State of the Leafs – Forwards

With the Maple Leafs season having ended early once again a it is time to take an honest and unbiased look at what the team has and what the team needs to get to improve.  This will be a multi-post endeavour that will start with this post which will be a statistical evaluation of the Leafs forwards.  Included in each players evaluation is a table of their 5v5 zone start adjusted HARO+, HARD+ and HART+ ratings over the past 5 seasons (where available) as well as 3 and 5 year ratings.  These ratings provide an unbiased zone start, quality of teammate and quality of competition adjusted view of the player.

Joffrey Lupul

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.538 1.124 1.401 1.132 1.330 1.341 1.116
HARD+ 0.633 0.800 0.895 0.853 0.822 0.730 0.790
HART+ 1.085 0.962 1.148 0.993 1.076 1.036 0.953

I have heard a number of people suggest that we should trade Joffrey Lupul because his value is as high as it has ever been.  Well, that may be the case but if you were the Ottawa Senators would you trade Erik Karlsson because his value is as high as it ever has been?  No.  Joffrey Lupul’s value may be as high as it ever has been, or ever will, but he is a really really good player and has been a really really good player for a number of years.  I should qualify that a bit and say offensive player because defensively he hasn’t ever been great but neither are a lot of the top offensive players in the league.  I think it can be argued that Lupul is the Leafs best offensive forward who makes the players around him better (See my Lupul’s always been this good article).  Kessel’s numbers drop off significantly when Lupul hasn’t been on the ice with him.  Over the past 2 seasons Kessel’s GF20 has been 1.281 when on the ice with Lupul and 0.641 when not on the ice with Lupul.  Yeah, we shouldn’t be talking about trading Lupul, we should be talking about signing Lupul to a long term contract extension.

Phil Kessel

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.301 0.994 1.201 1.340 1.087 1.145 1.019
HARD+ 0.717 0.780 0.908 1.264 0.775 0.799 0.866
HART+ 1.009 0.887 1.054 1.302 0.931 0.972 0.942

Phil Kessel gets a lot of accolades for his individual goal scoring numbers and deservedly so, very few players put together 30 goal seasons for four straight years.  But his overall contribution to the team, while still quite good, doesn’t match that of Joffrey Lupul.  Lupul’s overall offensive contribution to the team is better and he does a better job of making the players around him better.  Furthermore, it seems Lupul’s defensive numbers are better too.  Now I don’t want to suggest that Kessel is a bad player, he is not, but he isn’t the #1 reason why the first line did so well this season.  Lupul is.

Tyler Bozak

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.216 0.793 1.254 1.022
HARD+ 0.722 0.746 0.882 0.772
HART+ 0.969 0.770 1.068 0.897

There are a lot of differing opinions on Tyler Bozak.  Whenever I suggest the Leafs should trade him while his value is high and that he is not and will not ever be a first line center I often get a few people suggesting that he is still young and improving and his point totals are on an upward trend (27 points to 32 to 47 this past season).  While all is true and he may very well be a good offensive player he is dreadful defensively and that is the problem with Bozak.  With neither Kessel or Lupul being quality defensive players the Leafs need a center who can bring a defensive presence to that line.  Kessel and Lupul can create a lot of offense on their own so offensive ability is almost secondary.  The best thing for that line would to be to find a solid offensive forward with a strong defensive awareness and hopefully with a bit of size.  Bozak is not that guy.  He is also not as good as Mikhail Grabovski who has the second line center job locked up long term and without the defensive ability he can’t fit in on the third line either as it seems certain Carlyle will want that to be a checking line.  Bozak is a decent player, but there isn’t an opening on the Leafs roster for a player with his abilities and as such he should be used as trade bait to find a player who can fill the holes in the Leafs lineup better than he can.

Mikhail Grabovski

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.287 1.390 1.278 0.987 1.265 1.309 1.074
HARD+ 0.938 1.015 1.048 0.873 0.605 1.014 0.951
HART+ 1.113 1.202 1.163 0.930 0.935 1.161 1.012

One can easily argue that Grabovski is the Leafs best all-round forward.  He has had three straight very good seasons both offensively and defensively (though there was a bit of a drop off on the defensive side this year, that is probably – hopefully – an anomaly).  He is the perfect second line center.

Clarke MacArthur

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.086 1.251 1.014 0.896 1.194 1.110 0.949
HARD+ 1.041 0.971 0.810 0.874 0.907 0.946 0.943
HART+ 1.064 1.111 0.912 0.885 1.051 1.028 0.946

I have always had mixed opinions on Clarke MacArthur and I flip back and forth on whether we should keep him or whether we should use him as trade bait.  At this moment in time I am in the keep him camp as it seems he has enough offensive ability to easily be a second line winger and his defensive numbers have improved nicely over the past couple seasons (and you can’t say that about many Leaf players) .  So for now I am in the keep him camp.

Nikolai Kulemin

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.180 1.343 0.987 1.168 1.161 1.021
HARD+ 1.024 0.999 1.171 0.735 1.085 0.989
HART+ 1.102 1.171 1.079 0.951 1.123 1.005

Kulemin’s individual offensive numbers dropped off the cliff this season when compared to last season, but in his four seasons in the NHL he has had 31, 36, 57 and 28 points so last season is probably more the anomaly than this season has been.  I like Kulemin and he plays a good 2-way game, but I just wonder if he is better suited to a 3rd line role.  It’s not so much that I don’t think he can be a good second line player, but rather that I think you could build a really nice checking line around him that can be depended on to shut down the opposing teams tip lines, but who can also score some goals too. that can also score some goals.  If you can build a quality checking line that as a line is capable of scoring 40-50 goals you can gain you a huge advantage over a lot of teams and if you can add a true 50+ point winger to Grabovski and MacArthur you improve the second line offensively as well.  Kulemin is an RFA and will probably want around $3M/year which is probably reasonable.  After a bit of an off year statistically he has lost some bargaining power so if Burke played hard he might be able to get him for $2.5M per year but for the sake of $500K/year make him happy with a 3 year $9M contract.

Tim Connolly

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.914 1.065 1.264 1.543 1.287 1.063 1.026
HARD+ 0.761 0.870 1.097 1.006 0.942 0.900 0.934
HART+ 0.838 0.968 1.180 1.274 1.115 0.981 0.980

The three seasons from 2007-08 to 2009-10 were very good seasons for Connolly, both offensively and defensively.  When the Leafs signed Connolly last summer I had hoped that he could return to that form after a slip in 2010-11 but unfortunately he regressed even further.  In some respects it may not be all Connolly’s fault as we has bounced around a lot, from center to wing, from third line to first line, and even occasionally on the second line.  I am not sure how fair it is to evaluate a player under those circumstances but we kind of have to.  I just wish we could have seen Connolly play a long stretch of games between Kessel and Lupul to see if he could be a nice 60 point center with some defensive awareness.  Unfortunately we didn’t get that chance so I think if Burke can move his contract he needs to do that and let another team give him top six duty.

David Steckel

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.683 0.583 0.979 0.711 0.766 0.730 0.625
HARD+ 0.860 1.097 1.347 1.104 1.063 1.077 1.086
HART+ 0.772 0.840 1.163 0.908 0.915 0.903 0.856

Despite the drop off in his defensive numbers, I kind of like the job that Steckel did this year on the third and fourth lines.  He was great on face offs and played a quality checking line center role and his defensive numbers took a hit when he played briefly with Kessel and Lupul (1.658 GA20 in 48 minutes with Kessel vs 0.843 in 617 minutes apart from Kessel).  Once Randy Carlyle took over as coach Steckel saw his minutes increase significantly as he was bumped up into full time 3rd line center duty matching up against some of the oppositions top players.  He doesn’t have the offensive ability if you are looking to build a 3rd line that can also score, but as a defensive checking center I am happy with him in that role.

Matt Lombardi

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.900 1.293 1.410 0.700 1.097 0.920
HARD+ 0.689 0.898 0.896 0.979 0.804 0.877
HART+ 0.794 1.096 1.153 0.840 0.950 0.898

Lombardi, like Connolly, got bounced around a fair bit but he really didn’t show much in any role he was given.  His best years were when he was given a job as an offensive center on the top 2 lines but like Bozak and Connolly he won’t find that role with the Leafs.  Unfortunately like Connolly his contract may make him difficult to move but if you can you gotta let him go.

Colby Armstrong

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.449 1.274 1.118 1.214 1.160 1.078 0.980
HARD+ 0.784 0.823 0.948 1.016 0.812 0.877 0.926
HART+ 0.616 1.048 1.033 1.115 0.986 0.978 0.953

If Armstrong could ever get healthy and stay healthy he might actually be a useful player.  He has shown some offensive ability in the past and he can be a physical energy player which is something the Leafs desperately need.  Unfortunately his health is a big if.  I am not against having him on the Leafs next season but I would lump him with Lombardi and Connolly.  If you can move him, you do.  The Leafs really need to shed at least 2 of those contracts in order to free up cap space to fill the holes elsewhere.

Mike Brown

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.488 0.900 0.712 0.421 0.269 0.682 0.521
HARD+ 0.878 1.202 1.169 0.896 0.975 1.094 1.035
HART+ 0.683 1.051 0.941 0.659 0.622 0.888 0.778

Mike Brown has very little offensive ability, but he is defensively aware and is a guy who will throw his body around and stand up for his teammates.  He wasn’t a Ron Wilson type of player but I think you might see his role expanded a little under Randy Carlyle.  I am perfectly happy seeing him on the fourth line again next year.

Joey Crabb

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.063 1.139 1.058 1.046
HARD+ 0.977 0.969 0.808 0.995
HART+ 1.020 1.054 0.933 1.020

Joey Crabb deserves a lot of credit for really earning himself a roster spot.  He is a hard worker who will chip in offensively and seems to be at least reasonably defensively aware and perfectly capable of playing on almost any line as an injury fill in as needed.  I am not sure he is the kind of guy I’d write in as the permanent second line winger or permanent third line winger, but rather I’d continue to use him as he has been used the past couple seasons – the ideal 13th forward that actually plays a lot as he is the primary injury fill in regardless of which line the injured forward plays on though one could see him as a third line regular too.  He is a UFA but can probably be easily re-signed.

Nazem Kadri

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.093 0.741 0.836
HARD+ 1.595 1.436 1.469
HART+ 1.344 1.088 1.152

It sometimes irks me how Kadri gets criticized by Leaf management for not playing a complete game when a) so many other players on the roster do not seem to be expected to play to that same standard and b) statistically speaking he doesn’t appear to be a liability defensively.  It is time for the Leafs to give Kadri a full time role in the NHL and see what he can do.  Second line duy

Matt Frattin

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.001
HARD+ 1.020
HART+ 1.011

Frattin had a good rookie season as a defensively aware player who can chip in offensively from time to time.  I think he deserves full time 3rd line duty next year.

Jay Rosehill

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.159 0.628 0.899 0.463
HARD+ 1.318 0.569 0.653 0.832
HART+ 0.739 0.598 0.776 0.647

Yeah, he’s not good.  I’ll give him credit for his willingness to drop the gloves when asked to, but he is really a second rate fighter who can’t really get the job done as a player.

Colton Orr

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.507 0.749 0.405 0.225 0.688 0.398
HARD+ 1.375 1.129 0.815 1.018 1.234 1.054
HART+ 0.941 0.939 0.610 0.622 0.961 0.726

Colton Orr actually seems like he might not be a huge defensive liability, at least if you play him in a fourth line role under protected minutes.  We’ve probably seen the end of Orr on the Leafs but you never know.  I am pretty sure Burke will be looking for a heavy weight who can contribute to add to the roster, but failing that maybe Orr is the guy.  Wouldn’t shock me.

Where does that leave us?

So, with the player evaluations complete, where does that leave us as far as a roster goes.  Well, if I had my choice I would like to see the following lines next season:

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Lupul  ???? Kessel
MacArthur Grabovski Kadri
Kulemin  ???? Frattin
Brown Steckel Crabb

Hopefully one way or another are Connolly, Lombardi, and Armstrong are gone but that may be a tall order.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them gets bought out (Lombardi most likely) and if healthy maybe Armstrong can find a role on the team but realistically at least 2 of those contracts need to be shed if the Leafs are going to have the cap space to fill the holes at #1C and #3C.

For the #1 center role I would be looking for at least an established 60 point 2-way center, ideally with good speed and at least a little size and strength.  The #1 center hole is probably most likely to be addressed via trade as I don’t see that type of player in the free agent pool.  Travis Zajac has had a tough year with injuries but if the Leafs could somehow pry him away from the Devils I’d be more than happy with him in the #1C role.  He isn’t a big time offensive player, but has played a top line role with the Devils and knows how to play a defensively aware game and with the emergence of Adam Henrique and financial woes of Devils ownership they may be looking for a cheaper option than Zajac provides.  There is also the possibility of this years draft pick at some point becoming the #1C, but I think realistically we are at least a year or two away from that.

The #3C I would be looking for a solid defensive center with good speed and decent size and if he can contribute 30+ or so points that would be ideal.  With Kulemin and Frattin on the wings, both with good size and speed and some offensive ability and solid defensive awareness, you could have a perfect third line to match up against opposing top lines.  Jarrett Stoll is a UFA who might fit the bill, as might Paul Gaustad (he’d definitely add the size Burke is looking for).  Samuel Pahlsson  is also also a UFA and Burke and Carlyle are both very familiar with him, but at age 34 might be a bit older than they are looking for.

Notice that I have filled in all of the winger positions.  I am not against making a trade to improve at the wing positions by adding more size (most likely McArthur’s) but I’d only do so after filling in the holes at #1C and #3C. Furthermore, I really hope it is not Rick Nash as I think it will cost too much to acquire him I don’t believe he is as good as many think he is and his contract is long and very large.

Joe Colborne and Carter Ashton are two more young players who may need more development time but may challenge for a job or at least be injury fill-in candidates.  I didn’t see much from Ashton’s 15 games late in the season to tell me that he is ready for a regular job in the NHL and Colborne has had an up and down season with the Marlies.

Well, that is the Leaf forwards for you.  In my next post I’ll take a look at the defense and goaltending.


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