Dec 132009
 

Fist off, I was recently interviewed by Robin Keith Thompson of Chiller Instinct (and also a long time contributor to and friend of HockeyAnalysis.com, currently in the Phoenix blog). In the interview we discuss mostly the Blackhawks and the value of their quality third line of Madden, Brouwer and Ladd. Check it out.

Now on to the Leafs. About a month and a half ago on October 24th the Leafs were 0-7-1 and almost everyone had written off the Leafs. Before the season I made a bold prediction that the Leafs would make the playoffs and a number of people called me out on that prediction calling me biased. When the Leafs started the season 0-7-1 those same people came back and asked if I wanted to eat crow now and that I was an idiot for making that prediction as the Leafs had no chance of making the playoffs. I consistently defended my prediction with ‘come talk to me in January when we have played a meaningful number of games’. The Leafs then went on a stretch of 7 games getting a point in every game by going 3-0-4 and were generally playing better. Everyone stopped feeling the need to criticize me and my prediction at this point. Then the Leafs fell back into some of their problems they experienced in the first 8 games and lost four straight in regulation to Minnesota, Chicago, Calgary and Ottawa and then blew a big lead to lose to Carolina in overtime. At this point everyone came back and criticized me again. It has been pretty quiet recently because the Leafs have been playing well but it is now my turn to stand up and gloat a little as the Leafs are currently sitting 4 points behind 8th place Montreal with a game in hand having just beaten maybe the best team in the eastern conference. But it gets better than that.

Before the season many people suggested that with the acquisition of Komisarek and Beauchemin on defense and the hopefully better play of a healthy Toskala and/or a strong rookie season from Gustavsson that the Leafs will cut down their goals against, but who is going to score? Then they traded for Kessel and many criticized giving up two first round picks and a second round picks and question whether the trade made any sense considering the Leafs had no play making center like Marc Sarvard to feed Kessel the puck. They questioned whether the Kessel could score at near the rate he did in Boston without such a center and without a play making center it made no sense to go out and pick up a pure goal scorer. I constantly defended the trade saying the two first round picks were not too much to give up for someone with the skill of Kessel because most first round picks outside of say the top 5 picks don’t turn out to be half the player that Kessel is. In short, the gamble was worth it.

Before the season I defended the Leafs offense and despite not having a true elite level forward I thought that they would at lease be OK offensively.

To summarize, too many people have a false view of what kind of offense a top 6 forward will produce. Most top 6 forwards aren’t 30 goal, 70 point guys. The majority of them are 20-25 goal, 50-60 point guys and in that regard the Leafs are just fine. Are the Leafs going to be an elite offensive team in the NHL? No. Can they be a good one, as they have been for several years now? You bet.

Fast forward to today and we find the Leafs offense is currently sitting in 9th spot in goals for average and that is pretty good considering they were near the bottom of the league before Kessel returned. We have also learned that Kessel doesn’t need a play making center to score goals, he can do it on his own. It is also worth pointing out that only the Washington Capitals, the leagues top scoring team, has more 10+ goal scorers than the Leafs. The Capitals have 5 10+ goal scorers while the Leafs are tied with the Canucks, Blue Jackets, and Ducks with four. Media hypes all the time about Chicago’s great young offensive stars but they have zero, yes zero, players with 10 goals right now. Nobody should really be surprised by any of this because the Leafs have for the most part consistently been in the top 10-12 teams in terms of offense the past dozen years or so, including the years post lockout. It’s unfortunate that so many fail to realize that.

The Leafs are not out of the woods yet but the edge of the woods is within sight and a playoff spot is just a few short steps beyond that. They are, for the most part, playing good hockey (8-3-1 in last 12 games), and for the most part, are now getting acceptable to good goaltending (no longer last in goals against average or save percentage). The goaltending is still the key for me. If it continues as it has recently by Toskala and how Gustavsson has been for much of the season, making the playoffs should be a very strong possiblity.

To summarize, the message of the story is that we all should stop drawing conclusions from 8 or 12 or even 20 games. The NHL season is a long one and a dozen games is not enough to draw any conclusions from.

  11 Responses to “The I told you so post…”

  1.  

    I had the same response to a recent post on the Leafs blog, but your opinion of top-six forward leaves much to be desired (even though your final assessment is correct).

    By definition, there are 180 top-six forwards in the NHL (30 x 6). But if the Leafs want to be a playoff team, they should have their top-sixers among the playoff elite; thus look at the top-96 (16 x 6). And in case you want to measure up to the top lines of playoff teams, we’ll have a second group of top lines with 48 (16 x 3).

    Now, regardless of where you make the distinction of top NHL forwards, the problem that too many articles make is that they are too forgiving with their inclusion points. The cut-off for top-180 is 41 pts or 16 goals or 20 assists. The cut-off for top-96 is 49 pts or 22 goals or 29 assists. Both of those are very underwhelming. By definition, I am a marathon runner if I complete a marathon, but if it takes me 16 hours that’s nothing to celebrate.

    Let’s look at some averages, and see how well the Leafs actually compare. To be a good top-96 forward (i.e. a top-six forward representing one of the 16 playoff teams; aka a ‘real’ top-six) the average entry is either 67 pts or 29 goals or 41 assists. The average top-48 forward has 79 pts or 34 goals or 49 assists.

    These are proper evaluations of top-six talent in my opinion; not merely getting by with fringe top-six players, but actually having talent that competes with the top end of the NHL. And if we look at the current pacing of the Leafs this year, we have 5 top-six forwards: 2 meeting the average for top-48 and 3 for top-96.
    Hagman (39 goals) and Kessel (39 goals) would actually rank in the top 10 of goal scoring if their pace continues. Stajan (29 goals), Ponikarovsky (31 goals), and Grabovski (44 assists) would also meet the criteria for being an average top-96 player.

    Top-six talent is clearly present on the Leafs. What this shows is the Leafs have many goal scorers, but are lacking enough set-up men (1/5 qualifies as a top-96 assist man). And ideally, the sixth and final top-six player the Leafs get will be a 79 pt/49 assist #1 centre.

    But even by much tighter and more relevant definitions of top-six skill in the NHL, the Leafs clearly find themselves able to match up against the best. Now more than ever, we are only one Gilmour or Sundin away from being a legitimate offensive powerhouse.

    I only wish goaltending and team goals against were even close to the top 16 (114 GA is second last to Carolina’s 117)

  2.  

    Death By Leafs:

    I have a q for you. When you say the average of the top 96, are you providing the average of 96? or of 49-96? Because by making the distinction of those two groups you can see if we fit have players that fit into each category.

    Because as I said on the other (Leafs) blog, I believe we have our fair share of 4-6 (49-96) guys. It is our lack of 1-3 guys that is our problem.

    Then on the other front, we need better goaltending our D needs to continue to stabalize (though they are looking SO much better than that initial 8 games…)

  3.  

    Wonderful post Death-By-Leafs. Thanks for your thoughtful insights.

  4.  

    “To summarize, the message of the story is that we all should stop drawing conclusions from 8 or 12 or even 20 games. The NHL season is a long one and a dozen games is not enough to draw any conclusions from.”

    Funny how that hasn’t stopped you from openly admitting to gloating after Toronto’s last 12 game stretch.

  5.  

    I never drew any conclusions from it like ‘the leafs are the best team in the NHL’ or ‘the Leafs will compete for the Stanley Cup’, I just pointed out that they are playing quite well.

  6.  

    Yeah, could the Leafs use a couple of dangerous top 6 forwards? You bet. But to me what’s important is the way they have been playing for six weeks. It’s not a fluke. They consistently outwork the other teams with their forecheck and their speed, and it’s just plain fun to watch. Just two years ago they were perhaps the slowest team in the league, and they were getting circles skated around them. What a great change. And the blue line looks really good. If the goaltending holds up – a big if – I think they will make the playoffs.

  7.  

    Despite the Leafs increased offense, there’s still some serious concerns when it comes to goaltending, penalty killing, and the current edition of the power play.

    They’ve given up 13 power play goals in 33 short handed situations over the past 10 games. That’s a 60.6% kill rate which is pretty sad.

    It doesn’t get much better at even strength, where they’ve given up an additional 19 goals over the past 10. In combination that works out to 32 goals against in the past 10 games, or 3.2 goals against per game.

    3.2 GAA would be the 27th best defensive record on the season ahead of only Florida, Columbus, and Carolina.

    Lucky for the Leafs they’ve scored 3.7 goals per game, which would be tops for the NHL on the season (Washington would be 2nd with 3.48 gpg).

    Their offense explains the 7-3-0 record over the past 10. Their goaltending numbers over that stretch are 3.20 GAA and .898 SV%, not exactly all-star numbers by any stretch of the imagination.

  8.  

    Now that half the year has past, lets look at the pojected points based on the current standings:

    The Leafs at 74 will more than likely hand a very very nice gift to the bruins. Lets also look at why trying to guess the season is so hard.. I’ll highlight the major discrepencies. bracketed points are those predicted by Mr Johnson

    devils 120 (97) – a major mis-read of how good the devils defence and goal tending really is.
    capitals 111 (109) good analysis
    sabres 109 (92) buffalos defence is always poo pooed
    penguins 106 (99) penguins on a roll
    bruins 100 (98) boston on track
    senators 92 (86) leaf fans always underestimate the sens
    rangers 86 (93) about right
    canadiens 85 (90) about right
    flyers 84 (104) Just adding Pronger does not make a team the stanley cup champions
    thrashers 84 (83) good analysis
    lighting 82 (78) about right
    islanders 78 UNRATED .. team changes (tavares) were not accounted for
    panthers 78 (88) underrated
    leafs 74 (95) big fail…. again, a good analysis for non leaf/sens teams but biased when it comes to yer favorite team
    hurricanes 55 (89) major fail, tho again injuries have caused problems for the canes

    sharks 118 (113) good pick
    blackhawks 117 (107) about right
    avalanche 102 (66) WOW a real mis-read here
    coyotes 105 (76) WOW followed by another, can be explained in that the western conference is a big mystery to the east
    flames 105 (95) a bit underrated
    predators 102 (97) sorta ok
    canucks 98 (104)
    kings 98 (86) rise of young players !!
    stars 96 (83) ignoring the experienced players
    wings 94 (103) can be explained due to the injury bug hitting the wings hard
    wild 86 (93) departure of the coach not accounted for
    blues 82 (91) all the low draft picks they have had must start to make a difference
    ducks 80 (98) holding on to past performances
    blue jackets 76 (90) not sure what this prediction was based on
    oilers 72 (85) not sure where this came from

    All in all, not a bad selection of where the teams would finish. Understandibly, the western conference has more problems, my guess because we just dont see them that much in the east, and hard to judge them.

    However the big eyesore in the predictions is in the placing of the Leafs vs the Sens.

    Too much faith in a poor defence and goaltending for the Leafs. Not enough faith in the Clouston effect (evident in the final part of the season last year)

  9.  

    Nanuuq while you were right on almost everything there, I think (ironically) your own bias came in. According to the teams you said were ‘about right’ that means he was off by 4, 5, 7, and 10 points. Ignoring the Chicago one, thats 4-7 points is about right, which I agree.

    His Sens prediction was off by 6 points. Thats right in the middle of the ‘about right’ category. So saying his Ottawa prediction was one of the big eyesores, is innacurate.

    Cheers

  10.  

    mea culpa

  11.  

    The trouble with “I told you so” posts is that they stick around on your website. The Leafs are last in goals allowed, currently 14th in the East and not looking like a playoff team :/

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