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Auston Matthews tries to rally Maple Leafs


You spend far more time around these guys, do the Leaf’s have the requisite muckers to make this a successful season?

Thanks for what you do,

Doug from B-ford

ANSWER: Hey Doug from B-ford, nice to chat again. Remember those Scribble Live sessions? …. The best answer to that is the Auston Matthews might be the best mucker on the planet. He does highlight-reel things and that don’t get seen on the highlight reel, and inspires others to do them as well. Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin. Muckers all. Some can score, too.

QUESTION: Hi Kevin,

How successful do the VGK have to be this season before the NHL would regret the generosity of the expansion draft? Granted it probably won’t come to that nor would the league ever admit to it but curious to hear your thoughts.

Thanks, Andrew D

ANSWER: If by NHL, you mean Gary Bettman and the league offices, I think they’re ecstatic the Golden Knights are off to this start. The league, in that sense, regrets nothing. The Golden Knights are creating a buzz around the league. They’re an interesting team. My guess: They are everyone’s second-favourite team. And I don’t think the expansion draft was that generous. Name five Golden Knights who mattered to their team last year. GM George McPhee did a great job of identifying players with a chip on their shoulder.

QUESTION: Has Morgan Rielly plateaued as a player? There are no more excuses for this guy. How much longer do we have to wait for this guy to break out and be good at both end of the ice?

With so much emphasis on the Mathews, Marner, Nylander. Rielly should be flourishing with this group. Instead, he can’t score and he can’t defend. Is it time to move Morgan Rielly and get a real superstar defencemen who can do his job at both ends of the rink? After all, Rielly is being paid like a superstar defencemen isn’t he?

I think Mike Babcock knows Morgan Rielly is not the D-man to lead the Leafs to the Stanley Cup. It will be up the Lou, Shanny to have the guts to move him. I hope I’m wrong on this analysis and Morgan proves me wrong and makes me eat my words.

Dan W

ANSWER: I think you’re being too hard on Rielly. I’m not sure what you’re expecting, to be honest. He is the Leafs top defenceman in my mind (although Nikita Zaitsev is terrific, too). He could put up 65 points if Babcock told him to and line matched him against third and fourth lines. But then, who’d play against top lines? Both Rielly and Babcock want the emphasis on defence. Rielly plays the hardest minutes against the toughest opponents, so it’s not surprising he doesn’t win every battle. Other teams have good players who win battles and score goals.

As for being the D-man to lead the Leafs to the Stanley Cup, who was the D-man who led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup? It might be an outdated notion. Victor Hedman hasn’t won the Stanley Cup. Erik Karlsson hasn’t won the Stanley Cup. Ditto Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Brent Burns. Just thinking out loud, but I think too much emphasis is put on one blueliner being a “stud.”

QUESTION: Hey Kevin,

Thanks for the Q&A blogs, they are fun to read and nice to see the back and forth. I wanted to ask about some players on the Wings.

With Ken Holland reaching the end of his contract, Wings not doing well, do you see him throwing Babcock, Lou and Shanny a bone with loading him them up with vets. I’m thinking if Zetterberg is in his last year of his contract he would be a great fit playing with Bozak and Marner. If they can’t resign JVR, then it would be valuable to trade him for trade pieces for a player like Zetterberg.

Zetterberg in place of JVR is a defensive upgrade and adds vet leadership. What are your thoughts? I like JVR and what he adds, I just feel what he adds, isn’t what we need and what he lacks is consistent with what the Leafs’ lacks.

Thanks for your thoughts, Rex C

ANSWER: Zetterberg is a fantastic player and the trade you suggest would only work if the Wings

A. Like and want to re-sign JVR.

B. Are finished with Zetterberg.

C. The Leafs want to pay a 37 year old $ 6 million a year until he’s 41.

I don’t think Zetterberg is finished in Detroit. And if the Wings were going into a rebuild mode, I don’t think JVR is the answer for them. And the Leafs already have a 38 year old earning $ 6 million a year until he’s 41. There’s no rush here. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander are all young. They have time.

QUESTION: I can understand GM’s wanting to lock up star players with long-term contracts but what is the incentive for the player?

Wouldn’t someone like McDavid make more money going year to year or becoming a free agent early in their career?

Do hockey players really like the long term money and the security of knowing who you will play for more than their baseball brethren who seem to plan for free agency at least once in their careers ?

Bob V

ANSWER: There are a number of incentives for the player to go long term. First off, there’s security. In McDavid’s case, he wouldn’t be an unrestricted free agent for another six years, so he’s one bum knee or bad ankle from early retirement. May as well take the money up front. As well, like you say, players like to commit to a team, which itself attracts interest from other players.

Remember, Steve Stamkos went the free agent route, and remained with Tampa. John Tavares may dabble in free agency as well. Maybe even Drew Doughty, so it’s not like all free agents go with long-term deals.

QUESTION: Dear Kevin,

The Leafs just suck! Anderson is a sieve! Babcock doesnt know how to coach his team! Their defense is horrible! I think its TIME FOR A NEW REBUILD!

Signed,

All obnoxious “Leaf Fans

ANSWER: Written before Andersen’s performance in California. I know you don’t really mean this but thanks for synopsizining everything. 😉

QUESTION: Hello Kevin: This is not a question but more an observation of the Leafs. I thought hockey was a two-way game and how you play it without the puck is even more important than with the puck. Some of these guys don’t realize that you should be playing twice as hard without the puck trying to get it back. Marner, for example, seems to be more interested in offense . I really believe that if they can get him to go back after the puck when he looses it his goal scoring and play making will return. Right now it seems he is being rewarded for this poor play with power-play time etc. They have to learn now not later and as I write this I know that from B. Shanahan on down to Babcock , they will fix it. Just that right now it is so obvious what needs to happen that it is hard to watch mistake after mistake.
I was never a Leafs fan until B. Shanahan came to town. I was a Calgary Saddledome ticket holder watching the best hockey in the league at that time –Oiler fan of course. I believe in this management for Toronto
Wondering what your thoughts are?
Thanks for your time.

ANSWER: I don’t know how Brendan Shanahan is going to teach Mitch Marner, or anybody else, to play defence, but I agree with the tone and theme of your letter. I disagree that Marner is being “rewarded” for poor play with power-play time. His 5-on-5 time was reduced when he went on the fourth line, due to poor defence. His power-play time remained because he’s a threat there. If he gets the best part of his game going — offence — the confidence clicks in, and other parts of his game follow. That’s part of the logic, anyway.

QUESTION: It’s refreshing to see a reporter finally calling out some of the Leafs who are partially responsible for the team’s slide of late.

I think media reps in Toronto are reluctant to criticize the Leafs, in part because it’s still reasonably early, the team generated such pre-season excitement and had such a terrific start. But the players’ performance lately has been deplorable, and it’s encouraging to see the team, including the coach, being held accountable.

While they’ve played just 12 games (losing four of the past five and looking weak) something dramatic has to be done soon to halt this slide or all the optimism for the season could easily slip away.

If Babcock keeps reciting the same mantra after each loss about “players needing to be ready to play hard” yet few seem to be listening and heeding, how soon will it be before whispers and rumours start circulating that he’s “lost the room”?

One suggestion for replacing Bozak. Since Marner was a stellar centreman in junior,why not move him into the middle with some good linemates and see what he can do? What’s the risk? He’s not setting the hockey world on fire this season on the wing so far.

Cheers,

Al M

ANSWER: I guess you saw Babcock’s response, moving Patrick Marleau to centre. I’m sure that’s just temporary. Marleau would rather play the wing. I don’t think Marner is ever going to be a centre, at least not a regular one. In his last year in junior, he was a winger, not a centre. Christian Dvorak, now with the Coyotes,was the centre on the line with Matthew Tkachuk. It’s too early to suggest Babcock has “lost the room” but it is interesting to see so many people almost hoping this is the case, wishing for Babcock to fail.

If they don’t already, most of these players will hate Babcock. Most hated Randy Carlyle. Most hated Ron Wilson. Just like the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, players on every team hate their coach. But the core players on the Leafs are too young to know better.

QUESTION: Hi Kevin,

I read your article on Bozak and I always thought he was a decent player and great on draws. Not a Hater like it seems a lot of of fans In leaf land are. Seems like he is in funk right now and bench time might be right.
Which brings me to my question, have the Management abandoned the idea of putting in Nylander at centre? Seems to me now is the time. Matthews and him work magic but Auston can make anyone look good on his line- maybe Leivo or Kapanen. Thoughts?
Thanks,
Ken W

ANSWER: Good point. You see the answer above, about Marleau. Babcock was adamant that Nylander was not going to be a centre. Nonetheless, he takes a lot of faceoffs and is good at it. Personally, I think Nylander would make a great No. 2 centre behind Matthews down the line. Maybe even next year. It’s hard to break up that combination, though.

QUESTION: Hi. I think it’s time to sit out Gardiner. Too many giveaways. Leading to a scoring chance.How is it they portray him as a very good defenceman.. TRADE HIM.TRADE HIM.

Thanks Dave J

ANSWER: A Leaf fan has spoken. I don’t think Dave J is joking.

QUESTION: Do you find Babcock finding more blame on his players unlike last year were he assumed blame for everything?

ANSWER: I’m not sure that’s how I’d phrase it, but I get your point and I agree. He took a lot of blame last year, to protect his players. Youngsters who weren’t used to the shrapnell of social and traditional media in the Toronto market and the veterans that were, were given cover. Now the gloves are off. Expectations are higher. And calling out players is a time-honoured tactic by coaches to get the best out of their players.

QUESTION
Excellent Breakaway blog article re: “Tyler Bozak’s Woes could translate to bench time.” I have a question related to the Leafs and consistency with their success. They played well against a handful of teams such as L.A. but then lost to a less experienced team like Carolina.

What is going to help this team with their consistency? Is it a trade? Is it the roster regarding who and where Babcock is playing certain people? I know this is likely not a one solution fix, but what can help them with consistency?

Steven F

ANSWER: Thank you. I think the answer is time and patience. Trades will happen. They always do. But this is still a young team, and it’s early in the season. No need to panic.

QUESTION: Hi Kevin,

It seems like just last week everything Leafs was sunshine, rainbows and planning the parade. Now after 3 consecutive listless efforts the storm clouds are gathering.

Besides Matthews’ line and flashes from Kadri it seems this group has lost the confidence it had to start the year. Without some real adjustments it’s not outside the realm of possibility to see the team below .500 by the time they return from their West Coast road trip.

Is it too early for panic feeling? The brain is saying “It’s just a blip, the ship will get righted” but the heart is going “Holy crap, don’t put me through this again!!!”

Thanks, Peter K

ANSWER: That’s the fun of being a fan, right? When they’re great, they’re fabulous. When they lose, they’re terrible. Just watch, and enjoy. Or turn off the TV, and pick things up in May.

TORONTO STAR

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