Don’t look into it, but I’m back! I took a week and change off in the doggiest of dog days in the summer, hoping to recharge my internal battery. While it was a bit of a roller coaster of the mind (shutting your work brian only to realize that you do your hobbies for a living leads to a lot of boredom-driven introspection if you aren’t prepared), I’ve returned a day early with an overflow of ideas. And Mailbag questions. There were a lot this week, but here are the five that seemed most immediately intriguing:
@HardevLad asked: Do you see James Reimer returning to the Leafs one day?
Honestly, the dream is dead. People forget that Reimer requested a trade a little after he found himself on Jonathan Bernier’s backburner, and while the Leafs waited for their “right time”, they were ultimately fulfilling a demand when they let go.
Reimer will be 33 when his next contract is up, a far from opportune time to sign any player in today’s game, let alone a goaltender who has had concussion and groin issues in the past. Frederik Andersen might still be good in five years, one of Sparks/Bibeau/Kaskisuo might be a regular NHLer in five years, Joseph Woll will be a year out of college. By that point, they may have lucked out on one of their free agent backups. They’ll have also played almost as many years without him than they did with him.
I think Reimer is safe as Roberto Luongo’s 1B and Heir Apparent in Florida, barring a claim in the Expansion Draft. If he goes anywhere after his five years are up, I doubt it’ll be here. The two sides will have moved on from each other if they didn’t do so already off-the-record long ago.
@vandermolen10 asked: Who gets the most points, in order? Matthews, Marner, or Nylander?
Speaking solely of next year, I would assume it goes something along the lines of Matthews and Nylander fighting neck and neck for 1st with Marner trailing, if only because the former two are going to be playing together and will likely catapult themselves into top line minutes relatively quickly in the season.
Matthews will be coming in older and stronger than Jack Eichel did last year, and put him better historical numbers than him in various US development programs, so seeing him get to and beyond Eichel’s 56 points of last year wouldn’t be a shock. Nylander scored at a 50 point NHL pace in a limited sample after a serious injury last year. As long as Babcock doesn’t end up putting a coke machine on the left wing, they should be fine.
All linemates and role-positioning are up in the air for Marner, so it’s hard to get a grasp of him. I do think he has the skillset to have the most productive single season of the three over the course of their careers, but what year that happens in is unknown.
@StephenSwales17 asked: If the Leafs end 16/17 at the bottom of the standings again, will there be any changes? Or is it “part of the plan”?
Many conversations I’ve had over the past several months have led me to believe that finishing at the bottom of the standings wasn’t even in last year’s plan; it was just a worst-come-best case scenario that unfolded. So I doubt they’re expecting it this year.
Whether a repeat would cause changes depends on what happens. A bunch of goalies get hurt and Kasimir Kaskisuo plays as many games as Andrew Raycroft in 2007? Just the way she goes, stay with the plan. Your roster players stop showing up to any optional practices, get caught partying and generally not caring and it shows in the standings? A shakeup happens.
I feel that the Leafs are aware that in a common-sense world, they were a better than bad, but on the lower end of mediocre team last year burned by bad puck luck. They’re a better team on paper this year. I can’t imagine losing again is part of the plan, but I don’t think they’re going to throw a fit if it happens by circumstance.
@ahurst11 asked: Besides Price, which Canadian team goaltender posts the best season?
Firstly, hockey fans right now are far too generous with the assumption that Carey Price is going to be great this year. It took him until ages 26+27 to put up back to back 0.920 seasons at any serious level and has historically struggled when coming back from injures. Now, he’s coming back from having not played hockey in ten months and many will argue that the defensive pairing that spent the most time that kept pucks away from him previously has gotten worse. He’s a great goalie, but I’m not sold that we’re getting Superstar Carey next year.
I’m very curious to see what Brian Elliott does with Calgary this year. He really came into his own in St. Louis and was in the very top tier of the league at stopping high-danger attempts. He has a new system and new teammates to adjust to, but he’s probably the Canadian netminder I’d bet on to make the biggest single-year impact. Oh, and Andersen will be decent, I guess.
@highandwidemiss asked: Mitch Marner suffers a career ending injury. How positive would you be about Toronto’s future at that point?
If Mitch Marner fell into a wormhole right now the Leafs would still have the best prospect in the world, a top 5-10 prospect in the world in William Nylander, and a bevy of support staff.
Marner looks poised to be a really, really good player that 90% of the league would have as their top prospect, but if you pull him out of the equation Toronto’s pool, while not as strong, still carries weight. It’s a very un-Leafy position to be in, but the long-term outlook from a pipeline perspective would still be pretty good without him.