MAIL CALL: Let’s assign some blame and start fixing things

Welcome to the off-season. Nothing says “Welcome to the Offseason” quite like a blog mailbag, so here we are, doing just that.

We’ve decided to change up our mailbag format a little. Instead of getting answers from just one writer, you will now here from a few different TLN contributors in each mailbag. Now when you see my name at the top, you don’t have to worry you’re just suffering through my opinions, we have a whole crew dropping hot takes on you.

Here we go…

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Earl Schwartz: If they’re going to do it, now is the time. I don’t think they do it, but moving one of the big 4 when the cap starts going up again and their efficiency starts to peak is a recipe for a poor return. There is plenty of room to improve elsewhere in the meantime

Mark Norman: I have an article coming out soon about this, but I think it’s something that should be explored. The Leafs as they are currently constructed are very top-heavy with 49.7% of their cap tied up in the Big 4 (all forwards). Most recent contenders come in around 10% less than that. These deals were signed under the impression of a continually-rising cap, with an expansion franchise and new US TV deal projected to significantly boost the cap ceiling. But COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into those plans, which may prompt Kyle Dubas and company to shift tactics. In terms of who goes, if I were making the decision I would move Mitch Marner before William Nylander (for the purposes of this exercise, I’m considering Auston Matthews and John Tavares untouchable). Willy wins out in the bang-for-your-buck contest and Marner would have a higher asset return, which could go a long way in rebalancing this roster. I’m not sure we can keep going back to the mat with half our cap tied up in four forwards… that’s a great way to waste Matthews’ prime and Tavares’ remaining productive years.

MerOutLoud: I worry about being hated on Twitter for this, but my answer right now is that they have to at least explore moving Mitch. I struggle with discussing trades, always, because a) I am emotionally attached to the players on my team and b) sometimes it feels too “what if” to me. But I think the Leafs have such great needs on D that they need to look into what moving a valuable player like Mitch can bring them. But the only way, to me, the return is worth it is if it’s going to add significant help on defense.

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But since trade discussions are all basically fairy tales anyways, I’ll add that I wouldn’t be opposed to them trading him for a player I like a whole lot. For example: Gabe Landeskog.

Mark Norman: I can see why Keefe went to the “super line” in Game 5: the thinking was clearly that against a team like Columbus you may only need 1-2 goals to win so you hope that line can dominate and propel you to victory. Other teams like Boston and Colorado have run triple-superstar lines with great success. It definitely did have a domino effect on the rest of the lineup, though. Nylander at center in an elimination game was not a good choice and muted his impact on the outcome. I don’t think the decision to place the Austjohn Tavarner line lost us the game, but because they weren’t able to put anything up on the board, it made things more difficult. Who knows, if Tavares doesn’t hit that post, we’re lauding Keefe for his adjustments. It’s a game of inches.

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Jon Steitzer: This seemed to be going bad from the beginning. There has certainly been a lot put on William Nylander, who suddenly found himself playing a role he hasn’t played since late in the 2018-19 season. And moving a struggling Mikheyev over to the right side and giving Kerfoot Johnsson as his other winger, after developing some chemistry with Robertson didn’t seem ideal either. For the super line to work, you would have needed to see some results early, or just kept these lines as something they’d go back to from time to time over the course of the game, like in bench shortening situations. As for why he stuck with it, well, it’s not like the Leafs weren’t close throughout most of the game. It wasn’t such a failure that Keefe would walk away from it. Part of me appreciates his effort.

Earl Schwartz: I’ll say this: if the Leafs win game 5, they did meet expectations. They all generated great scoring chances, no matter how you spin it CBJ got great goaltending. Our expectations are rooted in success, and rightfully so. You’re not wrong for expecting them to find a way to win, that’s why they’re paid the money they are. I’d be disappointed with the results more than the effort.

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MerOutLoud: I definitely don’t think anyone is wrong for expecting more from “the big 3”. That’s what they’re there for, right? And other than Auston, their performances did feel at least somewhat underwhelming. Even if they weren’t actually (JT, for example, had some really fantastic shifts), the fact that they couldn’t pull off the win makes it feel like there should have been more from them. Whether that’s right or wrong – emotions aren’t rational and I’m right there with you in feeling like we should have gotten more. Not even just from them, but from a solid chunk of the roster.

Mark Norman: Auston Matthews had an incredible series and played the best hockey I think any of us have ever seen him play. Tavares came to play and I can’t really fault him for a fluky bounce in Game 5. Marner, on the other hand, had maybe 2-3 good periods out of 16 in this series? He definitely left me wanting more most nights, with lots of uncharacteristic giveaways and low IQ plays (like shooting from afar on the powerplay). I wonder how much the contract negotiations and the change in fan perceptions of him may have impacted him mentally. So to answer your question, I think Matthews has no business being in a discussion about “expecting more” from players.

Scott Maxwell: First off, it’s big four, not big three. And while you should probably feel wanting more, I’d probably call to question the depth in this series. Outside of the big four, the Leafs got four goals combined from the rest of the team (Rielly, Hyman, Ceci, Robertson), not to mention they only shot 1.97% at 5v5. You’d like to see more from some of them (particularly Marner after the offseason he had), but a lot of it was mostly luck.

Nick Richard: I don’t think you’re wrong to expect a lot out of a group of forwards that accounts for half of the Leafs salary cap, but I also don’t think they were the biggest problem in this series. As was the case for much of the season, the Leafs got very little out of their bottom six forward group. In fact, aside from Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, and Hyman, the only Leafs forward to score a goal was 18 year old Nick Robertson. The Leafs could have used larger contributions from their big guns, but it’s difficult to win without any secondary scoring at all.

Earl Schwartz: The Leafs could go a number of ways in net, as long as they improve adequately on defence. If the $1.25m you save with Murray can significantly improve the Blueline you do it, otherwise I’d keep Freddy because he’s a known quantity. If it takes a $1m goalie to add a big piece on defence, that’s an option too.

MerOutLoud: Yes. I think they need to legitimately explore all options in net, even if in the end they stick with Freddie, or some combo of Freddie/Jack. But just to be sure, I checked in with someone far more knowledgeable than me about the goalie landscape and was told that Matt Murray can be a very reliable starter when healthy and he’s the kind of buy low candidate Dubas has to look at since Pitt can’t afford to re-sign both their goalies.

Mark Norman:  I wrote an article a few months ago about optimal roster construction and how that may impact Frederik Andersen’s future as a Leaf. In short, teams that spend too much on goaltending do not have a good track record in the regular season or playoffs. Also, great goaltender performance has a low positive correlation with higher salaries. With Freddy turning 31 next summer and him likely wanting a considerable raise (for good reason), I don’t think a return is in the cards. In my view, the Leafs need to explore acquiring a younger and cheaper goaltender to platoon with Jack Campbell. That could be Alexander Georgiev or Matt Murray or someone we’re not even thinking of right now. The acquisition cost on Murray is perhaps the lowest it has been in years, but I am concerned about his performance in recent years. It may be worth a flyer.

Brendan Mori:  I think the Leafs should absolutely be looking at potential replacements for Andersen this offseason. There’s not a ton of options that make sense for the Leafs, but Matt Murray is an interesting case. He won two cups with the Penguins but has gone Jekyll and Hyde since.
He lost his starting job to Tristan Jarry this past season and teams have been able to exploit his biggest weakness (high glove). He’s due for a new contract this offseason but I can’t see him costing more than what Andersen currently makes ($5 million).
With that being said. If the Leafs believe they can rectify Matt Murray’s on-ice issues and the cost to acquire him is not astronomical, I would be interested in trying to grab him.

Earl Schwartz: Probably less than you think. Teams won’t be eager to move a premium piece for a guy that’s been injured for 5 months (AJ), but they might like the upside of him in a package. If you’re trading them for a defencemen, Dermott becomes the cheap replacement for the team you’re trading with. That means you’re probably looking at an older defenceman on a contract that expires in 1-2 years, on a team interested in rebuilding/retooling. When you look around at the list of names that produces, there isn’t many options that make sense for the Leafs.

Brendan Mori: Probably not a lot. Kapanen had a very inconsistent year, Johnsson was hurt for a significant portion of the season and also did not produce when he was healthy. Dermott got better as the year progressed but still did not take that next “big step” in his development IMO. If you package these guys together, you can probably find a top 4 defenseman but I wouldnt expect a top pairing level guy, I would expect a true #4 defenseman back in return with not a lot of term left.

Jon Steitzer: Johnsson is going to be a hard sell this summer. He’s fallen into that Flyers wing situation of a few years ago. Remember when Matt Read and Michael Raffl got paid and their play went off a cliff? He needs to prove he’s not them, and the Leafs might be better off letting him work things out in Toronto. Kapanen had a down year, but I’m sure there isn’t any shortage of GMs in the league who think he can reach his full potential with their team. He’s likely more valuable dealt as a solo asset. Dermott paired with either winger is just the Leafs wanting a defenseman and the other team needing a replacement, there’s not a huge value there either. I’d assume a best case scenario is that Kapanen and Dermott can land a 2nd pairing right handed D, but they’ll be a bit older, probably more expensive, and won’t have top pairing upside.

Got questions for our next mail call? Drop them in the comments, or hit us up on twitter