I’m going to try to make this one a little shorter than normal, so let’s just dive right in…..
I’ve been giving Nylander a hard time since he signed on Dec. 1st, but I, as well as every other fan, obviously want and need him to be successful. He has spoken about being frustrated with trying to catch up to the rest of the group but that’s nobody elses fault but his own. He sat out a long time, and whether you believe that was him trying to get as much as possible or Kyle Dubas trying to exploit a loophole in the CBA that lowers the cap hit of years 2+ the longer a player sits out really doesn’t matter. He sat instead of signing and is now in a situation where his expectations are extremely high and his chances of reaching those ($12M expectations this year) are very low.
Not that I expect William to read this but if he did I would offer some advice. Get dirty!! Go to the tough places of the ice and work harder than you have. I’ve been keeping a close eye on him, and while you may be able to find an instance or two when he’s in the corner working, it isn’t anywhere close to consistent. He’s playing on the peripherals and that simply isn’t good enough. It’s what many fans criticized him for during last seasons playoffs and it seems to be worse through his first few games this season.
For now the narrative around William is that he needs time to catch up. That can change in the blink of an eye however, so I think the player needs to get ahead of it with a more honest effort. Maybe that means further demotion….
The 4th Line
While I’m a fan of a physical game (more on that later), the 4th line can’t exactly be mistaken for a physically intimidating one. They’ve been effective though. They’re chipping in offensively as a unit, but more importantly they aren’t a liability in their own end.
Tyler Ennis, a signing I questioned when it was made and again to start the year, has really settled in, and he helps drive that line with speed and skill.
Par Lindholm has been everything I wanted. With a 51.85% success rate on the draw, good defensive awareness, and a willingness to battle, I wouldn’t expect Kyle Dubas to spend a 2nd round pick on a 4th line centre come deadline day this year.
Connor Brown, while largely being considered a prime candidate as part of a trade package, has been better than he’s been given credit for. I do wonder if the fact that he makes $2.1M per season has an effect on some opinions of him (take note William). He’s been good on the penalty kill and seems to be a favourite of head coach Mike Babcock. While it would be tough for me to see him traded, sometimes you need to give to get…..
I don’t actually believe this player is available for futures, but we all love a good rumour so let’s talk about it anyway. This one has been written about at the Hub already, and you can find that here, but I thought I’d chime in.
Alex Pietrangelo is easily the best candidate I can think of to help this team right now. He has size that the blueline is missing, two-way skill that could help Morgan Rielly continue to dominate, and a contract, while short, that won’t get in the way of re-signing the rest of the group. There is a small handful of defenders out there that are perennial Norris candidates, I feel like Pietrangelo fits into a group just below that with the likes of Kris Letang, Mark Giordano, and John Carlson. Any of those players could challenge for the Norris in any given year, but fall just short of the latter group which includes players such as Victor Hedman and Drew Doughty. What he wants on his next deal, to me, is irrelevant at the moment, but for the sake of discussion lets take a look.
Kris Letang signed his current deal while being a couple of years younger than Alex will when he signs his next contract. It was for 11.28% of the cap, which would equate to just over 8.9M per season under the current ceiling. You could argue that Letang was more successful than Pietrangelo when he signed that deal and that lead to a higher average, but he also had a history of injuries so it’s not a bad comparison overall.
John Carlson signed for 10.06% of the cap at an even 8M per season after helping the Capitals win a Stanley Cup last spring.
Mark Giordano took the undrafted route to the NHL and had to prove himself over a long period of time, so I’m going to use Oliver Ekman Larssons contract to compare instead. OEL signed for 8.25M per season, or 10.38% of the cap.
If we use these three players to predict Pietrangelos next deal you could argue it’s possible that he signs for around 10% of next seasons predicted 83.5M cap ceiling, or 8.35M per season. Is that too much? Personally I think it would be a lot to handle while trying to maintain the depth it takes to win. So the question then is if you’re willing to trade for Pietrangelo for 2 Stanley Cup runs?
You don’t win it all by playing it safe, and he would go a long way towards helping the team go all the way. Are they really that far off? Tough to say. They are among the deepest teams in the league at the forward position, and their defense is being underestimated a little. It’s not a slam dunk but there’s definitely an opportunity there. The price could be high, but the player is a great one. Interesting debate to have if you ask me.
If you want to consider an under the radar option then Alec Martinez could be your guy. He’d be much cheaper to obtain, shoots left but can play both sides, knows what it takes to win and has the rings to prove it. Lastly he has decent size and mobility. He fits Kyle Dubas’ requirement of getting a player with term left on his deal as well with 2 more years left at a 4M cap hit.
Some other players I like (to varying degrees) are Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk, Radko Gudas, Chris Tanev (ducks flying hockey puck) and Colton Parayko. All fit this current group in different ways but all bring something to the table that the Leafs could use to further the opportunity that I spoke of.
Speaking of opportunities…….
One tidbit that was dropped by Kyle Dubas lately was that they expected Timothy Liljegren to challenge for a spot with the big club at some point this year. Dubas said he feels with the current injury (high ankle sprain) that Liljegrens chances aren’t being helped. It was announced that L’il Tim will miss the WJC tournament as well, and that has to hurt on a personal level as we all know how much players love dressing for their country. My hope is that Liljegren can break in to start next season, but I feel that this time next year is when he’ll really push for a job.
Some others that are looking terrific for the Marlies are Carl Grundstrom, Jeremy Bracco, Calle Rosen, Rasmus Sandin(!!), Mason Marchment and Trevor Moore (among others).
A big question for me right now is if there will be an opportunity to show management what they have at the NHL level this year. As it stands the forwards have the greatest chance for a call up based purely on the number of bodies on the big club. With Zach Hyman out for about 3 weeks they are currently carrying just 12 able forwards. On the back end they have 2 extra bodies in Martin Marincin and the forgotten Justin Holl, so the likes of Rosen and Liljegren appear to be a little too far down the depth chart at the moment. For getting them big minutes with the Marlies and developing that’s terrific. For answering questions about the immediate (as in next season onward) future of the blueline it’s frustrating for fans. For now the Marlies will benefit from some experienced blueliners.
The Marlies goaltending isn’t what it was, and that is making a difference right now, but Eamon McAdam (the guy they got for Matt Martin) has a solid record and he’s bringing some toughness which is great to see………
The topic that never seems to go away. Team toughness!! I’ve been a long time supporter of having a few players on your team that can answer the bell when pressed. This doesn’t means having a player like Matt Martin or Ryan Reaves on your team. To me that means finding a player that can contribute similar to players such as Wayne Simmonds, Milan Lucic (of old), or Dustin Byfuglien. These players are/were top 6 forwards or top 4 defenders, contributing not just physically but also to the skill game. In the coming years as they need to move players out for financial reasons I would target players that fit that bill. I’d watch for players such as Max Jones or Logan Stanley, watch them develop and try to sprinkle a few of them around the lineup. Afterall, it takes more than a single player to change how a team plays.
Toronto Marlies line brawl ( https://t.co/4YmqohVxyt )
— Orpheus (@Orfieus) December 20, 2018
Lastly, I’d like to wish the best of luck to all of the Leafs prospects that are gearing up to play in this years World Junior Championship.
Timothy Liljegren (high-ankle sprain) unavailable to represent Sweden at World Juniors, Leafs announce
Toronto prospects Pontus Holmberg (🇸🇪), Filip Kral (🇨🇿), Rasmus Sandin (🇸🇪) & Ian Scott (🇨🇦) will represent their countries in the upcoming tournament
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 20, 2018