pysyk on Buffalo.
A: This is probably the case, but I don’t know if it’s a media thing as much as it is a human trait in general, really. We’re all more comfortable with people who are on the relatively same maturity level, and don’t leave us having to worry about who’s the elder in one way or another. I’m good as treating players as people (because they are, duh), and it’s easier to talk to guys in my age bracket because you’re not worrying about the other feeling responsible to play elder.
I imagine it’s the same for the player. There’s more trust in somebody that you know is in the same stage of ambition in their careers as you. Plus, of course, the media person themselves has to be cool and trustworthy, which applies to your other two examples (I’m lame as hell).
Q: What do you think is the ceiling for Percy and Biggs?
A: I’m optimistic for Stuart Percy. He’s been very steady the entire year, and while he doesn’t do anything that really stands out, seems to be pretty good at all facets of being a defencemen. Star players tend to have something they’re great at, so that won’t be his trajectory, but he can be a quality NHL defenceman for many years to come if developed right.
As I mentioned a couple of mailbags ago, Biggs is almost assuredly not going to live up to his draft pick. He simply doesn’t have the offensive skills that people were hoping he might be able to show, try as they may.
Q: Is there a forward in the league not named Crosby, Malkin, Datsyuk or Toews that you would trade straight up for Kessel right now? If so, who?
A: Alexander Ovechkin is still a better winger and should be for years to come. My only issue with trading for him would be the fact that his biggest flaw, in my opinion, is his focus on “evolving” from a dominant offensive game to something “more well rounded” and “with more leadership” (read: more generic like a good Canadian boy). Being in Toronto would mount even more pressure on him, so they wouldn’t be able to let him be himself. If this was a small market though yes.
Also, John Tavares. He’s got the same ability to make everybody around him better is younger, and plays the more important position. Honestly, I’d trade anybody but Crosby for him straight up right now. I’d be fully in favour of the Leafs trading about half the roster for him, so long as they still have Kessel, Phaneuf, and one of the goalies after (one of Gardiner/Rielly would be nice too). But I’m biased.
Q: Will North American Hockey ever adopt relegation?
A: No way. No chance. Never. For this to happen, the AHL (and maybe ECHL) would have to grow to the point where their teams can afford modern NHL arenas, with top teams that are built like cap-floor teams. There would have to be at least 8-10 teams like this, and the rest of the league would have to be not far behind. It’s just not feasible.
For North American, this could happen with the MLS and NASL/USL Pro in a couple of decades due to the lower cap in the MLS and the lower costs involved in building a soccer stadium. But this is flat out impossible for hockey here.
There’s also a slight chance that if the KHL grows enough in Europe and puts teams in enough countries that they could fork off into a KHL/KHL2 system to make up for the leagues they’ll end up breaking in the process. But that’s also a longshot.
Q: u suck at hockey and u hate the leafs