The diversity and specificity of this week’s round of mailbag questions may be my favourite yet.
Why don’t the Toronto Maple Leafs’ best centres kill penalties? Would rumoured trait bait Rasmus Ristolainen look good on the other side of Lake Ontario? What’s the deal with prospect Riley Stotts? And just how awesome is Run the Jewels?
Let’s dive in.
Are RHD, David Savard or Rasmus Ristolianen legitimate potential trade candidates for the Leafs?
— NHL Puck Zone (@realnhlpuckzone) June 5, 2020
Yes and yes.
In my mind, both right-shot defencemen fit the type of player Kyle Dubas should prioritize in acquiring. Bonus: Both Savard and Ristolainen play for teams that rate among the bottom third in offence, and any significant deal will require the Leafs to trade from their wealth of talent up front.
Each logs more than 20 minutes a night and is integral to his team’s penalty-killing efforts, a needs-improvement category on Toronto’s report card. Both are accustomed to being deployed in defend-first situations, starting the majority of their shifts in their own end, and bring a little edge to their game.
Neither has trade protection built into his contract.
While Ristolainen, 25, is younger with more offensive upside, he’s also a more expensive commitment ($5.4-million cap hit through 2022) than Savard ($4.25-million cap hit through 2021).
There is no sense that Savard — a member of Columbus’s leadership group — and the team are at odds, however. Their loyalty goes back a decade. So, how desperate does Jarmo Kekalainen get for goals?
Trade rumours have routinely engulfed Ristolainen.
If trades are coming to Buffalo, and they likely are, Risto said himself he’d expect to be shown the door. As much pressure as GM Jason Botterill is feeling, dealing a core player in his prime to a divisional rival would be quite the risk.
“If changes will happen, I know I’m one of the first ones probably who is going to get traded,” Ristolainen said. “It’s part of the business, and I’m ready, whatever happens. I have really enjoyed my time in Buffalo. It’s home for me.”
With most teams using their top talent players for all situations can you tell me why Matthews/ Tavares dont kill penalties. They’re dominant in their own zone, good FO%, good possession #’s.
— Lyle (@LyleHitchknob) June 5, 2020
Great points, Lyle.
The Maple Leafs are one of the best face-off teams in the league (52.5 per cent) but have been getting slaughtered in the dot on the PK (43.1 per cent). Too often wingers or lesser pivots take those important draws.
It’s a problem.
During his last season on the Island, Tavares’ played 127:53 of 4-on-5 and led New York in shorthanded points.
“You take a lot of pride in it, to be counted on in that responsibility, out there shorthanded,” Tavares said. “The attention to detail that’s needed and the trust that’s put in you to read the game and make plays down a man is a difficult thing to do. It can be a big focal point in the game and a big momentum-builder.”
Like Mike Babcock before him, Sheldon Keefe has been wary of using his best centremen to kill penalties, while the division’s other top centres — Patrice Bergeron, Aleksander Barkov, Brayden Point, Dylan Larkin, Jack Eichel — do this grunt work.
Is it fear of shot-blocking injuries? Not wanting to waste precious energy in non-scoring situations?
Part of Toronto’s strategy has been to throw Matthews and/or Tavares over the boards as soon as a penalty is killed, loading up for a quick counterstrike. But if the Leafs can’t start winning more PK draws, they may have to rethink that plan.
Why didn’t they sign 2018 3rd round pick Riley Stotts?
— Jonbon (@Jonbon93252605) June 5, 2020
Fascinating question, Jonbon.
Four years of WHL excellence, the last three at roughly a point-per-game level, and the 20-year-old centre is still looking for an entry-level deal. Left unsigned, Stotts could re-enter the NHL draft.
To give you the best answer possible, I turned to the most knowledgeable junior hockey mind in my Rolodex.
Here is the venerable Sam Cosentino’s take on Stotts:
“Very interesting player who was deemed to have a high ceiling upon entering the WHL. He was the main piece in a trade between Calgary and Swift Current that eventually helped Swift Current to a WHL title in 2018, and I think that was hard on him, being traded away from a contending team that obviously went on to have success without him.
“Over his time in Calgary he played for a couple different coaches, and I also believe that impacted his game. I think his game really settled down under Steve Hamilton, his current coach in Calgary. He is a durable player with average size [six feet, 185 pounds], doesn’t mind getting involved physically. He can score, and he’s has improved on his play away from the puck and in the D-zone.
“Having said all that, I think he’s an average prospect who is on a slightly later developmental curve than most players of his ilk. I’d say Toronto would’ve been happy with his play this year, but I don’t think enough so to sign him. My thoughts are he doesn’t get signed but gets a look in another organization.
“If I had to put a label on him, it would be ‘late bloomer,’ but I’m not certain the bloom is of NHL calibre. I could see him being a good AHL player.”
Not sure if this has been discussed but has anyone brought up the use or looked into the effectiveness of full visors as a slight mitigation to the possible spread of COVID while on the ice?
— Vinh Nguyen (@Vinh_N) June 5, 2020
Specialists have suggested that measures such as full face shields and a ceasefire on spitting and scrumming and fighting could mitigate the risk of spread.
But don’t hold your breath.
“We would consider anything our infectious disease experts and advisors might recommend,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN’s Ryan Rishaug last month. “But I’m not sure given the circumstances of our game that any dramatic modifications will really be necessary.”
Once players report to hub cities for action, they’ll be tested every evening.
“It’s not an ideal time, and we’ll have to do everything we can to maintain the safest levels for the players, coaches, training staff, referees and everybody that’s going to be involved in putting this back together again,” Toronto’s Kyle Clifford said.
Imagine Columbus and Toronto swapping coaches right before their series. (Why? I don't know, for reasons). How would each team's style and their chances of advancing change?
— Bri (@BriGrey) June 5, 2020
Think of the mess that would be the Maple Leafs placing a premium on shot-blocking, defending the house and wielding their physicality, while the Blue Jackets run and gun and attempt to score one more than their opponents?
Could be fun — and quite loud on the Leafs bench — but I doubt the survivor would last beyond the play-in round. A smart coach once said it’s best to tailor your team’s style to the personnel available, and both Sheldon Keefe and John Tortorella have done that.
Columbus captain Nick Foligno figures that in a shortened series, the coach that knows his team best and understands which buttons to push will have the upper hand.
Tortorella is the fourth-longest-tenured coach in the league. Keefe has only been on the job since November, but as he says, he’s been binge-watching the Maple Leafs all pandemic.
Is the new RTJ album their best yet?
— Adam Wenn (@An_Adam_Wenn) June 5, 2020
Well, it’s certainly their best-timed album and highest-charting work. RTJ4 is this wicked smart, focused joy ride of anger and fury. Perfect protesting music. The first half is just wallop after gut punch after uppercut. I’m still not tired of “Ooh La La,” which may be 90 per cent responsible for making the Ozark season finale so impactful, and “Holy Calamf—” is a sledgehammer with a mind of its own.
That said, I need to spend more time with the album before it can surpass RTJ2, my personal favourite from El-P and Killer Mike. I wrote about that record when I interviewed them here.
Q: Will AJ be ready to go or is he done? The team that will win this is the team that didn’t treat this as an off season.
Andreas Johnsson underwent knee surgery in Feb. 19 and was anticipated to miss six months. Dubas says he doesn’t expect the winger available for the playoffs, which has jolted anticipation for the return of left winger Ilya Mikheyev and the possible debut of teenager Nick Robertson.
How much leash does Dubas have if the Leafs fail to get past Columbus?
— Fish (@feedthefish79) June 5, 2020
Dubas’s boss, Brendan Shanahan, is a believer. And in the 47 games Dubas’s team has played with the first coach of his hiring, Toronto has gone 27-15-5 despite a rash of injuries to key players.
will the leafs move Nylander to clear up cap space to sign others?
— Justin Time (@SubwayOperator) June 5, 2020
I can’t say definitively no, but I believe it that would be highly unlikely this off-season.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I believe Dubas when he says the plan is to keep all of the upper-class forwards in the fold and build around elite offensive talent.
More interesting will be the 2021 off-season, when pending UFAs and core members Zach Hyman and Frederik Andersen require hefty raises, No. 1 defenceman Morgan Rielly is able to start negotiating an extension, and the salary cap may well be just as stagnant as it is now.
Thoughts on Freddie Gibbs latest album “Alfredo”
— Sam McKee (@SamAMcKee) June 5, 2020
Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist are both on crazy hot streaks right now. Gibbs’s Bandana with Madlib was one of 2019’s best albums. Alchemist has spun magic with Conway the Machine (LULU), Boldy James (The Price of Tea in China) and Action Bronson (Lamb Over Rice) in recent months.
Alfredo is this fun, 35-minute ride that packs in more standout cameos (Benny the Butcher, Rick Ross, and Tyler, the Creator embracing rapping again) and ideas than most rap records twice its length. Freddie is that rare rapper who gets sharper and more compelling with age. A couple of experts, making excellence at their respective crafts look like child’s play.