Back in November I wrote about the Toronto Maple Leafs theoretical problems vs their real problems. This was in response to the criticism the Leafs fourth line and third pair defensemen were receiving.
A few days ago Dom Luszczyszyn wrote about the Leafs and how the fourth line and third pair defensemen are a problem for the Leafs. Specifically he pointed the finger at Matt Martin, Ben Smith, Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick as the problem. I don’t know exactly how Dom came up with those names but it is interesting to note that as I write this those four players have the worst 5v5 CF% on the Leafs among players with 100+ 5v5 minutes.
I went on to write that the guys that Luszczyszyn pointed out were actually the Leafs best defensive players despite their poor Corsi statistics which I assume formed the basis for Luszczyszyn’s identification of these players. I wrote that Luszczyszyn was identifying theoretical problems (i.e. poor Corsi would eventually lead to poor goal results) but the real problems were not these players but rather the players that were actually having poor results at the team. Swapping out Polak who had good results even if you think they were all luck for Corrado wasn’t going to lead to improved results.
Of course this led to a strong (and reasonable though I still disagree) defense from Luszczyszyn and others. People were insisting that they would regress because that is what Corsi and xGF and whatever other models they were using were telling them.
Back in December I tweeted that Hunwick and Polak were still putting up good numbers to which James Mirtle stated that they hadn’t played 30 games so it is too early.
@hockeyanalysis yet? They’ve played 30 games or less. No one said it would even out by then.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) December 31, 2016
I tried to get James to specify how long I’d need to wait for regression to kick in but got no response. This is of course a problem. Predicting regression isn’t really predicting anything if you are unable to predict when it will occur. In any event I figure as these guys are approaching 60 games maybe we would start seeing some regression. For that matter, lets look at the Leafs defensemen’s statistics since I wrote that initial post on November 26th.
Polak and Hunwick still have the best GA/60 among defensemen on the team and their GF% are well above 50%.
Looking at this another way, here is a chart of their pre/post November 26th statistics.
Polak and Hunwick were the best before November 26th and have been the best since November 26th as well. In fact the best news is that Leafs defense overall has gotten much better. Every defenseman on the team has improved their GA/60, most of them fairly significantly, except for Morgan Rielly.
This brings me to Morgan Rielly. Morgan Rielly is a problem for the Leafs. Almost certainly the biggest problem for the Leafs. Yes he has some offensive skill, but defensively he has been a massive liability. Rielly has a 5v5 GF% of 44.4% this year. His defense partner Zaitsev is at 47.4%. Every other Leaf defenseman is 50% or above with Hunwick at 54.7% and Polak at 53.6%. Despite this there are still calls for Polak to get benched.
Would be nice if he could take Polak’s place once Carrick’s back.
— Draglikepull (@draglikepull) February 26, 2017
Roman Polak is not the problem on the Leafs. Roman Polak in no way deserves to be removed from the Leafs line up. Roman Polak has performed admirably well with the Leafs under Mike Babcock.
|Leafs w/ Polak on Ice||2.24||1.98||53.0|
|Leafs wo/ Polak on Ice||2.23||2.67||45.5|
Morgan Rielly on the other hand has been terrible.
|Leafs w/ Rielly on Ice||2.17||3.00||41.9|
|Leafs wo/ Rielly on Ice||2.27||2.23||50.5|
Roman Polak is a theoretical problem for the Leafs because theoretically he should be worse based on his Corsi. However Morgan Rielly is the real problem for the Leafs. Morgan Rielly is playing poorly and has a cap hit ($5M for 5 more years) which could be a burden when the Leafs are truly set to contend for a Stanley Cup. For that matter, if instead of Rielly the Leafs had a true #1 defenseman they might actually be able to contend this year.
Yes, I get that Rielly is only 22 (23 in a couple weeks) and I get that Rielly has by far the toughest minutes on the team. I get all that, however if your best are getting slaughtered by your opponents best there is almost no way you can compete for a cup. It just won’t happen.
Morgan Rielly is a better offensive defenseman than Luke Schenn but there are many parallels between Rielly and Schenn. Both were 5th overall draft picks that came to the Leafs with a lot of hope and optimism. Both performed reasonably well (at least from most fans perspective and the ice time they were given) when they first entered the league. Both secured good long-term contracts after their entry level deals expired. Unfortunately when they transitioned to tougher minutes both failed miserably as shut down defensemen. There is more to Rielly’s game than Schenn’s so he’ll still have some value but in my opinion his value tops out at a second pairing defenseman with somewhat sheltered minutes. If that is his role one must ask if he is a worth his $5M contract.
What to do with Rielly and who will be their #1 defenseman is almost certainly the biggest question that Leaf management will have to tackle going forward. How they answer this question could be the difference between whether the Leafs become serious cup contenders or just good wannabe contenders. Roman Polak is just an unwarranted and unnecessary distraction.