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.

 

 

Apr 122012
 

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.

 

Apr 102012
 

Just listened to the Brian Burke press conference and I have to say it was a whole lot of nothing.  I’ll give Burke this summer to make some changes but based on that press conference I don’t have a lot of confidence in his assessment of the team.

He talked a lot about how everything was fine with the club on February 6th before things unexpectedly fell apart.  Well, in reality it wasn’t that unexpected.  They had a good record from January 1st through February 6th but in that stretch only 6 of their 15 games were against teams that ended up in the playoffs.  Their next 17 games consisted of 12 against playoff teams and 5 against non playoff teams.  It isn’t a shock that they had a good January and a poor February/March.  It the start of March I wrote about the Leafs dreadful record against good teams.  It isn’t rocket science and it bothers me that Burke is willing to use the Leafs ability to beat bad teams in January as a reason for optimism.  On December 10th I wrote that the Leafs are a long way from being good so this isn’t just a pessimistic view after a late season tailspin.

The other things that disheartened me are some of the reasons for optimism.  One was that the second line showed signs in the second half that they may be able to return to their ‘career year’ levels of 2010-11.  Well, that is all fine and dandy, but last time I checked the Leafs missed the playoffs that year as well so hoping some players can match their level of play during that season is not a sign for optimism, but a sign of desperately looking for something to hope for.  As for Kulemin, in his 4 NHL seasons he has had 31, 36, 57 and 28 points.  Now tell me which one is not like the other?  Is it realistic that Kulemin can be a perennial 25 goal, 55 point guy?  Could be, but the evidence to support that thus far in his career is pretty thin.

Brian Burke also had the guts to point to Carter Ashton’s play at the end of the season as a sign of hope.  Sorry, but Carter Ashton had zero goals, zero assists, zero points and was a -10 in his 15 games as a Leaf.  If that is a sign of hope then the Leafs situation is far worse than even I believe.  Maybe Ashton will end up being a good top six forward in the NHL, but you wouldn’t conclude that based solely on those 15 games.

The same goes for Matt Frattin.  Now I actually like Frattin and I think he might be a useful player, but Frattin isn’t going to turn this team around.  He is probably no better than a 3rd line player.  The Leafs problems are not going to be fixed by the development of Matt Frattin into a quality 3rd liner.

There are really only two really good things to happen to the Leafs this year.  The first is how well Kessel and Lupul played together offensively and the second is what Jake Gardiner managed to do as a rookie in the NHL.  Overall I am really disturbed that Burke seems to have the attitude that this team is a good team that unexpectedly fell apart down the stretch because to me they still need significant improvements in all facets of the game.

Over the next week or two I will be discussing the Leaf situation in more detail grading the players and looking at what the Leafs need to do to get things moving in the right direction.

 

Mar 302012
 

As we approach the end of the 2011-12 NHL regular season there will be a lot of analysis and looking back at the past seasons for the Leafs and then looking forward to the off season and beyond but before I get into that, I wanted to reflect how Leaf fans were feeling just one short year ago.

A good starting point for that reflection would be Michael Langlois’ “10 reasons why Leaf fans can feel either encouraged or discouraged” post.  Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for optimism Michael pointed out and how we might feel about them now because I think this time last year more Leaf fans were optimistic than pessimistic.

1. The team, as currently configured, has become a team that is hard to play against.  There are very few teams that are ‘out of reach’ for the Leafs, especially in the East where there is so much parity and talent-thin rosters everywhere.

Tough to play against?  Hardly.  Few teams that are ‘out of reach’ for the Leafs?  Hardly.  The Leafs have a dreadful record against good teams and there are few teams that they can actually expect to beat on a regular basis.

2. For the first time in 20 years, the Leafs have a young goalie who has emerged, with the mental make-up to handle the adversity that he will no doubt face next season and beyond.

Umm, yeah, maybe not.

3. A young defense corps with four emerging players all 26 and under—Schenn, Phaneuf, Aulie and Gunnarsson, with gardiner perhaps waiting in the wings before too long.  There is an almost ideal mix of skating skill, toughness and puck-moving ability.

Well, Gardiner has developed nicely, but Schenn has regressed (from a not very good starting point), and Aulie has been traded away.  And while we can talk about their skating skill, toughness, and puck moving ability, one thing the majority of them have lacked thus far is defensive ability.  Despite the youth, it is pretty difficult to suggest the defense has progressed at all, despite adding Liles and Franson to the mix.

6.  Nazem Kadri appears poised to take that next step, whether as a front-line center or, as Wilson has projected, a winger.  As importantly, he is no longer seemingly the “only” young guy who is in a position to take steps forward as early as next season.  The team is now filled with youngsters, so if one guy steps back or falters, there are others standing by to jump in and compete

Well, Kadri hasn’t taken that next step and it doesn’t appear management has even enough confidence in him to give him a reasonable opportunity to do so.  The team “filled with youngsters” is now the team “filled with youngsters failing to deliver.”  Aulie didn’t show enough to management and got traded.  Kadri hasn’t shown he can take the next step.  Colborne has had an up and down year…with the Marlies.  The only guy who has really taken his opportunity and ran with it is Gardiner.  More and more now we are starting to divert our attention to the next wave of prospects, Blacker, Holzer, McKegg, newly acquired Carter Ashton, etc.

7.  The team should be in a good position, cap-wise, heading into free agency this coming summer.

We don’t know how much the salary cap will rise next year but the Leafs have nearly $58M in cap space committed with Kulemin, Frattin, and Franson to sign as RFA’s.  Cap space will depend on Burke’s ability to trade away some salary or his willingness to dump salary in the AHL.  There isn’t a lot of free cap space available to fill holes in the lineup, and there are plenty of holes to fill.

8.  The re-built Leafs are now one of the youngest (second-youngest, is it?) teams in the NHL.

Their players are a year older now, and very few of them have progressed any.  Plus, it is a bit of a myth that the Leafs are young.  Mostly they are lacking of old players.  The majority of their roster is between age 25 and 30, the prime of their careers.  It’s difficult to suggest that Phaneuf, Lupul, MacArthur, Grabovski, Connolly, Lombardi, Gunnarsson, Kulemin, Komisarek, Crabb, Brown, Steckel, or Liles will improve with age.  More likely the majority of them will regress over the next couple seasons.  Even Kessel is probably approaching his peak and after 4 seasons of being in the League Schenn isn’t showing any signs of improvement.  Any improvement from this team is likely to be coming from external sources (trades, free agent signings, new prospects coming up) and not from natural progression.

To me the most disappointing thing about this season is while a year has gone by very little progress has occurred with the Leafs in any area.  The team is still searching for a goalie (or two), the team is still playing poor team defense, the team still lacks a true shut down defenseman, the team still lacks a #1 center, the team still lacks a dependable checking line, the team still lacks size up front, the team still doesn’t know what they have in Kadri and Colborne (they gave up on Aulie), and we have even less cap space to work with this  upcoming off season (not that any key free agents will view the Leafs as a desirable destination anyway).  In all honestly, I am finding very few reasons for optimism heading into the off season and looking forward to the 2012-13 season.  To me, you do what you can this off season to rid yourself of as many useless players as possible (if at all possible), try and find a reliable goalie, add a few role players to provide some size, experience and defensive reliability, and next season you use it as a true building season by inserting Colborne, Kadri, Ashton, Frattin, Holzer, maybe the guy we draft with a top 5 pick, and maybe others into the lineup and see what they can do.  At least we’ll have guys in the lineup that have a realistic hope of progressing and being around in 3-5 years when the Leafs might actually contend again.  Then we can get serious about free agents in the 2013 off season when the contracts of Connolly, Lombardi, MacArthur, and Armstrong come off the books.

Just to end on a positive note, let me point out three positives that occurred this season:

1.  Jake Gardiner.  He looks really good.  It’s still early in his career, but all signs point to him having a very promising future as a puck moving defenseman.

2.  Joffrey Lupul.  I know a lot of Leaf fans are pointing to Kessel, but the real key to the Leafs offense in my mind is Lupul.  He has overcome his previous health issues and is back, despite his late season injury.

3.  Mikhail Grabovski has shown that his 2010-11 season was no fluke and he is one of the few Leafs that actually seems to care about winning.  I don’t think he is a top line center, but he plays a hard and determined 2-way game (despite his size) and it’s only unfortunate unfortunate more Leafs don’t follow his lead.

 

Mar 022012
 

A lot has been made about Joffrey Lupul’s “career year” this year and some Leaf fans are even suggesting that now is the time to trade him while his value is at an all-time high.  While it is true that he is on pace for career high in goals and points I would like to suggest that this is not because he is having a ‘career year’ but that he is being given greater opportunity.  He has always been this good and there is no reason to expect that he cannot repeat this years performance next season.

When I analyze a player I like to look at “on-ice” stats because I believe a player can contribute to a teams success without generating individual goals and assists.  But, since on-ice stats are teammate dependent I like to look at how his teammates do with and without the player on the ice with him.  So, let’s look at some of Lupul’s linemates 5v5 close faceoff adjusted goals for per 20 minutes with and without Lupul over the past 5 seasons.

Year Teammate Together TM w/o Lupul % Inc w/ Lupul
2011-12 Kessel 1.418 0.789 79.7%
2011-12 Bozak 1.068 1.268 -15.8%
2010-11 Bozak 0.979 0.718 36.4%
2010-11 Kessel 0.989 0.769 28.6%
2008-09 Hartnell 1.61 0.659 144.3%
2008-09 J. Carter 1.627 0.73 122.9%
2007-08 M. Richards 1.718 0.683 151.5%
2007-08 Umberger 1.915 0.631 203.5%
2007-08 Briere 1.061 0.536 97.9%

The above table includes all players Lupul has played 100 minutes of 5v5 close ice time with over the past 5 seasons including their GF20 together and Lupul’s teammates GF20 when not playing with Lupul.  The final column is how much better the teammates GF20 is playing with Lupul compared to without Lupul.  As you can see, in every single season Lupul has made his linemates significantly better offensively.  This is a good thing.

So, why are Lupul’s individual offensive numbers so much better this year?  A lot of it has to do with greater opportunity and the most important factor in opportunity is ice time.   Let’s take a look at Lupul’s even strength goal production over the past 5 seasons and compare it to his even strength ice time.

Year ES TOI ES G Min. bt goals
2011-12 984:59 17 57.9
2010-11 688:23 10 68.8
2009-10 299:05 10 29.9
2008-09 1039:42 19 54.7
2007-08 744:47 13 57.3

The “Min. bt goals” column is the average number of minutes that he spent on the ice at even strength between his even strength goals.  As you can see, this season is pretty much on par with what he has done in the past.

Another interesting thing to look at is his on-ice shooting percentage in 5v5 close zone start adjusted situations.  Over the past 5 seasons, starting with 2007-08, they are 14.04%, 12.05%, 9.09%, 11.64%, and 13.73%.  These are exceptional numbers, and among the best in the league.  I know not everyone believes in shooting percentages but I believe they are an integral component of producing offense.  As a result, a corsi-based analysis of Lupul will fail to show his true offensive value.

So, in conclusion, Lupul’s offensive production this season is not an anomaly, it is his ice time that is the anomaly.  He has almost as much even strength ice time this year than he has ever had and he has capitalized on it at more or less the same rate as he has in the past.  He is on pace for 32 goals this season and there is no reason to believe that he can’t be a 30 goal scorer next year as well.  The Leafs shouldn’t be considering trading Lupul this summer but rather they should be re-signing him to a long-term deal before his value really sky rockets in 2013 after putting up back to back 30+ goal, 70+ point seasons.

 

Mar 012012
 

I wanted to take a look at the Leafs record against various other types of teams so I took a variety of stats and looked at their records against the top 10 teams, the middle 10 teams and the bottom 10 teams in that stat.  Here is what I found.

Top 10 Middle 10 Bottom 10 Top 10 Middle 10 Bottom 10
GAA 5-9-2 11-10-4 13-9-1 61.5 85.3 96.3
GFA 5-14-1 13-6-4 11-8-2 45.1 107.0 93.7
GFA/GAA 6-11-2 7-11-4 16-6-1 60.4 67.1 117.7
SOG/Game 6-13-2 11-10-3 12-5-2 54.7 85.4 125.2
SOG Ag/Game 10-6-4 10-10-0 9-12-2 98.4 82.0 71.3
SOG/SOGAg 5-8-5 14-14-1 10-6-1 68.3 82.0 101.3
Save% 6-9-2 10-14-2 13-5-3 67.5 69.4 113.2
Sh% 10-11-2 9-9-3 10-8-2 78.4 82.0 89.1
PDO 8-13-1 8-8-4 13-7-2 63.4 82.0 103.1
PIM 10-14-0 12-5-5 7-9-2 68.3 108.1 72.9
Points/Game 7-10-4 7-13-2 15-5-1 70.3 59.6 121.0

The first three columns are the Leafs record against those teams and the last three columns are the expected point totals the Leafs would accumulate over 82 games making it a little easier to compare groups.

The group the Leafs play the worst against are teams that have a good goals for average (5-14-11, 45.1 points) followed by teams that generate a lot of shots per game (6-13-2, 54.7 points).  In other words, the Leafs play really poorly against teams that have good offenses.  A bad defense against a good offense is a killer combination.

They don’t play as bad against good defensive teams but they still do poorly.  Against teams that are really good in goals against average  they have a 5-9-2 record, good for 61.5 point pace.  Interestingly though they do quite well against teams that don’t generally give up many shots against (10-6-4, 98.4 points) and do much worse against teams that give up a lot of shots against (9-12-2, 71.3 points).  Not sure why this is as teams that do give up fewer shots do have better records.

The most telling stats might be the Leafs record against teams with the best GFA/GAA, SOG/SOGAg, PDO and Points/Game as these might be the best evaluators of a teams overall ability as they combine both offense and defense.  The Leafs 82 point pace against the top 10 in those stats are 60.4, 68.3, 68.3 and 70.3 respectively while their 82 point pace against the bottom 10 teams in those stats are 117.7, 101.3, 103.1 and 121.0respectively and their 82 point pace against the middle 10 in those stats are 67.1, 82.0, 82.0 and 59.6.  In other words, they are bad against good teams, still sub-par against middle of the road teams, and quite good against the worst teams in the league.  So from that we can probably deduce that the Leafs are probably ranked near the top of the bottom 10 teams in the league, or in around 21-23 league-wide.

Finally, the one category I was interested in was the Leafs record against big physical teams (since the Leafs are generally small at the forward position) and I used PIMs as a proxy for this.  The Leafs record against the top 10 teams in PIMs is 10-14-0 good for a 68.3 point pace.  Against the middle 10 they play at a 108.1 point pace and against the bottom 10 they play at a 72.9 point pace.  Interestingly, they play the worst against teams that don’t take many penalties and the best against teams in the middle.  I am not sure what this tells us other than maybe the least penalized teams are probably the teams that give up the fewest powerplay opportunities against and the PP is, generally speaking, one of the Leafs strengths.  The middle group are probably not big physical teams that fight a lot but are teams that take a lot of bad penalties and give up a lot of short handed opportunities that the Leafs can capitalize on.

 

Feb 282012
 

I was somewhat disappointed in the lack of Maple Leaf moves made during yesterday’s trade deadline.  Not because Burke didn’t trade for anyone who can help us make the playoffs this year (though I though a trade for Ben Bishop would have been a useful gamble both short and long term) but because he didn’t do more to set up this team for the long term.  From my perspective this team is unlikely to make the playoffs this season and even if they do there is little chance they will win a round.  Their defense and goaltending is bad at best and physical defense oriented teams have the ability to shut down the Leafs offense.  The Leafs overall have a dreadful record against playoff teams.  So, Burke had an opportunity to take a team that had very little to be optimistic about this season and set it up for a better future.

Forwards

The way the team is currently set up we have the following group of forwards:

Kessel-Bozak-Lupul
MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin
Lombardi-Connolly-Frattin
Brown-Steckel-Armstrong

The six players I have listed in bold are the only six players that I believe have a chance to be on this team playing the same roles they are currently in 2-3 seasons when the Leafs really should plan on having a competitive team.  And even with those six players Brown and Steckel are not core players and may or may not be kept around and Frattin still has to prove himself.  Let me address some of the guys I haven’t listed in bold.

Bozak – I kind of like Bozak, but lets be honest, he is not a first line center and he especially isn’t a first line center between Kessel and Lupul.  Neither Kessel nor Lupul are quality defensive players nor exceptionally big and putting a small and weak defensive center between them that doesn’t have elite level offensive skills is just not a recipe for success.  It’s possible that Bozak could be a second line center with the right wingers but if we are giving the second line role to Grabovski he doesn’t fit there.  He isn’t good enough defensively to be a third line center so I have a hard time to see where he fits in long term.

MacArthur – MacArthur is the left wing version of Bozak.  He has some nice offensive skills but really isn’t much more than a 50 point one-dimensional player.  He isn’t big, doesn’t play big, isn’t anything to write home about defensively.  He is a nice place holder until we get something better but nothing more.  I don’t see MacArthur playing a significant role on a Stanley Cup contender.  He just doesn’t bring enough of a complete package to play a significant role on a contending team.

Kulemin – Being realistic and setting last seasons career year aside, Kulemin is probably a defensively responsible 15 goal, 35 point player.  While he is no doubt a useful 2-way player he is probably more suited for a 2-way third line role.

Connolly – I like Connolly and I think on the right team with some big wingers he can be a quality second line center but he is really just a place holder on this team and probably doesn’t have a long term role in Toronto.

Lombardi – Lombardi was just acquired as a way to get Cody Franson and has no long term role in Toronto.

Armstrong – If Armstrong could stay healthy I think he can be a useful player.  Unfortunately he cannot stay healthy.

So, looking forward I think this could be the lineup when we are ready to compete including the holes we are looking to fill.

Kessel-????-Lupul
????-Grabovski-????
Frattin-????-Kulemin
Brown-Steckel-????

Needed are a first line center, preferably one with size and a defensive presence.  Two second line wingers, preferably at least one with good size to offset Grabovski’s smallish stature.  A 2-way third line center who can kill penalties.  At least one fourth line role player.

The plan, I presume now, is that at some point Colborne can be plugged into the first line role and Kadri and newly acquired Carter Ashton can be plugged into the second line winger roles.

The question I have is, why couldn’t we have started this process right now?  Speculation is that first round draft picks were offered for both MacArthur and Kulemin.  Would it really have hurt this team that much to have flipped MacArthur for a first round pick and seen what Kadri could do on the second line for the remainder of the season?  Kadri hopefully has a long term role with the Leafs, I am not certain MacArthur does.  With the Leafs ever get another chance to flip MacArthur for a first round pick?  I am not so sure.  The price for players was extremely high yesterday (see Gaustad, Paul) and I don’t think you get a first round pick for MacArthur in the summer.  Same goes for Kulemin, though I do think Kulemin could have a long term role with the Leafs, just not necessarily as a regular top six forward.  Wouldn’t it be nice going into this summers draft with two or more first round picks and the opportunities that provides either in drafting quality prospects for the future or packaging them in a trade?  Wouldn’t it be nice going into this summer with some kind of indication as to whether Kadri is ready for a regular role the NHL?  I can argue the same for Bozak.  If Bozak could have been flipped for a draft pick or a prospect, wouldn’t it have been nice to see if Colborne is ready for regular NHL duty?

I realize it is tough for Burke to admit to fans that this is more or less a lost season from this point on, but I don’t really think fans would be unhappy had he traded away Bozak and/or MacArthur and/or Kulemin and/or others for first round picks and prospects and said “we thought that we had a playoff team that could possibly even scare someone in the first round but it has become clear that the group was not coming together as expected so we decided to make some changes and give some of our quality prospects a chance to show they will be ready for the NHL next season.”  Some fans might be angry that they have on some level ‘given up’ on the season but I think the majority of them will see that as being far more realistic than what Burke actually said: “we still believe in this team.”

So, as far as I am concerned, yesterday was a lost opportunity to trade away some players that may not (or probably do not) have a long term future with the Leafs (MacArthur in particular) while the prices were as high as they may ever be for those players.  It is also a lost opportunity to give some NHL ready prospects such as Kadri and Colborne an opportunity to show their abilities at the NHL level.  Instead have to watch a bunch of guys who won’t be with the Leafs when they are ready to be serious contenders fail to make the playoffs and generally continue to disappoint with their underwhelming performance.  Mediocrity without optimism is not fun to watch and lets be clear, this team is mediocre and there aren’t many players on the team we can be optimistic will be better a year or two from now.  They are what they are and there isn’t much hope this group will get any better.

 

Feb 222012
 

Looking at this chart, I think only Lightning fans can sympathize with the torture that Leaf fans have suffered through with regards to their goaltending, but at least the Lightning have made the playoffs a few times and even had some success.

Update:  For interest sake, here are the post lockout shooting percentages and PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage).


 

 

Jan 182012
 

Brian Burke joined the Leafs in November of 2008.  When he joined the Leafs he insisted he has no interest in a 5 year rebuild and expected he could make the team competitive much sooner.  Let’s evaluate how Burke has done in his tenure as GM of the Maple Leafs.

2007-08 2011-12
GAA 3.08 (27th) 3.03 (27th)
SV% 89.3 (29th) 90.1 (24th)
GFA 2.74 (11th) 2.98 (6th)
PP 17.8% (15th) 20.6% (4th)
PK 78.0% (30th) 74.4% (30th)
Points 83 (12th in east) 89 (projected, 9th)

Their overall offense is slightly better but their defense is the same sad defense we had prior to Burke.  They are in the playoff hunt this season, but they are a dismal 13-15-3 in their last 32 games and showing little signs that if they can somehow squeak into the playoffs they can threaten to win a round.  They have just 7 wins against teams currently in the playoffs and the only playoff team they have defeated since December 5th is the Detroit Red Wings.

Up until recently I have been a supporter of Brian Burke but to be perfectly honest he is growing weary on me.  Yes, the team is younger, but no, it is not very much better.  Yes, there is greater prospect depth, but I am doubtful any of them have the potential to become game changers in the NHL (i.e. dominant core players).  He seems to think he has one of the best coaches in the NHL and gave him a contract extension but he also has talked recently about how he thinks his team is a playoff team and is only a player or two away from seriously challenging to be a top team that can make a lengthy playoff run.  He loves to talk about how the Phaneuf trade changed the franchise around, but since the Phaneuf trade the Leafs are just 72-62-19 or the equivalent of an 87 point team.  In the 6 seasons post lockout 87 points would get you 11th, 12th, 11th, 11th, 10th, and 10th.  I don’t know about you, but I am not satisfied with a 10th-12th place team, or even a 9th place team.

Other Leaf fans like to talk about how young this team and the rebuilding process isn’t complete (despite Burke insisting he had no interest in a 5 year rebuild) but lets look at their ages and experience.  I have included the top 18 skaters in total ice time this season and top 2 goalies.

Player Age GP
Dion Phaneuf 26 515
Carl Gunnarsson 25 155
Phil Kessel 24 419
Joffrey Lupul 28 494
Jake Gardiner 21 38
John-Michael Liles 31 557
Luke Schenn 22 275
Nikolai Kulemin 25 278
Mikhail Grabovski 27 284
Tyler Bozak 25 155
Tim Connolly 30 660
Clarke MacArthur 26 328
David Steckel 29 351
Cody Franson 24 171
Matt Frattin 24 38
Joey Crabb 28 111
Mike Komisarek 29 492
Matthew Lombardi 29 473
James Reimer 23 55
Jonas Gustavsson 27 88

Only Gardiner, Schenn and Reimer are under age 24.  The majority of the team is aged 24-26 with a few players in their late 20′s and Liles topping out at 31.  There are 12 players with 250+ games experience and 7 with 400+ games experience and only 4 players (both goalies, Frattin and Gardiner) have fewer than 100 games experience.  This isn’t a team filled with rookies with little or no experience, it is a young team but with a fair bit of NHL experience with the majority of players in their prime years or just entering their prime years.  Am I really expected to buy into the fact that this mediocre team of 24-29 year olds will suddenly become a great team of 26-31 year olds 2 years from now?  I am not so certain.

Furthering that challenge is that Grabovski, Liles and Gustavsson are UFA’s after this season and after next season Connolly, Lupul, Lombardi, MacArthur, Armstrong, Bozak, and Steckel are UFA’s.  That is 7 of your top 13 skaters in terms of ice time becoming UFA’s over the next 2 summers plus a handful of others.  This doesn’t appear to be a core of players that can win now and a good chunk of the core could walk away as free agents should they choose to.

All this begs the question, where do the Leafs go from here?  Do they stick with this core, re-signing the UFA’s and hope for the best, or do they admit that this completely revamped (from 3 years ago) team is only marginally better, still can’t keep the puck out of their own net, and may in fact need another significant overhaul?  And if it is the latter, should we leave that up to Burke?  To be fair, it is probably too early to pull the plug on this current Leaf team but from my perspective if Burke insists the problem is not the coach and the mediocrity continues, I am not sure how much longer we Leaf fans should wait.

 

Jan 152012
 

Not sure what led me to look into this but I took a look at poor defensive teams making the playoffs in the eastern conference.  Over the past 3 seasons there have been just 6 teams to make the playoffs in the eastern conference with goals against averages greater than 2.80.  They are:

  • Tampa Bay Lightning (2010-11):  2.80
  • Ottawa Senators (2009-10): 2.80
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (2009-10):  2.82
  • Montreal Canadiens (2008-09): 2.88
  • Washington Capitals (2008-09):  2.89
  • Ottawa Senators (2007-08): 2.92

Over the past 4 seasons there have been a total of 26 teams with gaa’s above 2.80 and just 6 of those made the playoffs (37.5%).  There have been 18 teams with gaa’s above 2.90 and only one team (the 2007-08 Senators) made the playoffs (5.6%).

What is interesting is that right now there are currently 4 teams in eastern conference playoff spots with goals against averages above 2.80.

  • Washington Capitals: 2.85
  • Philadelphia Flyers:  2.90
  • Toronto Maple Leafs:  3.03
  • Ottawa Senators:  3.07

There are actually only 6 teams in the eastern conference with GAA’s under 2.80 so at least 2 of them over 2.80 would have to be in the playoffs.  Those under 2.80 are the Bruins, Rangers, Penguins, Canadiens , Panthers and Devils.  If history is any indication that means Pittsburgh should be able to climb back into the playoff picture and who knows, maybe there is hope for the Canadiens (wouldn’t bet on it though).  But regardless, it appears there will be a few teams making the playoffs in the eastern conference with gaa’s above 2.80, and maybe even one or two above 3.00.  The only eastern teams to make the playoffs with a gaa above 3.00 post lockout are the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2006-07 (3.11 gaa) and 2005-06 (3.07), Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 (3.11) and Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06 (3.04) but offense was significantly higher in those seasons.  Particularly in 2005-06 when only 5 teams had sub 3.00 gaa’s in the east, all making the playoffs.

I should also point out that of the teams that made the playoffs with a GAA above 2.80 in the past 4 seasons, both Ottawa teams missed the playoffs the following season, Tampa is certain to do so this season and Montreal squeeked into the playoffs in 2009-10 with just 88 points, the lowest point total for a playoff team post lockout.  Bad defensive teams don’t generally see much success and should they achieve some it is seemingly not a positive predictor of future success.