Apr 172012
 

Last week I took a look at the Leafs forwards, today I’ll take a look at their defense and goaltending.  As with the forwards, I’ll evaluate the defensemen using their 5v5 zone start adjusted HARO+, HARD+ and HART+ ratings but with goalies I will evaluate them using their 5v5 zone start adjusted HARD+ rating and save percentage.  I have included the past 5 individual seasons as well as the most recent 3 year rating and 5 year rating.  Personally, I like to use 3 year ratings as the best guide for player value as it gives a large sample size but not too large that other factors come into play for most players (i.e. aging and natural career progression).

Dion Phaneuf

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.975 1.083 1.023 1.355 1.125 0.996 0.955
HARD+ 0.866 1.069 0.941 0.741 0.972 0.969 0.928
HART+ 0.920 1.076 0.982 1.048 1.049 0.983 0.942

Phaneuf had a bit of an off year this year, particularly in the second half.  Both his offensive HARO+ and defensive HARD+ ratings are down from previous seasons.  Generally speaking over the years Phaneuf has been a good offensive player and more of an average defensive player over the several years.  He does seem to contribute quite well on the powerplay so if I had to define his role, he’d be an ideal #2/#3 defenseman on a good team who is relied upon heavily on the powerplay.  It is my opinion, he is not a top #1 defenseman and most good teams in the NHL have at least one defenseman better than Phaneuf, often significantly better.  Unfortunately this means he is significantly over paid at $6.5M/yr and his actual worth is probably more in the $5M/yr range.

John-Michael Liles

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.884 1.035 1.011 0.909 1.145 0.957 0.848
HARD+ 0.848 0.860 1.090 0.847 0.952 0.909 0.916
HART+ 0.866 0.948 1.051 0.878 1.049 0.933 0.882

Liles offensive numbers really took a dip this year as he never really got his game back on track after returning from injury.  Before he suffered  his concussion he had 21 points in 34 games but after his return he had just 6 points in 32 games.  Taking that into account, Liles is an above average offensive player but an average to below average defensive player.  He is good on the powerplay but unlike Phaneuf not quite as reliable in defensive situations.  Liles is probably a #3/#4/#5 defenseman depending on the makeup of the team.

Luke Schenn

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.165 1.083 1.204 0.924 1.117 1.121 0.940
HARD+ 0.713 0.878 0.912 0.792 0.808 0.844 0.837
HART+ 0.939 0.981 1.058 0.858 0.963 0.982 0.888

I have been extremely critical of Schenn’s defensive game over the years, but surprisingly he has been very solid offensively in 5v5 situations.  If you compare Schenn’s 5v5 point totals to Phaneuf’s and adjust for ice time they are awfully close.  Unfortunately Schenn’s defensive game is dreadful and it took a step back this season.  Of the 161 defensemen with 2000 5v5 zone start adjusted minutes over the past 3 seasons, Schenn ranks 151st.  Schenn is a perfect example of a young defenseman who was rushed to the NHL and asked to play under a coach that isn’t known for defensive structure and his development suffered.  I really hope that Randy Carlyle who is much more of a defensive structured coach than Ron Wilson can turn Schenn’s defensive game around because if he can Schenn could provide the Leafs with a lot of value as a #3/#4 defenseman for many years to come.  If Schenn can’t improve his defensive game he offers very value going forward.

Carl Gunnarsson

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.967 1.004 1.221 1.007
HARD+ 0.989 0.856 0.969 0.952
HART+ 0.978 0.93 1.095 0.980

Gunnarsson is one of those defensemen who quietly goes about his business and gets the job done.  He is a perfect low maintenance top 4 defenseman who can generate offense when needed but can also be used in more shutdown situations when needed as well.  He and Phaneuf played quite well together for much of the season in both offensive and defensive roles.

Mike Komisarek

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 0.900 0.965 0.800 1.069 1.109 0.876 0.850
HARD+ 0.676 0.743 1.022 0.945 0.923 0.788 0.875
HART+ 0.788 0.854 0.911 1.007 1.016 0.832 0.862

A lot has been written about the fall off of Mike Komisarek’s game so there isn’t a whole lot more to add.  His defensive numbers over the past couple seasons have been dreadful.  Unlike Schenn, I am not even sure if we can hope he will turn his game around under a more defensive structured coach.

Cody Franson

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.074 1.057 1.299 1.094
HARD+ 0.917 1.391 1.625 1.264
HART+ 0.996 1.224 1.462 1.179

It was a bit of an unfortunate season for Cody Franson as he went from a regular role in Nashville to bouncing in and out of the lineup with the Leafs.  In Nashville he was paired mostly with more defensive minded and physical Shane O’Brien and his defensive numbers were extremely good, albeit against somewhat weak competition.  When he came to Toronto I wanted to see what he could do if given a more significant role, particularly defensive role feeling he had been typecast as an offensive specialist.  Unfortunately he was never given that opportunity as when he was in the line up he was paired with Liles or Gardiner.  It should be noted though, that he did make them both better defensively.  When Liles was not with Franson his GA20 was 1.116 but with Franson it was 0.639.  When Gardiner was not with Franson his GA20 was 1.056, when with Franson it was 0.782.    His .917 HARD+ was second best on the Leafs (to Gunnarsson) and I think he deserves to considered an option in more defensive situations.

Jake Gardiner

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARO+ 1.277
HARD+ 0.809
HART+ 1.043

Jake Gardiner had an outstanding rookie season impressing everyone with his offensive skills anchored by strong skating and puck handling abilities.  As with most rookies his defensive game still needs growth, but if he continues to develop his offensive game he has the potential to be an elite offensive defenseman.  On the season he had 30 points in 75 games but had 21 of those 30 points in the 40 games after January.  Although it is just half a season, those are impressive point totals for a rookie defenseman.  His future is extremely promising as an offensive defenseman.

On the whole, the Leafs have a pretty good set of defensemen and you can argue that Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Liles, Gardiner, and Franson can all be top 4 defensemen on good teams and Schenn has that potential if he can improve the defensive side of his game.  Unfortunately as a group the mix is all wrong.  There is no true #1 defenseman, there is no true defensive shut down pairing, and there are far too many one-dimensional offensive defenseman and a number of them are over paid for their contribution.  There is a lot of youth, but not a lot of veteran leadership (or coaching) to provide defensive guidance to these young players.  Furthermore Schenn was needlessly rushed to the NHL and not given proper instruction and I feel Franson has been unfairly typecast as a uni-dimensional player and thus have not gotten optimal return for his talents.  They need to jettison the contract of Komisarek one way or another (trade unlikely so buyout a possibility).  If they can’t develop Schenn into a shut down defenseman, they need to ship him out and find someone who can fill that role.  It would be nice if they could get better value out of the $6.5M they are paying Phaneuf but I don’t know how they accomplish that.  Related to Phaneuf, they really do need an elite #1 defenseman but with their salary cap restraints I don’t see how you do that this off season though I think there is reason to hope/believe that maybe Gardiner can (may) develop into that role (or at least into a poor mans Scott Niedermayer or Brian Rafalski type) so maybe it is worth waiting and seeing.

Now on to the goaltending.

Jonas Gustavsson

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARD+ 0.808 0.803 0.903 0.850
Save% 89.2 89.7 90.4 89.8

Gustavsson wasn’t very good as a rookie, and has gotten worse since.  At this point there is very little reason to believe he will ever be a reliable starter in the NHL and you even have to question whether he can be a reliable backup except behind elite starters where he is only relied on to play in 20 games.  He won’t be back with the Leafs.

James Reimer

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2009-12 (3yr) 2007-12 (5yr)
HARD+ 0.898 1.035 0.991
Save% 90.6 92.7 91.7

It was a bad season for Reimer, getting injured early and maybe never really fully getting back on track.  I don’t think this season is enough reason to give up hope on him becoming a quality starting NHL goalie but I am a long way from suggesting he is the “Real Deal” as Brian Burke did in his year end press conference.

The Leafs need to add a quality experienced and reliable veteran goalie to support Reimer in his development.  It’s unfortunate they didn’t figure this out last season because they could have signed a guy like Jose Theodore who had a very good season in Florida and would have been a perfect fit for the Leafs.  This off season Vokoun could be an option but he is getting up there in age and has shown signs of slowing down the past couple seasons.  Josh Harding is a little younger and has been a quality backup for several years in Minnesota but has not proven he can handle starters duties (never had more than 34 games played) if needed so there is a level of risk with him.  Otherwise you are looking at second tier starters aged 35 and up or career backups, none of which are very appealing to me so they may have to go the trade route but I have no clue who might be available.