Puckin Leafs | Blue’s “Bag of Pucks” Mailbag

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Welcome to the initial installment of Bag of Pucks brought to you by Jeff Wlliams or @4evrb1ue if you frequent the Twitterverse. Ask your questions anytime by indicating #BagOfPucks in your reply here or on Twitter @PuckinLeafs and we will consider it for the following weeks Bag of Pucks article. Enjoy Puckers!

Is Morgan Rielly a #1 defender that we should re-up? 

The short answer? Yes. That’s not very fun though, is it? Here’s the long answer:

I think Morgan Rielly gets a bit of a bad rap because the Leafs’ defensive group has never really been good enough to allow him to just be himself on the ice. In turn this would allow fans to appreciate him for what he is, which is a terrific offensive defender that will try his hardest on the defensive side of the puck, with a mixture of results (but mostly good).

Among defenders in the NHL he ranks 13th in TOI/GP, 22nd in P/GP, he’s tied for 40th in Even Strength points, and has the honour of playing over 2 minutes per night on both the powerplay and the penalty kill. That’s a great indication of a player that demands the trust of his coach and teammates, while the point standings are held in a down year with rumours of a lingering injury that started early in the season and one where he has missed 20 games. All of this and he’s still just 25, so he has time and room to grow his game still.

Plus, it’s also out there that he’s dating Tessa Virtue. That’s terrific and has to count for something, right? 

How much to re-sign him for is pure guesswork if we’re being honest. Making comparisons to other players in the league is simply setting yourself up for disappointment.

I’ll do it anyway. 

The player I’d use for comparison sake is John Carlson. This is far from perfect but I’m lazy and it’s Sunday morning, so cut me some slack. 

Carlson broke into the league in his draft +3 year while Rielly accomplished the feat in his draft +2 year. From there they both put up good, but not great, offensive numbers for four seasons. During that time Carlson played more minutes on the PK and was more of a natural defender, but by the end of those four years they were in much the same boat and their 2nd contracts reflected that. Carlsons 2nd contract accounted for 6.61% of the teams cap space at the time, while Riellys took up 7%, and both were 6 years in length. After 4 full seasons each broke out with 50pt years, and that’s where the comparison goes off a little. Carlson went on to a season where injury robbed him of a few games, and then he regressed back to below 40pts before turning into the John Carlson we know today, which is a defender that can give you 70pts a season and play big minutes in all situations. Rielly, on the other hand, went directly to 70pts before coming back down to earth this season, where his PPG total would have him produce just under 50pts over a full 82 games season, while he, too, plays in all situations. 

So how much? Well, John Carlson makes 8M per season, which accounted for 10.06% of the cap at the time of signing. The earliest Rielly can sign is July 1st, 2021, where he’ll have 1 full season of contract left on his deal, which leaves 2 cap hikes to go before he’ll put pen to paper. Let’s assume he’ll sign then (best case scenario), the cap will go up this season and next, and we’ll assume that he’ll take a higher percentage on his next deal than Carlson, just like he did on his 2nd contract. 

To be conservative we’ll put the cap at a 2M hike each year, 4M total over 2 years, for a total cap ceiling of 85.5M, and guess that Rielly will take 10.5% of that. Grand total? $8,977,500.

But this is Toronto. Lets round that up to 9.5M and call it a day because, well, I already answered that, this is Toronto. Nobody takes discounts. 

Is Mitch Marner a piece we should move next spring for roster balance?

Short answer? No. 

Again, that’s not very fun though, is it? 

Long answer? Yes, but there are very few players that I would move him for, and the teams that have those players would probably refuse to trade them for Mitch Marner. 

It’s no secret that the Leafs need a #1RD. A true powerhouse player to pair with Morgan Rielly, and it’s likely that Marner has enough trade value to get that player. However, it has to be a sure thing if you’re moving a player of that calibre. On top of that, it should be a player of similar age and pedigree. We’re talking “Seth Jones” type of return on this one. Not 30 somethings like Drew Doughty, or a package that includes Josh Manson “plus.” I’d only move him in a Seth Jones for Ryan Johansson type of trade. 

That’s at this moment. In a few years if they don’t have playoff success then all bets are off. 

How is Martin Marincin still on the Leafs? 

I have NO idea. We’re talking about a team that traded for Jordan Schmaltz, Ben Harpur and signed Kevin Gravel for organizational depth on the blueline, and yet Martin Marincin is still here while Schmaltz and Harpur were traded for small bodied forwards for the Marlies. 

In every single way possible, it appears that the blueline is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ crux, and it won’t ever be fixed. Martin Marincin has simply been the primary beneficiary of that situation.

Will Frederik Andersen price himself out of range for his next contract, and if so who should the Leafs potentially target as a new #1 goalie?

Andersen will be a tough one to predict, because, while his numbers aren’t among the best in the league, he has never had anything close to adequate help in front of him. Many group him in among the best in the league, and the best in the league get paid. However, the top three cap hits in the league belong to Carey Price (10.5M), Sergei Bobrovsky (10M), and Henrik Lundqvist (8.5M). They have combined to win 4 Vezina Trophies. Frederik Andersen hasn’t had the honour.

The next group of goalies have cap hits between 5-7M, and I’m not sure there’s a Grade A comparison to be made among them, but I’d rank him in among that group of goaltenders.

Andersen will be 31 by the time his next deal will kick in, so I wouldn’t expect a 7-8 year agreement. Maybe closer to Jake Muzzins 4 year contract would be fitting for both sides, though 5 years wouldn’t be bothersome either. At that age it’s unlikely he’ll want to jump ship unless it’s to go to a contender, but he knows Toronto, appears to love it here, and, I assume, wants to stay. He won’t take a discount, because this is Toronto, but I wouldn’t expect him to price himself out of town either. 

My prediction is Freddie gets another contract from the Leafs, one that isn’t long, and by the time that one is over the reins will be handed over to one of Ian Scott or Joseph Woll, or to another unknown kid that hasn’t entered the organization yet. 

On the off chance that he does push for a monster contract, and the Leafs are forced to move on, there will be options. Again, Scott or Woll could be ready for some time in the NHL, with Joseph Woll the more likely candidate considering Ian Scott has lost this entire season to injury, and therefore has gotten behind on his development. Jack Campbell will still be under contract, and could tandem with one of the kids. We’re talking just over a calendar year away though, so it’s unlikely that the kids will be ready, so I think I’d simply look to the UFA market, which currently contains lots of good goaltending options. They include Jordan Binnington, Antti Raanta, Philip Grubauer, Petr Mrazek, and Jonathan Bernier (who is technically the better goaltender). 

So my answer is this:

Freddie will likely be here, but if he isn’t it’s too early to nail down a target, but the Leafs own draft picks would be my first choice if they’re ready. If they aren’t ready, which is the most likely scenario, I’d look towards a 1A/1B situation with Jack Campbell in the mix until they, or another sure fire #1G, enters the picture. Antti Raanta would be my choice.

About that Zamboni driver…..

This has been an exhausting week. Everywhere you look you see the story of Dave Ayres. Except it really isn’t the story of Dave Ayres.

This sounds negative but it isn’t. It’s just the truth.

Last season the Chicago Blackhawks turned to an accountant named Scott Foster to play 14 minutes of hockey and close out a game for them. They were ahead 6-2 at the time he took to the ice. He didn’t get the win, because even though he didn’t allow a goal on 7 shots, the Blackhawks had already scored the winning goal.

To the best of my knowledge he didn’t get interviews on major networks.

He didn’t get a hockey card.

The Hockey Hall of Fame didn’t call.

So, now, I ask you this:

What team did he play against? Without looking it up, if you can answer that for me, then I’ll agree that this is the Dave Ayres story.

I won’t answer it for you, suffice to say I had to search for the answer myself. After doing so I watched all of his saves and boy, there were some good ones. Well done Mr. Foster, well done.

This, instead, is a story about how the Toronto Maple Leafs lost a game, and Dave Ayres just happened to be the guy the spotlight shined most brightly upon. If this happened in any other city there would be no talk about changing the rules, no possibility of the NHL being embarrassed, and no real chance that I’d remember the name Dave Ayres for the rest of my life.

So, how do I feel about zamboni drivers? Just fine if I’m being honest. Dave Ayres is a feel good story. One about a great guy that did an amazing thing. If I ever meet him I’ll shake his hand and ask for an autograph. What an amazing novelty to have on your wall, wouldn’t you agree?

How do I feel about the real story? The story of the Toronto Maple Leafs losing to a zamboni driver? Because that IS the story.

If I’m being very honest, it has made me lose faith in this core group. It was embarrassing as a fan. It had to be embarrassing as a player. It was an uninspired, roll-over-and-play-dead effort that was tough to watch. It made me question what they see when they look down at their chest. What do they see and feel when they look at that Leaf that I have held in such high regard my entire life?

It was heartless.

My only hope is that that was their rock bottom. The equivalent of an alcoholic waking up in a ditch, cold, penniless, beaten, stinking of his own urine and having shit himself, and finally, having lost all friends and family, deciding that enough is enough, and turning his life around.

I mean, they definitely shit themselves, so the metaphor is fitting. I could smell that filth all the way from St. John’s, NL.

The question now is are they willing to turn their lives around? A 3 game winning streak isn’t enough to convince me. Making the playoffs isn’t enough to convince me.

The only way to convince me is to find their heart and play with it.