Mailbag: Maple Leafs due for turnaround, Gibsons future with Ducks

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Here is the Oct. 27 edition of the mailbag, where we answer your questions asked on Twitter using #OvertheBoards. Tweet your questions to @drosennhl.

 

Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal [were] sixth, seventh and eighth in the Atlantic Division. Is this a sign of things to come? Will any of them get out of the basement in their division? — @theashcity

The Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t going to stay near the bottom of the Atlantic Division for long because history and their underlying numbers indicate they’re due for an offensive breakout. They’re averaging 1.86 goals per game, 29th in the NHL entering Tuesday, and they’re 13.6 percent (26th) on the power play generating 33.6 shots on goal per game (tied for 11th). They have a 54.0 percent shot attempts percentage (seventh), which shows they have the puck a lot, but their shooting percentage is 5.6 percent at 5-on-5 (tied for 28th). Toronto leads the NHL in shots from the low slot (71) but is last in low slot shooting percentage entering Tuesday (7.0 percent), according to NHL Stats. The Maple Leafs shot 16.2 percent from the low slot last season. Their luck will turn, particularly when you look at the history of their top forwards. 

Auston Matthews is shooting 5.3 percent (one goal on 19 shots) this season; he shoots 16.0 percent for his NHL career. John Tavares is shooting 4.0 percent (one goal on 25 shots); he shoots 13.1 percent for his career. Mitchell Marner has no goals on 17 shots, a 0.0 percentage; he shoots 11.1 percent for his career. William Nylander is shooting 8.3 percent (two goals on 24 shots); he shoots 11.5 percent for his career.

From 2016-21, the Maple Leafs were third in goals for per game (3.30), tied with the Edmonton Oilers for fourth on the power play (22.9 percent) and seventh in shots on goal per game (32.4). Yes, they have issues that can’t be ignored, such as being too cute with the puck, not playing with enough grind, being prone to defensive breakdowns, and getting outworked. But they will start scoring more and that will lead to wins. They will be a Stanley Cup Playoff team.

I can’t say the same for the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. Montreal doesn’t have enough scoring depth to consistently win this season. We don’t know when goalie Carey Price will be back. Take the clear-cut No. 1 goalie off any team and it’s going to hurt. Take a top five No. 1 goalie off a depleted team and it’s going to hurt more. The Senators are a fun team to watch, young and hungry, but they’re not ready to win consistently. They scored five goals against the Washington Capitals on Monday and lost by two. They allowed three goals in a span of 3:20 late in the third period against the New York Rangers on Saturday and lost 3-2. They need to grow and mature. 

 

Do you think John Gibson gets traded either by the trade deadline or in the offseason? — @GLaSnoST9

The answer depends on Gibson, the Anaheim Ducks goalie, and his willingness to see a rebuild through to the end. Gibson is signed through the 2026-27 season, but the Ducks haven’t made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2018 and general manager Bob Murray said during training camp they are focused on their future. Gibson responded by saying he wants to win now. 

“I’m tired of it,” the 28-year-old said Sept. 24 of losing. “I’m tired of being at the bottom of the division.”

It doesn’t make sense for the Ducks to trade Gibson even in a rebuild. Let’s say it takes them all this season and next season to go through it. Maybe they’re starting to turn the corner by the middle of the 2023-24 season. Gibson would still be in his prime, 31 years old, with three seasons remaining on his contract. He’s one of the best goalies in the NHL right now. Having him in a rebuild is a luxury, but the Ducks will want him when they come out the other side of it. I don’t foresee a scenario where they would put Gibson on the market unless he comes to them and asks for a trade. 

Video: ANA@MIN: Gibson shuts the door on Zuccarello

 

Does it seem that there are a lot of teams this year that have interchangeable goalies? Sort of along the lines of it doesn’t matter which one starts, the 1A is the same level as the 1B? — @TrishTheMiddle

I think it’s split about 50-50 across the NHL, but I don’t think that’s much different from last season minus the addition of the Seattle Kraken, who with Philipp Grubauer have a clear-cut No. 1 goalie. But goaltending in general has improved across the NHL in the past 10 years as we have seen the need for a reliable tandem increase. Gone are the days of Martin Brodeur, who started at least 70 games in 11 of his 22 NHL seasons during his Hockey Hall of Fame career. There won’t be many goalies who start 60-plus games this season, especially with a condensed schedule because of likely participation in the 2022 Beijing Olympics creating more back-to-back situations. Every team except the Oilers have at least 11 back-to-back sets this season (Edmonton has eight). The New York Islanders have an NHL-high 19. The NHL average is 13.8.

There were eight goalies who started at least 60 games in 2018-19, the last full NHL season, led by Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild (66). That number was 10, including four with at least 70, led by Miikka Kiprusoff’s 76 for the Calgary Flames, in 2008-09, and 16 goalies started at least 60 in 1998-99, led by Brodeur’s 70. You’ll likely still see goalies like Gibson, Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning), Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets), Jacob Markstrom (Flames), Marc-Andre Fleury (Chicago Blackhawks), Robin Lehner (Vegas Golden Knights), Jordan Binnington (St. Louis Blues), Igor Shesterkin (Rangers) and Juuse Saros (Nashville Predators) in the low 60s or high 50s in number of starts this season. But there will be more teams going with closer to a 50-32 or tighter difference in starts between the presumed No. 1 and the backup because the talent gap between goalies has shrunk as the need for two or more to get you through a season has grown.

Ten goalies won at least 30 games in 2018-19, led by Vasilevskiy’s 39, when on average it required 46 wins to get into the playoffs. Five teams had fewer wins and reached the playoffs. I expect it to be similar this season, which means most teams will need their second goalie to win at least 15 games, if not more, proving the importance of having two quality goalies even if you have a clear-cut No. 1. 

 

Where do the Islanders go if their defensive troubles on the left side continue? Logic (and money) says stay in house with Robin Salo or Sebastian Aho. But could they explore the trade market or is it just what we see is what we get, no new additions unless injuries? — @johnfiorino97

The best guess here, and it’s always a guess when it comes to speculating what general manager Lou Lamoriello and the New York front office might do (Lamoriello keeps things very tight), is that they will continue to try to work through some of their left-side defensive deficiencies with the potential of seeing Aho and/or Salo spot either Andy Greene or Zdeno Chara for games here and there. It’s best to see what they have in house before they look to the trade market. It’s hard to examine that market now because we don’t know all the legitimate playoff contenders, but we know the Islanders are one of them and we know they’re good enough to work through some of the struggles, especially with goalie Semyon Varlamov expected to return from an injury and give some help to Ilya Sorokin, who has been excellent while under siege. The Islanders are allowing 35.0 shots on goal per game, after they allowed 30.3 per game the previous three seasons. Sorokin has faced an NHL-high 209 shots and has allowed 14 goals (.933 save percentage).

If you wanted to explore the trade market now for left-shot defensemen you’re probably looking at Nikita Zadorov (Flames), Nick Holden (Senators) and maybe Marc Staal (Detroit Red Wings). None of them are significant upgrades to what the Islanders already have, so they might as well continue working on their game and trying to work in the younger defensemen to see what they might have in them. When the time comes, if the Islanders believe they need help on the left side of their defense, I have no doubt they will address it with a trade no one sees coming.

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