It’s time to answer some more questions, from you, our valued readers. I have to say I’m extra appreciate this week as we’ve received four great questions that allow us to take a deep dive into our Leafs feelings. So let’s get at it.
Why is Matthews better than McDavid and Draisaitl?
— Bandwagon Leafs Fan (@hockeyphreak) February 21, 2021
Michael Mazzei: He is not better than McDavid, actually no player is better than McDavid. When it comes to Draisaitl, then I think you have a legitimate argument to make because the two players are pretty comparable. I will say that it’s been a lot of fun watching the Canadian Divisions top dogs put on a show.
Mark Norman: Matthews is for sure a more complete player than either of McDavid or Draisaitl, but he hasn’t touched McDavid or Draisaitl’s career highs in points yet. Let’s see what he can do this year, although it looks like McDavid has an entirely new gear this season. If Matthews were as prolific as McDavid or Draisaitl on the powerplay, this would be a tougher discussion. McDavid > Matthews > Draisaitl.
Scott Maxwell: Going into this season, I actually would have entertained the conversation of McDavid vs. Matthews, mainly because I thought the skill gap was close enough to factor in their defensive games, which heavily favoured Matthews. However, this season has seen a bit of a role reversal there. McDavid has not only stopped bleeding scoring chances against, he’s actually turned into one of the best defensive forwards in the league so far this season, while Matthews has seen his defensive game take a step back and is actually on the wrong end of shot differentials so far this season. McDavid has him beat as far as talent and defensive prowess, so it’s really hard for there to even be an argument, despite Matthews elite goal scoring so far.
Jon Steitzer: I personally hate individual awards, and arguments over who is the best. That being said, Connor McDavid is the best. He’s the most talented hockey player I’ve seen in my lifetime and there isn’t anyone who can impose their will on the opposition like him since Mario Lemieux. That’s not a slight on Matthews, MacKinnon, or anyone else you want to put into that discussion, including Draisaitl, who while great, does benefit for power play time with McDavid, and never drawing the top defensive pairing or shutdown forwards. The only real benefit to the McDavid vs. Matthews debate is that Oilers fans have given up any hope of winning anything other than individual awards, so this stuff is incredibly important to them to justify their crappy team.
Brian: He’s been fine, but nowhere near what he’s capable of. As for the second part of the question, I feel like a lot of the “sensitivity” surrounding Nylander criticisms are rooted in how he seems to be the only one ever singled out by the media (a lot being made about him being benched in the last stretch of Saturday’s game but nothing about Rielly on Wednesday, a Toronto Sun article about the second line struggling where Nylander is placed on the cover, etc.) Do I think the media are over doing it? Yes and no. The criticisms are valid, but him being the primary (and oftentimes sole) target of them isn’t.
Michael: He’s been fine, but nowhere near what he’s capable of. As for the second part of the question, I feel like a lot of the “sensitivity” surrounding Nylander criticisms are rooted in how he seems to be the only one ever singled out by the media (a lot being made about him being benched in the last stretch of Saturday’s game but nothing about Rielly on Wednesday, a Toronto Sun article about the second line struggling where Nylander is placed on the cover, etc.) Do I think the media are over doing it? Yes and no. The criticisms are valid, but him being the primary (and oftentimes sole) target of them isn’t.
Mark: Willy started the season with so much promise with his clutch 2-goal performance vs. Montreal in the season premiere, but his season overall has been very up and down, culminating in his benching towards the end of Saturday night’s game vs. Montreal. One of the main criticisms of Nylander since his draft days has been his on-ice intensity, which is viewed by some as disinterest. While it’s true that Nylander has a propensity for avoiding contact (he has a -15 hit differential), his intensity is shown in other more subtle ways such as his forechecking (he’s third among Leafs forwards in takeaways). I think there’s room for Nylander to ramp up his intensity for sure, but I feel the criticisms of him are largely unfounded and based on old school views of how hockey players should act/look. Let’s also not forget that Sheldon Keefe split the powerplay units this year, so he and John Tavares have not been getting as much powerplay opportunity as last year. The last thing worth noting is that before this season Nylander had an on-ice shooting percentage of 8.7% in the Auston Matthews Era (2016 onwards) and has a 6.5% this season, so this should regress towards the mean.
Scott: I think a lot of the criticism for Nylander is probably coming from the wrong place. He’s been far from perfect this season, and situations like his benching on Saturday are well deserved, but I think he’s been playing quite well otherwise. He’s actually been the one driving his line this season, and the fact that he’s on pace for 60 points in a full season despite having one of the worst on ice shooting percentages on the team is pretty promising when him and Tavares really pick it up.
Jon: Here’s the thing. It’s impossible to get an honest answer on Nylander because everyone is so divided on him. My take is that the past couple of weeks haven’t been particularly good for the Nylander/Tavares tandem, and while Kerfoot has started to stabilize them, as we saw on Saturday night, Nylander is still not feeling it. He had an incredibly strong start to season, and it seemed like he was responsible for every Leafs zone entry. Now decidedly not that.
Everyone overdoes their takes on Nylander, but we should all know exactly what Nylander is, and that’s his father. He’s a top line talent, that can disappear at times. He’ll get his effort attacked instead of being regarded as a calm presence and basically he’ll get the same attacks on him that we’ve seen on in their prime Alex Kovalev, Alex Semin, and Michael Nylander. He’s great 80% of the time, but some people are really going to hate that 20% because it’s perceived that he doesn’t care. There’s a lot more to it than just this, but in reality Nylander is an incredible talent, who can now be seen as being on a decent contract, but he has his limitations.
Brian: Jonathan Bernier for Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin and a 2nd. Not in terms of value given up, but just on principle. James Reimer was coming off of a breakout season and was the sole purpose the Leafs made the playoffs that season, let alone pushed Boston to the brink. A knee-jerk reaction to a blown game seven that the Leafs had no business playing in, and were only there because Reimer was unbeatable in game five and six. As for the draft pick, it’s a cliche answer, but just go back to the 31st in 2016 and take any of the established NHLers taken after Egor Korshkov (Imagine not having to sign Jimmy Vesey because Jordan Kyrou is ready to be a full time NHLer.)
Michael: There was a minor trade in the 2010 draft that if reversed would have great implications. The Leafs decided to deal away a fourth round pick they got in the Lee Stempniak deal and get back a fourth and a pick from the Washington Capitals. In theory it’s a good idea cause you get two players for the price of one. The problem is that the Capitals used that pick to select Phillip Grubauer, who is now arguably one of the best goalies in the game today. Imagine how much different this Leafs team would be had they held onto that fourth rounder. Certiantly would have been a lot better than Sam Carrick and Daniel Brodin.
Mark: Is it a loophole if I choose a trade/draft pick made after the Leafs chose Matthews? In that case, the Matthews pick cannot be negated! I would go back to the 2016 NHL Draft between the first round and second round and find Mark Hunter in the hotel bar where he’s over-celebrating the Matthews pick. I’d take the drink out of his hand, tell him to sober up, and demand he drafts Alex DeBrincat or Carter Hart with the first pick in the second round.
Scott: The trade I’m going to nix is the Leafs-Ducks trade at the 2011 Draft. The fact that we traded away the picks that ended up drafting Rickard Rakell and John Gibson is painful enough, the fact that we made the trade for the pick that got us Tyler Biggs is even worse.As for the draft pick, I’m going to go with the Yegor Korshkov pick, which recently came back to haunt us as being a part of a package for Alex Galchenyuk. The Leafs would’ve been much better off with Alex DeBrincat or Carter Hart, who were very obvious picks at the time, and look even worse now.
Jon: I’m going to overthink it because when it comes to the draft picks, because the obvious answer would be to pick smarter with either the Korshkov or Biggs/Percy picks. The Biggs pick especially hurts, but I am going to go with Freddie Gauthier as my draft mulligan, and assume that the Plan B to that pick was to select Shea Theodore. I think he would certainly be useful right now.
And when it comes to trades that I’d nix, I have to go with the Kadri trade. I love Kadri, and suspensions aside, I don’t know how you could look at the Leafs lineup and think it needed fewer shit disturbers. The deal made sense, and on paper it seemed like the Leafs did well by getting the right shooting defensemen they “needed” in Barrie, and got him at 50% of his salary. They also picked up Kerfoot, who was cheaper, and serviceable as a Kadri replacement. It looked reasonable, but it certainly hasn’t worked out. I’d like to think they could have kept Kadri and still improved the blueline if they moved up the trade Johnsson and Kapanen approach by a year, and that’s not hindsight, that was my preference at the time too.
Who is the likeliest candidate to be Freddie's replacement? Seems unrealistic to expect a Campbell/Woll tandem, barring a big leap for both (although this tandem would save them lots of $). Does Kuemper, Merzlikins/Korpisalo, Georgiev or Saros make sense?
— Daniel Tiller (@DanielJTiller) February 21, 2021
Michael: I really think the Leafs are preparing for a Campbell/Woll tandem for 2021-22 and beyond and that’s honestly not a bad thing. Between Woll and Ian Scott, the former has had the better development and is already spent time with the Leafs roster. Sure he still has some work left before he can become a legitimate net minder, but he is nearly ready for a shot at some NHL games. So long as Campbell can stay healthy, it’s not the end of the world if this is the direction Toronto takes for next season
Mark: I can see the Leafs having interest in the late-blooming Kuemper, who has done quite well for himself in Arizona. Among goaltenders to play at least 75 games since 2016-17 (the year Andersen debuted for the Leafs), Kuemper has the third-best save percentage in the league, with Freddy coming in 18th. While the difference between the two is just 6 additional goals allowed for every 1000 shots, I think the Leafs should try something new in net next year since Freddy hasn’t had an above-average season since 2018-19 and has yet to prove he can be counted on in big moments.
Scott: I’d love to see Saros or Kuemper as the option for the Leafs after this season, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to really guess. I remember Frederik Andersen kind of came out of nowhere when the Leafs traded for him in 2016, so I feel like Dubas’ solution to our future in the crease will probably come out of nowhere as well.
Jon: I love this question because it gets at the heart of one of my biggest beefs with people calling for Andersen’s head, and that’s who replaces him? It’s either going to be a cheap up and coming goaltender who is going to cost you in trade assets, or it’s going to be a free agent who is going to cost you in actual dollars. Ideally I’d like the Leafs to spend as little as possible in goal, so a tandem featuring Jack Campbell and an affordable UFA like Petr Mrazek is probably my ideal situation, although that is accepting that the Leafs have downgraded in net or are at least accepting that there are some legitimate question marks there.
If I was to look at this situation from a “in a perfect world” scenario, presumably the Seattle Kraken will be collecting capable netminders via the expansion draft. The Leafs might be wise to trade for some of their surplus, which would probably meet the ideal criteria of being good, cheap, and not costing a lot in trade.
Thanks to everyone who sent in questions for our mail call. And don’t forget to check out our new gear on NationGear.com