Monday Mailbag – Justin Steals The Mailbag

TLN’s street hockey extraordinaire is still on the road with Five Hole For Food, so I’ll be taking over this week’s Mailbag over for Jeffler. If you’re out west, you should probably go visit him in and the FFHF gang and play some hockey for a great cause. They’ll be in Calgary tomorrow, Edmonton on the 15th, Victoria on the 17th, and closing things out in Vancouver on the 18th. Visit the Five Hole For Food site for full details.

Without further ado, here’s the Mailbag…

I really think Toronto’s defensive pairings next year starts and ends with Dion Phaneuf’s partner. Once you know who that will be, everyone else sort of falls into place.

Personally, I’d play Jake Gardiner on the top pairing with Phaneuf. Gardiner has been, for a few years now it seems, a talented up-and-comer. At 25-years old, I’d like to see him take that next step now, in a presumably much better system, with a good partner. If he can’t handle the responsibility and the tough assignments, then at least the Leafs will know exactly what kind of defenceman they have in Gardiner.

That leaves Martin Marincin and Morgan Rielly on the second pairing, with Rielly playing on his off-side. I might rather have Rielly on the top pairing, but his ability to play the right side of the ice works against him here. Depending on how Marincin fits in, I could see this pairing being extremely effective at moving the puck in the right direction.

Lastly, I think free agent signing Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak will form the third and final pairing. Neither of them need to put up points, but as long as they can make a decent first pass and get the puck out of the defensive zone, they’ll make for a fine pairing. 

Stephane Robidas and T.J. Brennan are my seventh and eighth defencemen. I’d slide Brennan into the lineup any chance I get, because he’s been a productive AHLer for years and hasn’t yet got a real chance at the top level. Robidas is there because his ugly contract prevents any alternatives.

There’s nothing not to like about the Leafs’ recent minor league moves. All indications are that they’re walking the walk when it comes to stockpiling as much skill in the system, and a number of decent prospects will likely be with ECHL Orlando to start next season. 

Heading out are guys like Tyler Biggs and Jamie Devane, both of whom were drafted with hopes of their skill catching up to their size. That is, in most cases, a bad idea. The Leafs have cut their losses and are opening up roster space for prospects that are more likely to succeed. 

Do teams need size? Sure, I still believe that. Size is great, but it can also be acquired relatively cheap via free agency or on the trade market. Real skill is a lot hard to find, so doing everything you can to help foster that skill throughout the farm system is a really smart move.

There aren’t many bad seats at Ricoh Coliseum, since it’s relatively small and everyone has a good view. That said, I always try and sit at the top of Section 103. That way, you’re in the Marlies’ offensive zone in the first and third periods, and sitting up in the corner offers you a good view of both the length and width of the ice. On top of that, you’re right by the press box in 103, so you might spot some famous people and also probably Jeffler. You also might see a handful of guys wearing black windbreakers with little team logos on the chest and clipboards – those are scouts, and it’s pretty interesting to see which teams are represented and who’s looking in on whose prospects. 

As for opponents, I’m going to say the St. John Ice Caps because I have a soft spot for the Toronto/Montreal rivalry and the Canadiens just moved their farm team out east after the Hamilton Bulldogs joined the OHL. Other than that, maybe check out one of the AHL’s new teams this year, like the Stockton Heat, Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, the Bakersfield Condors, San Jose Barracuda or the returning Manitoba Moose.

 Because they’re idiots. 

  • SEER

    I don’t tweet, or use any other social media, besides this site… (other than my you-tube channel, where I rarely say anything, anyway..) So I’ll just ask my question here…

    “Tell me ’bout the rabbits..?”… : ) LOL! (From: Monster talking to Bugs Bunny)

    I love the moves the Leafs have done in off-season… How they managed to actually get better players in return for Biggs and Devane is something that Burke & Nonis couldn’t have done.. (or would probably not have tried to do)..

    • SEER

      “Tell me ’bout the rabbits..?” That may have been used in Buggs Bunny, but it’s from the literary classic, Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. If you have not read it yet, do so, everyone should read that book. Actually read any book my Steinbeck, Mice and Men, East of Eden, Cannery Row, and his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath. All except East of Eden are fairly short, in the 250 pg range, so not too arduous if reading isn’t you’re thing, but you will broaden you mind if you read any of these books.

  • Poluza

    Can Robidas be sent to the Marlies, ala Tim Connolly? Or does he have a NMC? And does it make sense to send him down if he’s just sitting in the press box?

      • Poluza

        I don’t mean that he has to play for the Marlies. Just bury his salary, and clear a bit of cap room for a $950,000ish player (I forget the exact amount). Or am I mistaken that a bit of cap space is made when demoting a player?

        Of course, considering the Leafs aren’t a competitive team, this probably wouldn’t be necessary.

  • Kanuunankuula

    I would prefer to keep Polak with reilly and give marincin time to get comfortable in the nhl on the bottom pair. Then we can trade Polak as a “top 4” defenceman at the trade deadline and increase marincin’s role once polka has been shipped out for an unfair return.

  • CMpuck

    So Gardiner should get exposed further on a top pairing? What has he done to deserve that spot, he’d be put in a position to fail.

    I’m a big believer in Gardiner but he still needs to be sheltered. Throwing him to the wolves is a perfect way to bust another talented blueliner in Jake.

    • He’s 25 years old. If he can’t handle the responsibility now, he likely never will. I’d just prefer to start the season with Gardiner on the top pairing and, if he can’t hang, we can finally move on and stop talking about Gardiner like he’s still young and some sort of prospect.

      He’ll have his struggles for sure, but I don’t see the point in sheltering him. For one, there aren’t many alternatives. And two, no matter what pairing he’s on, the team as a whole is going to get worked over regularly.

  • I would have to agree with Justin that Gardiner should play top pairing with Phaneuf, I thought this since last preseason and for some reason management thought Robidas should be that guy.

    I’d keep Polak with Rielly on the second pair.

    Robidas, Hunwick, Brennan and Marincin can be the guys that fight for 3rd pairing spots and rotation duty.

    QUESTION for Justin – What will the special teams look like on defence?

  • Kanuunankuula

    Echoing Justin and S2E, Gards pretty much has to be on top pair, either with Dion or Morgan. Who else are you gonna put there? I’d rather they shelter Phaneuf than JG. JG was playing big minutes after Carlyle and was good(ish).