Week 2 of this mailbag thing, and I appreciate the overwhelming number of quality questions. We can’t get to them all but had fun rolling through 10 of them here.
The futures of Frederik Andersen and Tyson Barrie, the lack of love for William Nylander, and the status of the wine gum are just a few of the random topics we explore.
The people demand answers, and we provide.
If you where the leafs, would you be ok with Campbell starting if it means they trade Fred for some help on d
— Avi Jakubovic (@tmlforlife93) April 21, 2020
Not yet. Yes, by his own standards, Frederik Andersen has had a subpar season (29-13-7, .909) and battled through another neck injury, but he’s a bona fide No. 1 starting goalie, a workhorse who is able to shine behind a rather average defence corps, and he’s beloved by his teammates.
You take one more season of Andersen at a very reasonable $5 million while giving Jack Campbell a decent portion of starts (no more back-to-backs only) to see if he can challenge for the job in 2021-22 and beyond.
The day after the Leafs acquired Campbell, teammate Kyle Clifford asserted that the 28-year-old is more than “just a backup,” and there have been multiple signs of promise. In 2010, Campbell was that rare goaltender selected in the first round. In 2018-19, playing a career-high 31 games in L.A., he posted a .924 save percentage for an awful team. And before the pause, Campbell solidified Toronto’s most glaring weakness.
“Jack was great. He was an easy guy to get along with right away,” Andersen says. “He brought a really good energy and attitude to the team, and [he’s] just a really nice guy as well. It’s something I welcomed, and he definitely made a good impact on the guys as well and played some really good games when he was in our net.”
Campbell is nearing 30 and has never been an NHL starter. Andersen is a much surer thing. What Campbell deserves is a serious look, not a coronation. Let’s see where the Leafs are at the 2021 trade deadline and revisit the topic.
What does Matthews have to do, to become the top player on the leafs?
— JW99 (@99JoeWeZ) April 21, 2020
Uh… show up to work. He’s there, JW99. Matthews not only made the leap to top Leaf this season, but he should also enter the fringes of the Hart Trophy conversation.
“I’ve really taken to Matts in just the sense that he loves the game and he works really hard at it,” says Jason Spezza, as thoughtful a talent-evaluator as you’ll find among active players.
“I think people don’t know how dedicated he is and how much effort he puts into his game and how much thinking. I can relate to him that way because that’s how I was as a young player. You can tell he’s got that fire, and I want to help him be the best version of himself he can be. Those are exciting guys to have in the locker room with you because there’s no limit to what we can be as a team when you have high-end guys like that.”
Do the Leafs like their current group of centres? 3C seems like an issue with the group. Kerfoot isn’t a match up guy. None of JT, Matthews or Kerfoot pk. Do you think they’d like a different look or see there more pressing matters ?
— Marco – Self Quarantined Edition (@WTFMAN999) April 21, 2020
They love half of them. A one-two punch of Matthews and John Tavares up the middle is the type of building block championship rosters are made of.
But you’re absolutely right. The Leafs tried to shift Kerfoot to the middle and mould him into a more cap-friendly, less-suspension-prone Nazem Kadri. The experiment has reminded many of all the good (goal-scoring touch, faceoff wins, emotional punch, shutdown guy) Kadri brought to the table.
Sheldon Keefe has tried Jason Spezza and Pierre Engvall in that spot, too. No one has run away with the 3C gig and driven that line. (To be fair, the Leafs’ injury-riddled season surely didn’t help that third line find a rhythm.)
And great point about the penalty kill, which has worsened. It seems crazy that the Maple Leafs can rank third overall in faceoff winning percentage (52.5%) but 25th in shorthanded faceoff wins (43.1%). They need a different look at 3C, and there is a more pressing matter: the blue line.
Where will Tyson Barrie play next season?
— Meeshie (@Hardycharchar) April 21, 2020
As much as Barrie benefited from the coaching change, the impending UFA isn’t sticking around in Toronto. The Leafs can’t offer him the juicy payday he’s due, and Barrie can’t keep taking Morgan Rielly’s spot on the top power-play unit.
Barrie needs to be that No. 1 PP guy and be used in that fourth-man-in-the rush role to thrive. This season was a cold reminder that the playmaker needs help in his own zone and shouldn’t be forced to hang back.
While it’s believed Barrie has some interest in going home to B.C., we don’t love Vancouver as a fit. The Canucks have their elite power-play quarterback in Quinn Hughes.
Who could be in the market for one of the most productive offensive D-men in the game? Who needs to generate more scoring chances and has the cap space to tread into the bidding for what should be one of the more expensive free agents on the market?
Detroit, Chicago, New Jersey and Los Angeles make for interesting fits on paper. Of course, Barrie would have to be willing to sign with a franchise in rebuild mode, and after years of trade speculation he’s earned the right to control his future.
A more compelling option: Winnipeg.
The Jets traditionally struggle with landing free agents, but a giant hole and a wad of cash has opened up on the right side with Dustin Byfuglien terminating his contract. Could Barrie be enticed by the prospect of feeding all those dynamic forwards?
what day is it?
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 21, 2020
Thanks for your query, Christopher! According to my calendar, today is six more days until episodes 5 and 6 of The Last Dance get released.
Are there any great documentary movies related to Wayne Gretzky?
— Rob K (@Canadastrong99) April 21, 2020
Peter Berg directed the excellent Kings Ransom (2009) for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. The doc zeroes in on Gretzky’s sale to Los Angeles and does a fantastic job of contextualizing the emotional and cultural magnitude of the deal.
More sprawling but less polished is Ultimate Gretzky, one of my most cherished Christmas gifts from 2003 that John Davidson and Kiefer Sutherland host.
I got a kick out of 1990’s Above and Beyond, with its vintage interviews with Walter Gretzky and fun facts like Wayne using white gloves as a kid and that one game where he played every position but goal:
CBC’s Life and Times’ dive into Wayne Gretzky takes a more journalistic approach, touching on difficult territory like Rich Tocchet’s gambling scandal, coaching and management disappointments, and his mom’s death.
More recently, I enjoyed the Great One’s insight in 2018’s In Search of Greatness, in which he analyzes what makes a transcendent athlete.
“They don’t let the boy in them leave,” he says.
Should we go back to home teams wearing white jerseys? I hate how every Leafs game at home is blue vs white.
— illogick (@Punchy_Primate) April 21, 2020
Selfishly, I’m all for throwing back to home whites, illogick. We need variety.
Generally, I believe the superior sweater to be the dark sweater. Hands down, my favourite aesthetic moment as a professional watcher of hockey was the 2014 Winter Classic at the Big House in Michigan, seeing the Red Wings and Maple Leafs buzz around a snow globe in these strong, brilliant primary colours that popped like sirens in a blizzard.
So, as I “work” nearly 41 Leafs home dates and not nearly as many road games, I’d much rather see the visiting club in dark. Nashville gold. San Jose teal. Dallas green. Chicago red.
Wine gums vs Swedish berries. Discuss. (and should Matthews shave his moustache? Yes is the only appropriate response)
— Susan McKay Scandiffio (@McKayScandiffio) April 21, 2020
Swedish berries are a gateway candy. Wine gums are for the sophisticated sweet tooth. If Bulk Burn had a “Vintages” section, that’s where you’d find them. Both are delicious and make jujubes look like a cute try.
As for Matthews’ lip caterpillar, I am in no position to tell another man what he should do with his face (as long as it’s two safe metres away from mine). So, I asked my nine-year-old what the player should do with the moustache. Willie figures Matthews should curl the ’stache up at the ends like a stereotypical chef or Captain Hook.
“Oh, you mean like legendary pitcher Rollie Fingers?” I said, calling up Google images. (Teachable moment!)
“Yeah! Like that!” Willie said.
Can y’all be nice to William Nylander for a change?
— erika (@trntmaplememes) April 21, 2020
For sure I could, but I asked Jason Spezza to do the honours instead.
“I kind of knew a little more about Willy [when I arrived in Toronto] because I had known his dad and I know some people that knew him,” Spezza says.
“Willy’s a guy who works really hard on his game. He loves the game, too. He practises a lot on his skill. I think at times he’s probably lacked confidence. I think he really came up with a belief in his game and an understanding what he has to do night in and night out to be a dominant player, and I think he added being around the net a little more this year. He got rewarded, and then that kind of snowballs. You start scoring, and you start feeling what it feels like to score every night.
“You can see the confidence growing. He has the outward confidence, but as a player, it’s knowing night-to-night how consistent you have to be. I think Sheldon really helped Willy gain a level of consistency in his game, where a lot of nights he was one of the best players on the ice.”
If you had the authority to make one move on Toronto’s roster what would you do?
— WhiteBread (@BlaikeM) April 21, 2020
Trade William Nylander.
Kidding! But I would be willing to trade at least one useful young top-nine forward (Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson and/or Kerfoot) and a pick or prospect in attempt to land a right-shot defenceman who doesn’t need points to feel good about his game. A guy who can clear people out of the net front, eat a bunch of shutdown and penalty-kill minutes, and provide a safety blanket for Morgan Rielly to do his thing.