The only team that matters. Don’t believe it, just ask them. The Leafs got Mitch Marner into the fold before the season, which was something of a minor upset. They’re going into the season with a better defense than they did last year, now a full year of Jake Muzzin, along with Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci arriving this summer (the latter already causing hilarious furor). And yet, this collection of players still doesn’t have a playoff series win to its name. The thinking is that if they get the first a whole bunch more will follow. Problem with that is they’re still in the same division with Tampa and Boston. And we know if they don’t get past them, it’ll be a national disaster and you all have to have a week of mourning. Is this the time? Could be, but it’s no guarantee.


46-28-8  100 points (3rd in Atlantic, out in 1st round)

3.49 GF/G (4th)  3.04 GA/G (20th) +37 GD

51.7 CF% (8th)  51.7 xGF% (10th)

21.8 PP% (8th)  79.9 PK% (17th)

Goalies: So here’s the thing. The Leafs can dress up their changes, acquisitions, and experience gained all they want, but they’re still counting on Freddie Andersen. And Freddie Anderson is the very definition of “good enough to break your heart.” It’s what he does. It’s what he’s always done. He’s certainly more than enough to rack up points in the regular season, especially when you score a ton of goals as the Leafs do. And he wasn’t even bad in the playoffs last year, with a .922 SV% in the series against Boston. But it wasn’t enough in Game 7. It never is. That’s what happens. And the Leafs seem to think they can break through the same wall this time. They don’t have a good enough defense to shield him. They need Freddie to make the saves. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a team that just scores its way through four rounds. Freddie has yet to do it. I’m not betting on him to do it now.

Anyway, Michael Hutchinson is backing him up. There’s not enough time for all that I want… to say about him.

Defense: It’s new look, and if it doesn’t work everyone here is a free agent after the season except LGBTQ spokesman Morgan Rielly. You would think that would create some urgency, which could help. I’m bigger on Tyson Barrie than most, and provides someone who can get the puck up himself or to the forwards better than anyone they had last season save Rielly. Cody Ceci is already causing Alka-Seltzer sales to go up in Ontario, as everyone expects Mike Babcock to use him way too often. They’ll get a full season of Muzzin, who was surprisingly good last year after arriving from LA. But beyond those four it is ugly, which is probably where the Ceci fears are springing from. Martin Marincin, Justin Holl, The Other Schmaltz, Ben Harpur, you don’t want any of these idiots skating more than 10 minutes a night. Which might leave the top four exposed and exhausted by the time the games really count.

Forwards: If any unit can counteract what the defense can’t do, it’s this forward group. Everyone’s locked in now, so they don’t have that hanging over them. There’s still no team rolling out a better top six than this, with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, and whatever other jokers you want to pair with them. Nylander should rebound after getting a full training camp and having Marner take all the recent-signee pressure off of him. They’ve lost some depth in trading Nazem Kadri for Barrie, and Kadri did a lot more for this team than people realize.

There isn’t anyone around to take up that role, and you don’t want either of Tavares or Matthews to do it. Nick Shore? Nic Petan? Those are huge steps down from Kadri, who was a shutdown center who could also score a lot. Nobody is going to replace him on either side of that ledger, and the Leafs downfall might be either having some top line go off on them in the playoffs (again) or having to use Matthews to fight fire with fire and losing his production. It’s an issue.

It’s not much different on the wings. where only Andreas Johansson looks like a useful bottom-six piece. Jason Spezza is dead. They’ll be hunting depth via trade.

Prediction: With all the pieces locked in now, one wonders how much patience they’ll have under Mike Babcock again. He’s not a soft sort to play for, and now the Leafs have made their commitments. What happens when Marner and Matthews start rolling their eyes at Babs in January or December even? That’s one iceberg they’ll have to avoid, and it might help that Babs is going to have to play his top six a ton. But if Ceci ends up being a disaster, there’s not much anyone can do about the defense.

And there’s not much Babs can do about Andersen, either. There’s more than enough talent here than make a run…and there’s enough holes to eat it in the first round to any of Tampa or Boston or any surprise like Montreal or Florida as well. Whatever it ends up being, there’ll be far more noise than is warranted.

Previous Team Previews



New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers










Tampa Bay


Everything Else



Game 1 in Boston Thursday, 6pm

Game 2 in Boston Saturday, 7pm

Game 3 in Toronto Monday, 6pm

Game 4 in Toronto Wednesday, 6pm

After all the whining, moaning, and kvetching, they are still going to play this series and not reschedule the Leafs against a team their media contingent deems is a better matchup for them. At some point, either the Leafs are good enough or they aren’t, and whether they spit it in the first or second round really shouldn’t matter. But any slight is a massive injustice to those clad in blue. In reality, this is a team they should be getting past, no matter the history. But thanks to their mental fragility and bed-wetting, they may have turned the Bruins into such a monster in their own heads there’s no way by.

Goalies: The other thing Leafs Nation seems unwilling to admit to itself is that no matter who the opponent, Freddie Andersen is as likely as anyone to clown it up but good. He fell apart in Game 7 last year versus these same Bruins, just as he’d done three years prior against the Hawks, just as he’d done the year before that when John Gibson took his job. He is basically the biggest question mark for the Leafs, and that’s on a team with no top-pairing d-men. He also went to pieces in the spring with a terrible March, though the Leafs are hoping his small recovery in April bodes well. It doesn’t. That said, the Leafs’ style put Andersen under mass amounts of pressure all season and he was just shy of Vezina-level. If it’s ever going to happen for him…

On the other end, you pretty much know what you’re getting from Tuukka Rask. He was a touch north of league average this year, which is basically where he’s lived the past few years. His playoff record is pretty glittering, somewhat marred by the Bruins being overmatched by the Lightning last year. There’s very little chance that Rask is going to upend his own team, and a better chance he is a major factor to the good in this series. And even if he does misstep, the Bruins have a pretty stout safety net in Jaro Halak, who’s been marvelous all season and has his own playoff history to work with. The only concern is if Bruce Cassidey wants to get cute early and heaps too much pressure on both goalies and tenses up the team, but that’s not all that likely.

Defense: As has been the problem for years, you might have heard about it, the Leafs blue line doesn’t come anywhere near matching the quality of the forwards. Jake Muzzin has been an all right addition, but hasn’t really locked anything down. Nor was he ever going to. This is an outfit still giving meaningful minutes to Ron Hainsey, who can regale you with tales of cars without windshields. Jake Gardiner is back, which apparently counts for something. I don’t know what. Morgan Rielly is good pointed one way but not the other. The Leafs are best off just going for broke, trying to get up the ice as much and as fast as possible and trying to take their d-men out of the equation as much as they can.

The thing is, it shouldn’t be that big of a disadvantage against the Bruins. Because I don’t think there’s a lot here. Zdeno Chara has been able to strip down his game and be effective at his advanced age, but that only makes him a second-pairing player. Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy are offensive weapons but specialize in the Lemeul Stinson trail-technique whenever asked to defend anyone. Brandon Carlo is….fine? Maybe? Do we even know? I’m sure I don’t care. Somehow they make it work, because they give up the least amount of attempts, shots, and chances in the East. It can’t be all Bergeron…can it?

Forwards: This is where it feels like the Leafs have a huge advantage. But it felt that way last year and look how that went. The Leafs have been showtime at times this year, and that’s with William Nylander getting seriously wounded by the SH% Dragon (BABIP Dragon’s sister). Remember, their second center has 47 goals this year. And neither Tavares or Matthews were the leading scorer on the team. Nazem Kadri is a hell of a weapon, both scoring-wise and annoying-wise, to have on your third line. Only Tampa can boast more, and at least forward-wise, it’s closer to a push than you might think.

We’ve been convinced for years that the Bruins are nothing more than Bergeron’s line plus David Krejci. But much like the defense we can’t comprehend, it keeps working. They were somehow shocked to discover that Charlie Coyle sucks. Jake DeBrusk gives Krejci at least half of a player to do things with, but beyond that there is nothing here. But because of Bergeron’s dominance there doesn’t have to be. The Leafs aren’t going to have any answer for Patrice and Marchand and Pastrnak. Matthews and JT can’t do the defensive work and there’s no pairing up to the task.

Prediction: On paper, there’s no excuse for the Leafs losing this. But there’s more at work here. Much like last year, the Leafs just don’t have an answer for Bergeron, and the questions about their defense are slightly louder than the ones about Boston’s. The questions about their goalie are much louder than the ones about Boston’s. Still, with that firepower the Leafs should be able to simply outscore the Bruins. Even if Rask plays well the Leafs could, and probably should, get three goals or more per game. And the Bruins would be hard-pressed to match that. In a vacuum. But this isn’t a vacuum. And it feels like the Leafs have been looking for an excuse to shoot themselves in the face again. This one’s got a familiar ring to it…

Bruins in seven.

Everything Else


RECORDS: Hawks 30-30-9   42-22-5



THE ABYSS: Pension Plan Puppets 

During the Hawks first “streak,” it was obvious they were benefitting from a softening of the schedule. Even when they played barely real teams, they were simply outclassed. We don’t know if this is a new “streak” yet, three in a row hardly constitutes that, but whatever it is is unlikely to continue tonight. The Hawks are playing one of the few REAL-ASS teams in the league, and we know how that’s gone. And they’re facing one that’s probably going to have an edge/snarl to it.

The Leafs had something of a “test” on Monday, and they got absolutely horsed by the Lightning at home, 6-2. If they had won that game or even been close, you might be hopeful of catching them with their focus elsewhere. Probably no such luck tonight. Maybe if the Bruins had beaten the Jackets last night and moved six points ahead of the Leafs, they would have decided there’s nothing left to play for and would have spent the last 13 games looking at their watch. But with a four-point gap and a game in hand, the Leafs can reasonably think that home-ice is still on the table and worth chasing (which is debatable). So the combination of frustration and motivation should have the Leafs antennae up, which is hardly good news.

There’s also the small matter of Morgan Rielly, which shouldn’t matter but will in the sense that he will get a standing ovation from the frothing, rich aristocracy that fills the Whatever It’s Fucking Called Now Center, because…he might…not have…used a homophobic slur? They won’t know why, they’ll just clap like the trained seals all fans become in situations like this. Either way, he and the Leafs will be happy to have a game to play to distract from whatever the last two days were. All of this does not add up to a pleasant night for the Hawks.

And even without all that, this is a team so far beyond the Hawks you wouldn’t want to drive it. In games against the league’s penthouse residents, the Hawks have generally been embarrassed. The Lightning have dribbled their head like a basketball twice. So have the Sharks. The Jets took them seriously for like a combined 12 minutes and got three wins out of it. They were with the Bruins in South Bend when the Bs were in their worst stretch, and then nowhere close in Boston. They’re 0-3 against the Flames. It’s not an enviable record.

And though they may finish third in their division. and though their media and fans refuse to shut up about anything, this is still an unholy offensive force. John Tavares has 76 points, and he’s the second center. There are three lines here better than the Hawks can muster with one, and when they get rolling no one can live with it (except Tampa, apparently). The Hawks were able to put up six on this team in the home opener because they got a look at Garret Sparks. They’ll find no such refuge here. The Leafs will want a recovery from Monday, which means Andersen, who’s been one of the better goalies in the league.

If the Leafs have a weakness it’s a defense that still is short, even with Jake Muzzin, but you have to get the puck first which is the real trick. Sure, if the Hawks can get DeBrincat or Kane or Saad or Toews bearing down on Hainsey or Zaitsev or whoever they might find some joy, but getting to those spots takes more than a smile. It’s also a beat-up blue line as both Gardiner and Dermott are out.

For the Hawks, shouldn’t be too many changes. Crawford will start, and the lines should look the same (go pound, John Hayden). The expectations for this one should be nil. If the Hawks can get a win in Montreal against a Canadiens team fighting it, this trip will be a success. After that, it’s the Canucks, Flyers, and a home-and-home with the Avs. Basically it would be set for the Hawks to perform one last death rattle if they get out of Canada alive.

And if not, they are who we through they were anyway.


Game #70 Preview Suite



Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It was hard to take your eyes off of the Leafs-Islanders tilt last night. Or more to the point, it was hard to take your ears off of it. What the cameras showed was second to the sheer noise throughout the game, which vacillated between pure bile, utter ecstasy, and the very definition of schadenfreude. All of it served at a volume to that kept you looking up every few seconds and seemed to ooze from your TV into something physical. It was the kind of atmosphere that drew us to this silly little game in the first place, the kind probably only possible in a downsized dump like Nassau Coliseum that’s still something excavated out of the 70s or 80s. And yes, I realize it’s been redone in the recent past but it’s always going to be a dump, and that’s true to those who hold it dearest. That’s kind of the point.

I wouldn’t expect Islanders fans, or really anyone on Long Island, capable of rational thought, especially on a night like yesterday. This was a date they had circled since July 1st. Their team’s face–the one most responsible for their fortunes for near a decade–had left and there’s no way to not feel stilted by it. He wasn’t forced out (at least not intentionally), but had a simple choice and didn’t choose them. You could hear the pains of rejection spicing every chant and yell last night, because no one in any capacity wants to be told they’re not good enough. In sports, and sometimes in life, it becomes an inward coil to celebrate, defend, and even attack outward with what you are, what makes you unique, and why you don’t have to apologize to anyone. Fuck, half of being a New Yorker is not apologizing to anyone, and carrying that attitude as far as it will go.

And yet I couldn’t watch last night without contrasting it to Mark Lazerus’s recent article in The Athletic about how players are no longer fans. To summarize, basically professional athletes work too hard and are too busy to follow the teams they did as kids, no matter how strong that fandom was (and for the most part, they were the same fans you and I were at that age). In addition, being inside the ropes means they know what really goes on, and they don’t feel comfortable adding to what their colleagues in the sport or others go through. They just can’t see it the same way we do, which is obvious but also easily forgettable.

Most fans, if you catch them on the right day, know that players don’t feel the same way we do. Hockey still holds onto that fantasy tightest, and perhaps Jonathan Toews hated dealing with David Backes regularly as much as we did (we know he hated dealing with Ryan Kesler as much). The way hockey pushes “rivalries” shows you how desperate the game and league are to make you believe that it matters to them differently than those in other sports. But to Toews, those were professional concerns. That would have happened whatever color those players were wearing. We want to believe they feel the same emotions about opponents or victories or losses as we do, but we know they don’t. We know they can’t. Their job would be near impossible if they did. We live with that most of the time, but at a given time in the right circumstances and it can rankle some. Maybe all.

Maybe I’m suckered in by the press campaign, but it’s hard not to see this picture that Tavares himself tweeted out when he signed in Toronto and not feel something:

Maybe it was just pandering to a new fanbase. Maybe Tavares’s fandom died out long ago after nine years an Islander and a couple before that as a big-time prospect. But still, if you’re playing a kid’s game, the kid within you can’t have died out completely. And that kid dreamed of being a Leaf all his life, every day. For once, we got to see a player live out the dream we probably still have within us but know will never come true. We know it, but we don’t entirely feel it, and I know this because even in my mid-30s (barely) I still hope to play second base for the Cubs one day, with the tiniest shred. And yes, every so often you’ll catch me at home alone, still working on my stance, because you just never know. To completely erase it means yet another part of childhood is gone and soon forgotten, and who the fuck wants to do that?

Sure, you could look at it coldly and see the Leafs offered a ton of money, and though they weren’t the only ones, they were probably the best team doing so (the Sharks didn’t have Karlsson yet). Perhaps the affinity in his past didn’t matter. And yet it’s hard to conclude that totally. Something within Tavares lured him home, even with all the perils of playing in Toronto offers. For once, even for a glimpse, a player felt like we did. Sure, it only really benefitted Leafs fans, which is awful, but we all understood on some level.

Islanders fans, whether they like it or not, understand that on some level. They understand that for Tavares, even their best, even the connections they’d made over nine years, weren’t enough. There was nothing they could do to compare. And that probably made it worse, which is what made last night probably so cathartic. There is no comfort in the things you can’t change, and the temporary relief of lashing out at them seems like the only choice.

Everything Else

We suppose you can’t blame the oh-so-hip owners of the New York Islanders, Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, for being in something of a panic. After last season ended, there was no guarantee that franchise cornerstone John Tavares would stick around. There’s always something of a scratchy hold on the fanbase, who never took to the move to Brooklyn and the promise of moving some games back to  Nassau wasn’t enough to reassure. The arena at Belmont Park is still years away. So if you squint, you could see where they wanted to make a splash, and hire someone with a name everyone knows.

The problem is that anyone who knows the name of Lou Lamoriello knows the game passed him by years ago.

While the Devils three Cups and nearly murdering the game as we know it are still lingering somewhere in the recesses of everyone’s mind, they’re yellowing and green with mold. The Devils last Cup was 15 years ago, and since then the only playoff series they’ve won were on each in ’06-’07 and ’07-’08, and then the barely sensical run to the Final in ’12. As the NHL sped up and became more and more about skill, the Devils were left behind. That Final team of ’12 was the only one of the last five Lamoriello iterations in New Jersey to even make the playoffs.

Worse yet, Lou’s drafting record, what he had built the bedrock of his Devils teams on, suddenly became salted earth. His last five drafts produced Damon Severson, Miles Wood, and Adam Larsson. And that’s basically it.

His record in Toronto is hardly better. Sure, he got to draft Auston Matthews, but you could find a lot of palookas or nitwits to not fuck up a consensus #1 pick. Mitch Marner was already there, and Matthews is the only player Lou drafted that has suited up for the Leafs. As far as what else Lou added to the Leafs, there’s Freddie Anderson and the yellow puddle he leaves around in the playoffs. There’s Matt Martin who makes everyone else feel better about their IQ. Nikita Zaitsev is fine. Patrick Marleau scores but is old and expensive and might make things tricky next summer when Marner and Matthews come calling for their money. And that’s it.

So what about that record suggests Lou is in any way prepared to lead a new era of the Islanders? His first moves of trading for Martin and signing Leo Komarov don’t exactly inspire confidence so much as roiled stomachs. Neither would Valtieri Filppula.

The Isles have hung around the playoff scene thanks to the goaltending of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, the former brought in by Lou, to be fair. But what’s left here? A young defense that needs augmenting, and maybe one top line player in Mathew Barzal and that’s it.

Given Lou’s constant bitching about how much players make, it would be unlikely to see him go to the free agent market to solve some of Long Island’s problems. Or when it comes to their own free agents, and Barzal is going to be looking at Nylander money at least and Lou will almost certainly pass his own colon before giving it to him.

The game simply left Lou and his style behind. Maybe he can adapt, but given his nature you don’t see it. The Isles will have plenty money to spend in the summer, as all of Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle will be out of contract. Someone’s got to get paid though.

Lou Lamoriello is a deserved Hall of Famer. And he did change the game with his teams in New Jersey, even if it was for the worse and made it nearly unwatchable. Banners fly forever. But his time is gone, and the Islanders seemingly will continue to be stuck in hockey purgatory, as they’ve been since the 80s, until they realize it.



Game #43 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else


RECORDS: Maple Leafs 1-1-0    Hawks 2-0-0


TV: CSN Chicago

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THEM?: Pension Plan Puppets

If you were going through a tournament of the most insufferable franchises in sports, it probably wouldn’t take too long to end up with this matchup in the “Hockey Region.” If you spend more than five minutes scrolling through Hockey Twitter (and you shouldn’t, it’s bad for your health), you’re going to see these two teams come up most frequently – the Leafs because there are too fucking many of their shithead fans on the internet who do not shut up ever, and the Hawks because everyone hates them because they were really good for a really long time. Die the hero, become the villain, etc. etc.

The most exhausting and insufferable shit that has already been tossed around in the past, and you will probably hear at least once tonight, (and more if you for some reason watch the Canadian broadcast, which is a national one because of course it is) is that this could be some kind of torch passing from the Hawks to the Leafs because the Leafs have a young core with their key guys still having their labor exploited on their entry level contracts and that’s how the Hawks built their empire and the Leafs are using the same blueprint and blah blah blah I am going to fuckin’ puke.

The annoying part about that shitty narrative is that the parallels keep lining up, most recently with the Leafs making their big splashy free agent signing in John Tavares, which you could equate to the Hawks bringing in Marian Hossa prior to 2009-10, though it’s not even up for debate that JT91 is a better and more impactful signing. There was once an inkling of hope around these parts that StanBo and company would get in on the Tavares train, but we never get what we want because we’re all good people at this website.

The Leafs are even in the process of the RFA fuck up parallel as well. We all remember well the Kris Versteeg situation that ended up giving this site it’s new namesake, and while Toronto hasn’t stuck their dick in a fax machine quite yet (but don’t put it past Kyle Dubas) they still haven’t stopped measuring it in negotiations with William Nylander, who wants to be paid like the good-as-shit player that he is instead of signing some bullshit “bridge contract” and risk getting hurt and losing out on the money. Nylander kinda has the Leafs over a barrel because he is such a huge part of what they’re trying to do there, but the Leafs have him over an even bigger barrel and in a much more vulnerable position because of the NHL’s labor exploitation contract and free agency rules. If I was Stan Bowman I would be annoying the shit out of Dubas until he gave in and traded Nylander to Madison St., but it’s not like the Hawks really even have anything to send the other way that would be worth more than a hearty chuckle when proposed in negotiations.

The most annoying thing about the Maple Leafs at the present time, though, is that they are actually, it pains me to say, going to be really good. Yes they got their shit pumped by Ottawa last night and I’m sure their fans have tried drowning themselves in some maple syrup as a result, but on paper the Leafs forward group (when they get Nylander back) is probably the best in the NHL. They have two of the top-10 centers in the damn league, and even though Nazem Kadri is a giant fuckstick, when he’s your 3C you’re in a really good spot. They have some holes on defense, but we saw Pittsburgh go back-t0-back with leftover popsicle sticks on their second pairing a few years ago. And the good players that the Leafs have are fun to watch. Auston Matthews is almost appointment television, Mitch Marner is a nasty playmaker, and we already know what Tavares is capable of.

So, yeah, the torch passing bullshit is annoying as fuck, and I don’t wanna hear it or think about it or deal with it. But the Leafs  might really have something here, and while that’s bad news for anyone’s Twitter timeline, it could be entertaining as hell, even if they shitpump the Hawks tonight.

Game #3 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Build

Everything Else

We only wish it was Grand Theft Auto. Most of the people we find for this don’t want to be identified because either they’re people looking for them, don’t want to be associated with us, or both. This is yet another case. Dark things lurk in the musty corners of Twitter, and we found this one called Zubes. Follow him @the_Zubes…if you love the absurd. 

While we’re sure you’re basically in a state of hysteria all the time with the rest of Leafs Nation, tell us why this blue line will be better than we think.
– It starts with addition by subtraction. Prior to the first game of the season I can admit that I didn’t know what an Igor Ozhiganov was. BUT, from the same line of thinking that brought you, “We need to get rid of Matt Stajan even if it means taking on Dion Phaneuf” and “We need to get rid of Dion Phaneuf even if it means we get literally nothing” and “We need to get rid of Phil Kessel even if it means we are gift-wrapping Pittsburgh two Cups”, they needed to get rid of Roman Polak, even if it meant throwing a random collection of vowels on the bottom pairing.
Ultimately, the answer to your question comes down to Jake Gardiner. You’re either a “Jake Gardiner is better than you are giving him credit for” or you’re “Jake Gardiner isn’t as bad as you’re saying he is.” The issue this year is that he eventually has to get paid and no matter what he gets it’ll be the wrong amount. Every year around the deadline Maple Leafs fans convince themselves the team is about to cash in on the forward depth (we’re the only team with good young forward prospects – the AHL team is almost TOO talented) and add a difference maker back there to ease the load on everyone’s back. Having already pushed so many chips into the middle with the Tavares move, the shouts to do that very type of trade will be louder than ever and I think most of us are assuming this is the year something along those lines actually happens.
If they don’t make any moves though? Oh, we’ll just add a random AHL defenceman. The Marlies are so good, man.
Also, why we’re at it, why Fredrik Andersen won’t shit a chicken in a Game 7 again. If he has a major dip in the regular season would the Leafs think about going to get someone else?
– Similar to the Jake Gardiner split, a lot of people decided to stake their reputations on Freddie (we call him Freddie because it makes him sound more Canadian) being very slightly above average last year while taking more shots than Ed Belfour before he tries to bribe a cop with a billion dollars. A lot of people are going to hope that the answer to question one will help out here in question two, but I have very little faith. The brain boys in charge seem to be all hyped up on blog posts that explain to rubes “Puck possession is all that matters and goaltending is unpredictable, no we aren’t just saying that because it is hard to quantify”, but count me in the camp with basically no faith in the goaltending. They just let two reasonably okay backups go on waivers (Wow, the whole league wants to gobble up players that couldn’t crack this roster, what a blessing to have so much talent) so I think the powers that be have more faith – way too much faith – in him than I do. It will end in tears, especially when the same problems are lingering on the blue line and crease come deadline time and all that ends up happening is a deal for a 4th line centre.
Backup goalie Garrett Sparks (with a name like a YouTube star) cried the first time he played a game here because he’s a local, so expect his leash to be longer than you would think from the average backup.
Are the problems between Auston Matthews and Mike Babcock real? Will Babs finally take off the tire chains for a team with this much firepower?
– Much like Roman Polak, the first thing noted NJPW weeb Kyle Dubas had to do with the forward group is take away Babs’ toys and force him to not play absolute plugs like Matt Martin and Leo Komarov for half the game. I think the 5-on-5 lines will remain a mix of things like “Tyler Ennis and Zach Hyman on lines with the two best players” but the powerplay units should be as legit as they come. Failing to be a top powerplay team this year would be an unanswerable failure.
More than one person that is closer than I am to the team has whispered that most of the young guys just sort of roll their eyes at Babcock, but does anyone under 25 in the NHL really like their coach? Dubas is letting them grow beards and wear whatever number they want, so the hope is that having a “successful older cousin that talks to you about emo at Thanksgiving and tags you in memes on instagram” type matters to them more than the military dad that yells at you in the car on the way home from your games.
How does this whole William Nylander thing end?
Baldness. And I think Dreamboat Willie will end up around $7M x 6 or so, but it won’t happen for another few weeks. Also, William is starting to lose the wings of his hair first, so he will keep it long so people don’t see how thin his hair is getting. It will be buzzed / shaved before whatever contract he signs is over.


Game #3 Preview Suite




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I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Build


Everything Else

But how does this affect the Leafs?

Any time literally anything in hockey, or sports in general happens, the Canadian Hockey Media and 95% of Canadian hockey fans pen either short or longform thoughts on this exact hypothetical. Maple Leafs fans are the most populous group in the sport, and they are also the most vocal and the most incapable of dealing with other human beings on any real level. They have made a ball hockey playing Baby Huey, a face painted cigarette smoking sexist, and an actual psychopath shrieking in front of his action figures in his basement “experts” via social media. Those that don’t even fall into those extremes are far more concerned with salary cap ramifications than the realities of actually winning a championship because doing so would completely strip them of their narcissistic, cloyingly self-deprecating, head-up-their-own-ass fandom. The latter tendency has led them to form a cult around a Rivers Cuomo looking ass motherfucker of a GM, whose sexual politics might actually be worse that Rivers’ in simply brushing aside a sexual assault scandal when he was in charge of a junior team. But hey, he hired a woman and bloggers for the front office, and a Candian junior team needs to have a bus accident to avoid having a sexual assault scandal of one form or another, so Kyle Dubas is a beloved figure kind of by default. It’s a goddamn shame that the on-ice product will probably be some of the most watchable hockey in the league, because all of the bullshit around this team is enough to gag anyone whose face isn’t painted blue and white.

’17-’18: 49W-26L-7OT 105PTS 277GF 232GA 24.9%PP 81.4%PK 49.82%CF 9.01%SH .9287SV%


Forwards: Might as well switch up the format and get right to it here, because this was already one of the more stacked groups in the league, and it only got moreso by adding the biggest free agent since the last lockout in erstwhile Islanders captain and hometown boy John Tavares. But while the crowing masses already planning the parade down Yonge St. still love to squawk about Dubas’ being a BRAIN GEANIOUS, he still managed to throw the first ever maximum salary in the form of almost entirely lump sum signing bonuses at Tavares even when it probably wouldn’t have taken that much arm twisting to get him to want to play in his home town with the current roster. That’s not to say it’s not a brilliant contract, as the Leafs are one of maybe like 3 teams in the league that can possibly afford that much out of pocket and it’s tremendous leverage considering that money up front is always preferable for athletic contracts, but there’s no need to pretend like this is some small market coup as the masses did. The resultant flip side of that coin is that dynamic winger William Nylander is still an unsigned restricted free agent, and because most hockey fans are stupid and don’t realize that good players deserve to get paid, the line will likely be that he needs to take less money to keep this grouping together. Nylander still hasn’t reported to camp but he probably will, because nothing remotely interesting happens in these scenarios with the NHL’s boring ass GM’s. But even aside from Nylander, the Leafs have Auston Matthews to essentially be a co #1 center along with Tavares, which leaves the ever cantankerous and productive Nazem Kadri to take over the third/checking line assignment, where he will simply devour bums all season long. Mitch Marner‘s deft play making on the wing will make this top 6 arguably the best in the NHL, but there are still concerns here. For as much as everyone liked to talk shit, and deservedly so about Tyler Bozak‘s role in the Tronna offensive attack, he and the departed James Van Riemsdyk took a combined 98 points with them out the door to the Blues and Flyers respectively. John Tavares’ career high in point output is 86. So while this offense is certainly more dynamic, it might be running in place in terms of actual output, and preventing goals might be the bigger issue.

Defense: Now it gets fun. While Morgan Rielly (spell your name right dickhead) and Jake Gardiner are fine second pairing guys who can do a bit of everything alright, they’re not true #1 defensemen by any stretch of the imagination. Ron Hainsey is now 38 years old and will be asked to play more top 4 minutes. Nikita Zaitsev  needs to take a leap beyond being a bum slaying third pairing puck mover, but despite him being only in his third year in the league, he’ll be 27 next month, so at this point he kind of is what he is. Connor Carrick and Travis Dermott don’t really do anything for anyone, so compared to a lot of other groupings even in this division, the Leafs blue line is found wanting.

Goaltending: And here it is, the great undoing. Freddy Andersen probably doesn’t deserve this level of preemptive blame or responsibility, but deserve’s got nothing to do with it. Last year Andersen was completely serviceably average with a .918 overall and a .921 at evens, and proceeded to implode in the playoffs with an .896 in the Leafs’ 7 games of the first round. It’s not the first time Freddy has shat himself in the post-season, as a lifetime ago he sported a .901 in a 7 game Western Conference Final loss to the locals in red and black. “Frederik Andersen” is simply Dutch for “Evgeni Nabakov”- just good enough to break his team’s heart. He’ll be backed up at least to begin with by LOCAL GUY Garrett Sparks, whose 17 games of NHL experience came three years ago when the Leafs were willfully in the toilet trying (and succeeding) to tank for Auston Matthews.

Outlook: It’s a goddamn shame that everything else about this team sucks shit and is wildly irritating, because the process by which this team has been built has been as textbook as anyone could ask for in the modern NHL, and their forward grouping will be healthy if electric. But for all the bouquets thrown his way, Mike Babcock still has his blind spots and will find a way to get tomato cans into the lineup and coach conservatively despite having a trapeze troupe up front. But that may end up serving the team well given the state of things on the back end and in net, which will likely ultimately lead them to a second round out at the latest as other, more balanced teams within their division, specifically Tampa, will find ways to tear through the gaping holes on that blue line.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Everything Else

If the Hawks basically sat out the free agent period, let’s spin around the league and see what’s what now that the important stuff has shaken out.

-Clearly the biggest story of the upcoming season is going to be the Toronto Maple Leafs, and not just in the heads of their fans and media (which is really the same thing anyway). Whatever you might think of “Computer Boy” Kyle Dubas or their enclosed world view, this kind of “Fuck It I’m Throwing Deep” move is really rare in the NHL. Steve Yzerman gets praised for doing it, and really all he’s done is trade for Ryan McDonagh (though he might get Karlsson which would really be a one-up on the Leafs and send a good portion of their fanbase into their toy-filled basement…oh wait they never left there).

The question is how much better does this make them. Because they’ve lost Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk to accommodate John Tavares, and that’s some 50 goals or more going out the door. Sure, Tavares improves whatever winger he’s with but almost certainly not to the level of the departed JVR.

And the Leafs still don’t really have anything on defense, though that unit was improved by stripping it of Roman Polak because Mike Babcock will play him. They’re still counting on a step forward from Morgan Rielly, but I think we know what he is at this point which is a pretty good rhythm guitarist but not a lead. Maybe a similar leap from Travis Dermott fills in these gaps, and as the Penguins and Knights have proven you don’t have to have a star-studded blue line to win, just one that gets it up to the forwards quickly and doesn’t wet itself in its own end.

Of course, those teams has top-end goaltending, and I don’t know how many Game 7 meltdowns people have to watch Freddie Andersen have before concluding he’s just good enough to break your heart. He’s only 28, and I suppose this is the time where he would  turn the corner if that’s going to happen. Still, you’re not getting past Tampa or Boston without goaltending, you’d think they’d know that already.

-Meanwhile, a little closer to home the Blues have also been aggressive, taking the ballast from the Leafs’ ship in the form of Tyler Bozak and trading for Ryan O’Reilly. This makes the Blues the most solid down the middle team in the division this side of Winnipeg. And yes, even more than Nashville because Ryan Johansen is facedown in a pile of ding-dongs right now and Kyle Turris just has that same bewildered look on his face. The Blues will still self-destruct trying to prove once again that Jay Gallon won’t shoot them all in the face accidentally, but they’ll probably rack up 100+ points before that happens. The Perron contract is stupid because he’s not spasming that season again and he’ll just fold under all the selfish penalties he takes, but they’re getting Fabbi Robbri back and if they can keep something from falling off Jaden Schwartz again they’ll be pretty dynamic. Sucks when they show more urgency than the Hawks do.

-Meanwhile, in the darkened and abandoned garage that has been the state of the Islanders for a good 30 years now, Lou Lamiorello continues to piss on his Hall of Fame pedigree by taking a team backwards. It’s one thing to lose out on re-signing Tavares, because hey that happens. But then to back it up by bringing in the stone-handed and stone-headed combo of Matt Martin and Leo Komarov, and then complain that every player is overpaid, sets this team back even more. As we’ve stated, Nofera-Lou hasn’t done anything in a decade to convince anyone the game hasn’t passed him by, and once he’s done turning into the Isles into something so foul they stop construction on the new arena halfway through maybe everyone else will realize.

Contrast that with Stan Bowman actively cheering Artemi Panarin to hit his bonuses in the press even though it would cause him a headache, or how the Hawks and other teams are so happy to pay their players, and maybe you start to see why most think working for Lou is a miserable experience. But it’s the Islanders, so is anyone really going to notice?

Everything Else

Just like yesterday, one should hesitate in putting too much into anything right now before we see the entire scope of what the Hawks do this summer. So just know I reserve the right to toss this out in a week, a month, whenever. And the problem for the Hawks is what they seem to be attempting is nearly impossible.

While the Hawks make all the noise the past two summers about seismic changes and alarms going off in the front office, which appear to be nothing more than John McDonough bullying his employees, that doesn’t mean you can force things.

Obviously, the model is how the Red Wings were able to pivot from the Yzerman-Fedorov Era of the late 90’s to the Datsyuk-Zetterberg era of the late 2000s. But as we get farther away from it and our lens scopes out, we can see that it probably just was Ken Holland getting extremely lucky with some later round picks. Because how’s the pivot going from the Dats-Z Era to the Dylan Larkin one? It’s been eight years of irrelevance at least and counting. The Penguins haven’t had to deal with this yet, but you can certainly see it on the horizon for them, especially if Matt Murray never matches what his first two years brought. Once you start winning and taking yourself out of position to draft genuine class, it’s nearly impossible to go get. Victory defeats you, eventually.

So while Stan can boast about maintaining the present and the future, the options for the former were limited. There was one player that would have made the difference in free agency (Tavares) and he never considered the Hawks. Maybe in another town the Hawks would face questions about how they couldn’t even get to the table for the most prized free agent to hit the market in years, (and arguably they landed the last one this coveted in Hossa), but not in this one. It’s an anonymity they clearly relish. There were others who might have helped, but again they didn’t seem to be a consideration at all for Stastny or Bozak, which is curious. It’s only taken a season or two for the Hawks to completely fall off the map for free agents.

If you want to argue they could have put together the same package of flotsam that the Blues did for Ryan O’Reilly, I’ll listen. Because that’s really a big bag of nothing the Blues sent to Buffalo. Tage Thompson my ass.

So there wasn’t much Stan could do to demonstrate “urgency” yesterday. The more I think about it the more the Manning signing makes no sense, and we’ve been over and over Cam Ward. Kunitz is fine, it’s not like anyone was in love with what the Hawks could sport on the fourth line anyway.

I suppose Stan envisions a time, very soon, where this team belongs to DeBrincat, Schmaltz, Jokiharju (and boy that’s a leap right now) and maybe even Boqvist in three seasons. I’ll leave Jokijarju and Boqvist out of this, because we simply don’t know anything right now. But if Schmaltz or Sikura were going to be top line players in the NHL, we’d know by now. Yes, we would. You know one when you see one, and they very well may be top sixers (Schmaltz already is), but as my compadre McClure says every spring, it’s top line talent that gets the parade. Right now, the Hawks sport one genuine world class player still playing at that level (Kane). If everything goes right with Top Cat, you could see him being one. But that’s not enough.

Stan seems to be planning and reserving for a future that either isn’t coming or isn’t going to be what he thinks. And maybe he has little choice. There just isn’t a lot out there. But this team isn’t buttressed for when Keith, Toews, and Kane are simply old (the first two might already be there, Seabrook certainly is) and it hasn’t provided them the support to still make a go of it now while they might still be able to do it from memory. If the Hawks were a hitter, you’d say they’re in between–can’t catch up to the fastball but still ahead of the offspeed pitches.

At the end of the day, no one is going to answer for this, really. They’ll point to their three banners and ask you about how much you enjoyed that, even if it appears more and more those three banners landed on them. They’ll bleat on about changes and yes, maybe Q will lose his job this season. And if things don’t turn around quickly after that, Stan could follow him. But both could leave with their heads held high.

I still have to believe the Hawks have a trade in them to try and make something of this season. That waiting list won’t last forever. Those empty seats will only get more numerous. They can’t roll into that convention unveiling Chris Kunitz.

But then again, they might.