Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Leafs vs. Oilers, underpaid Sidney Crosby

 

Hey everyone, with the NCAA season over, it’s time to roll out a new feature for the summer. It’s a mailbag column. People love those.

If you have a question you want answered in the future, you can email me or get at me on Twitter. I’ll usually write this on Mondays so get your questions to me over the weekend and that kind of thing and we’ll take care of it no problem (as long as it’s in some way good).

Without further ado, let’s just get into it.

Jarrod Lassiter asks: “Would you take Leafs’ or Oilers’ roster right now moving forward? And those have to be the two teams set up best for the near future, right?”

Germane to yesterday’s What We Learned about how the Leafs are about to become a colossus, this is a great question.

On the one hand, Connor McDavid (probably the best player alive already), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (an elite No. 2 center who would be a solid No. 1 on most teams in the league) and Leon Draisaitl (a promising running buddy for McDavid) backed by a very good coach, a solid group of veterans, an above-average goalie, and a relatively smart GM.

On the other, Auston Matthews (already verging on being an elite center), a strong D-corps that really only lacks a true No. 1, a solid goalie, the best coach alive, a smart front office, and a slew of talented U-24 players who have already begun to populate the NHL roster.

You can’t go wrong choosing either of them, but I think I have to lean toward the Leafs here. McDavid is transcendent, but after that the Oilers’ roster thins out up front in a way Toronto’s simply doesn’t. While you may say McDavid makes up the difference himself — and hell, you might be right — I’ll take the better depth plus Matthews over McDavid, marginally.

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Where things really separate the Leafs is on defense. If your D-corps going forward is Rielly/Gardiner/Zaitsev/Carrick (all of them under 26) and two other guys, you’re in very good shape before you add anyone else, which the Leafs kinda have the ammo to do if they want to go shopping on the trade market. And I don’t dislike the Oilers D by any stretch, but I gotta give the edge to Toronto here, in a big way. I just think that’s a very good young group.

I also trust Babcock to make a bigger difference than McLellan, and Toronto to not-screw-up a few veteran contracts like Chiarelli has throughout his career.

Right now they’re probably about equivalent in terms of quality, but the Leafs are going to pull away.

Dan Michaelson asks: “What’s going on with Minnesota? Is it the lack of elite players, bad shooting percentage in the playoffs, St. Louis playing really well?”

The problem with Minnesota is both of the first two things you referenced, absolutely.

To be truly competitive in the playoffs, you need to have at least one or two guys who are at least close to being top-10 at their positions. Dubnyk probably qualifies among goaltenders, but he’s on an awful run lately (perhaps due to overuse in the last two seasons?), and I don’t see any outfield players I’d say are all that close. At least, not any more.

Mikael Granlund led the team in scoring this year on the right wing, and that’s all well and good, but is he a top-10 right wing if he’s not shooting almost 15 percent for the season? You can ask similar questions about Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, and Mikko Koivu, all of whom were north of 11 percent this season.

(Not that anyone would mistake one of those guys for being top-10 at their position, but the Wild shot the lights out this season, is the point. That they’re shooting this poorly now is obviously surprising, but they probably weren’t going to hit the regular-season levels they enjoyed, either.)

And on defense, well, I like Jared Spurgeon a lot, but he’s not a high-level difference-maker. You can probably argue Ryan Suter was, but he’s not any more.

So that’s obviously a huge issue.

The other one, obviously, is that Jake Allen is on some kind of bender, and has been for quite a while. When you give up three goals on 117 shots over almost 200 minutes, you’re going to make your opponent look very, very bad.

The Wild haven’t been as bad as all that (they’re currently minus-a-billion in expected goals versus actual goals) but I was never a big believer in their ability to go deep.

Along similar lines:

David Corica asks: “If both Chicago and Minnesota choke in the first round, who becomes the favorite to make it out of the West?

It’s gotta be Nashville, right? The problem with the West this year is that everyone has glaring holes. If we’re assuming St. Louis and Nashville are through to the next round already, that leaves us with Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, and San Jose to consider.

  • The Sharks are older and banged-up.
  • The Oilers are a little thin but powered by one incredible line (with all due respect to Zack Kassian having the best performances of his life in Games 2 and 3).
  • The Flames can’t stop taking dumbass penalties.
  • The Ducks have a great D corps but an average forwards, even with Getzlaf somehow still racking up a million assists.
  • The Blues are getting beat on the ice by the Wild, but bailed out by a guy who looks like an average goalie.
  • The Predators likewise have goaltending issues and that forward group is pretty uninspiring.

Not to cop out here, but even if we say Chicago or Minnesota don’t blow it, the West is wide open.

I picked Chicago to go to the Cup Final (and lose to Washington) but I agonized over picking them or the Preds to even come out of the first round. I felt like it was a coin flip, and I went with the goalie I trusted more. At this point, though, you gotta say its the Preds’ series to lose. But again, they still might. So right now, here’s my ranking of the teams most likely to advance out of the West.

  • Nashville
  • Edmonton
  • Anaheim
  • St. Louis
  • San Jose
  • Calgary
  • Chicago
  • Minnesota

@R_6509 asks: Sidney Crosby makes $8.7 mil a year, but he’s gotta be one of the most criminally underpaid players in the league relative to the number of bums making 6-7 mil….?”

Well, this isn’t really a question, but the point is well taken. Yes, Sidney Crosby is incredibly underpaid in terms of the value he provides to the Penguins, on a number of fronts.

Even ignoring the guys in the $6-7 million range, obviously Crosby at $8.7 million looks like a steal compared to the other six forwards making north of $8.5 million. Corey Perry makes $75,000 less per year than Crosby. Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin both make about $800,000 more. Anze Kopitar? Jonathan Toews? Both north of $10 million. Same is true of Patrick Kane, but at least he’s scoring like he wants to earn it.

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Moreover, he makes everyone around him more valuable, by a lot. Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary make a combined $1.4 million or so. Both were in the top 32 in the league in terms of cost per point, and Guentzel would certainly be higher if he’d played with Crosby all year. Sheary’s fifth (just under $12,600 per point) behind only McDavid, Viktor Arvidsson, Artemi Panarin, and Leon Draisaitl.

Crosby makes just about anyone play like $4 million-plus players, straightaway.

It’s nice to be roughly middle-of-the-pack in the entire NHL in terms of dollars per point (even leaving aside his defensive prowess, which is incredibly underrated) when you’re one of the highest-paid players alive. But when you can deliver additional value by helping your just-okay linemates into the 95th percentile, that’s unbelievable.

Erik Naught asks: “That one guy on our team who everyone agrees obviously sucks, surely they have a farmhand who’s way better right? Why don’t they use him?”

Most coaches play favorites. They’ll slot in guys who aren’t good simply because they’re comfortable with their levels of not-goodness versus what the lesser-known quantities farmhands provide. You see it with Alain Vigneault playing Tanner Glass over Pavel Buchnevich, just as a recent example.

Younger players in this league are seemingly always on shorter leashes than their veteran counterparts. Vets have Earned Trust, rookies have not. It’s really that simple.

Only when coaches become desperate, as Vigneault clearly was after the Game 3 loss, will he be scared into doing something he knows is right even if he doesn’t want to. It’s dumb and I don’t get why it happens in 2017, but that’s what it boils down to.

Finally, John Evans asks: “Given their commitment to changing absolutely nothing, how likely are the Red Wings to be terrible again next season?”

John, thank you for your important question. Short answer: Very.

That’s it. See you next week. Bye.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)