Dec 272011
 

So we found out over Christmas that Ron Wilson got his wish and got a new contract.  With that the onus of blame for any failures this Leaf team has now clearly falls on Brian Burke’s shoulders.  Specifically, I am talking about the Leafs horrid penalty kill.

Ron Wilson was one of, if not the, top paid coach in the NHL.  He is paid like one of the best coaches in the NHL and he was given a contract extension so clearly Brian Burke doesn’t believe Ron Wilson is the reason for the Leafs PK failures.

So, if Ron Wilson is not the problem it must be the players.  Clearly Burke believes the players are getting a good message from Ron Wilson so either the players have tuned Wilson out or they just don’t have the skill level to implement Ron Wilson’s PK plan.  If the players have tuned out Wilson you have two options, fire Ron Wilson or get new players who will listen.  Ron Wilson wasn’t fired and there is no indication that the players have tuned out Wilson or that Burke thinks a mass overhaul of the team is deemed necessary.  So, if it isn’t the coach and the players haven’t tuned out the coach then it must only be the talent level of the players.  These are Burke’s players so if they are a failure it is a problem created by Burke and Burke’s problem to fix.

This is Burke’s team now.  These are his players and his coach and everything to do with this team now has his stamp of approval.  Everything good, and bad, with this team is now Burke’s doing.  Burke talks confidence about this team and how it only needs tinkering but I don’t share that same optimism,  The team is clearly better and is a definite contender for a playoff spot but I wish I had more optimism that there is a viable path towards cup contender without major upgrades at several positions.

Dec 152011
 

Yesterday I took a look at the Leafs players on the PK to see who has seen good result and who has seen bad results when they have been on the ice.  Today I do the same thing but look at 5v5 situations from the defensive side of things to see if there is any consistency between 5v5 and the PK.

The Goalies

Player Name GAA SV%
JAMES REIMER 1.41 94.6%
JONAS GUSTAVSSON 2.58 91.3%
BEN SCRIVENS 2.82 90.6%

Interestingly, this is the exact opposite as we saw on the PK where Reimer had the worst save percentage and Scrivens had the highest.  We should have more confidence in these numbers so it is quite possible that Reimer’s poor results are primarily luck driven.  The question is, how much can he improve it?  Last year on the PK Reimer had an 85.6% save percentage which while is much better than this seasons 77.3% still is not good.  He ranked 34th of 40 goalies last season on the PK while he was 6th of 48 at 5v5.  Last year Reimer had a 93.3% 5v5 save percentage so he is actually better this season at 5v5.  Is it sustainable?  Time will tell.

The Defensemen

Player Name GAA FenA20
DION PHANEUF 2.40 12.11
CARL GUNNARSSON 2.25 12.24
CODY FRANSON 2.37 12.51
KEITH AULIE 4.50 12.74
MIKE KOMISAREK 2.34 13.38
JOHN-MICHAEL LILES 2.55 13.77
JAKE GARDINER 1.86 14.82
LUKE SCHENN 2.19 16.63

For those regular readers, I believe players can drive shooting percentages (especially) and suppress oppositions shooting percentages (less so) but we are below the threshold of where small sample size issues outweigh the benefits of doing a goal analysis over a fenwick/corsi analysis.  So, when ranking players defensively we should focus on fenwick (for now).

Ughhh.  While Schenn’s GAA isn’t the worst (it’s actually pretty good relative to his teammates) his fenwick against is awful.  Significantly worse than his teammates.  While Schenn has had a slight bias towards defensive zone faceoffs it isn’t enough so to justify this difference in fenwick against.  Liles, Franson and Komisarek had a higher percentage of defensive zone faceoffs and had better results.  Taking it to a league level, of the 166 defensemen with 250 minutes of 5v5 ice time this season Schenn ranks second last in fenwick against per 20 minutes.  Only Derek Morris of Phoenix is worse.  In the summer I wrote an article about how poor Schenn is defensively and there isn’t a lot in the numbers above to change my opinion any.

Phaneuf, Gunnarsson and Gardiner were the primary offensive zone players which explains in part why Phaneuf and Gunnarsson lead the list but also show that Gardiner still struggles defensively as is often the case with a rookie.  Hopefully, unlike Schenn, he’ll improve with experience.

The Forwards

Player Name GA20 FenA20
MIKE BROWN 1.62 10.36
COLBY ARMSTRONG 2.61 10.7
DAVID STECKEL 2.13 11.02
NAZEM KADRI 3.54 11.78
CLARKE MACARTHUR 2.76 11.79
PHILIPPE DUPUIS 0.81 11.83
JAY ROSEHILL 1.41 12.02
MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI 1.68 12.24
MATTHEW LOMBARDI 4.29 12.97
MATT FRATTIN 1.5 13.2
JOEY CRABB 2.64 13.32
TIM CONNOLLY 1.62 13.53
NIKOLAI KULEMIN 1.98 13.68
JOE COLBORNE 2.79 14.43
PHIL KESSEL 2.46 15.47
JOFFREY LUPUL 2.82 16.47
TYLER BOZAK 2.82 16.57
COLTON ORR 0 20.38

Kessel, Lupul, Bozak – score a lot of goals, give up a lot of goals.  The three of them have very high fenwick against relative to their teammates.  This isn’t unsual for offensive players (high risk, high reward), but the best players in the league find a way to accomplish both offense and defense (i.e. Datsyuk).  The second line of Grabovski, MacArthur and Kulemin seem much more defensively responsible, but surprisingly they have a higher percentage of offensive zone starts than the Kessel line so they should have better numbers, but maybe not to the extent they do.  Brown, Steckel and Dupuis do seem like pretty solid defensive players 5v5.  Those fenwick against numbers for those three are quite good relative to the rest of the team, and the rest of the league.

Overall the Leafs are a decent enough defensive team at 5v5.  Especially once you look past the Kessel-Lupul-Bozak line up front and Schenn (and to a lesser extent Gardiner) on defense.  For some strange reason though, that hasn’t translated very well to the PK.  Why they suck so bad on the PK is pretty dumbfounding.

 

Dec 102011
 

The Leafs have played 29 games so far this season, or just over one third of their season.  For the most part it has been relatively good start to the season.  Kessel has led the league in goals and points for most of the season, Lupul has been close behind, and the team has generally been fairly comfortably in a playoff spot.  But in reality, the Leafs are a long way from being a contender.

The teams offense has been quite good.  They are scoring goals at about a 3 goals per game pace which ranks them 6th in the NHL.  For the most part I think this is sustainable, especially if they can get healthy and Grabovski and Kulemin can get back to scoring.  The problem is, the Leafs continue to stink defensively and there are no real signs of this getting any better any time soon.  Their goals against average is 3.16 which is 4th worst in the NHL and is worse than last seasons 2.94 gaa.  Only Columbus, Ottawa and Carolina are worse this season and that is not a recipe for success in the NHL.  Yes, not having James Reimer for much of the season is a factor, but the problem has not just been goaltending.

Defensively this team is awful.  It’s been awful for years and there is no evidence that it will be anything but awful in the future without significant changes being made.  The penalty kill is second worst in the league, it was 3rd worst last season, and dead last in both 2009-10 and 2008-09.  The roster is completely different.  The goalies have been changed more than once.  The one constant during those four years has been the coach.  I have given Ron Wilson the benefit of doubt long enough.  Despite the teams record, we have not seen this team make any progress in the one area this team has the most room (and need) to improve.  It is time to fire the coach.

Now it is not all the coach.  The players need to take responsibility too and so does the general manager.  But we need to start with replacing the coach with a good defensive minded coach.  Everyone quickly jumps on the Randy Carlyle bandwagon but I am not convinced he is the guy for the job.  Generally speaking Anaheim hasn’t had a great PK team the past several seasons, but I am open to the idea.  I am actually open to anyone who can bring a fresh look and new defensive awareness to the team.  Once we get the coach in place it will be up to the players to improve.  If they can’t, it’s time to ship some of them out and get some players in who can.

Now I don’t expect any coaching change, if there is one at all, to occur until January (unfortunately), but the Leafs currently sit 4 points out of 12th spot and most of the teams behind them have games in hand.  They are 1-3-1 in their past 5 games and if they go 1-3-1 in their next five they may be out of a playoff spot.  Since November 3rd they are  6-8-2 and that is no where near good enough.  They only reason they look good is their 9-3-1 start.  Come January they could be a few points out of a playoff position.  Let’s hope they don’t wait too long to make a change.

You may be asking, why this post and why now?  Well, it started on Monday when the Leafs were playing the Rangers.  The Leafs got off to a 3-0 start before giving up two goals to the Rangers in the second half of the second period.  Entering the third period I had zero confidence that this team could maintain the lead and I got to thinking that that isn’t a very good reflection on the team.  From that point on I decide I would not consider the Leafs a quality team until I had relatively good confidence that they can maintain a lead.  The Leafs did manage to hold on to the lead and won the game, but they were out shot 12-7 in the third period and generally out played.  It did nothing to change my lack of confidence in their ability to hold a lead.  They have played two games since the Rangers game, one a 3-2 OT loss to the mediocre Devils and the second a 4-2 loss to the struggling Washington Capitals.  They combined to give up 6 powerplay goals in those two games.  These games they could have, and maybe should have, won if they only knew how to kill penalties.  This just reaffirmed to me that until this team learns to play defense and learns how to kill penalties, I cannot consider it a good team.

(End of Rant.  Enjoy your weekend and don’t worry, I’ll guarantee you the Leafs won’t give up any more PP goals this weekend.)

 

Aug 252011
 

A few weeks ago I questioned whether Luke Schenn was really a quality shut down defenseman as some believe and some people too exception to that.  Additionally, now that Lebda has been traded away the favourite defenseman whipping boy of Leaf fans seems to be Mike Komisarek.  Because of this, I decided we should conduct a comparison of the defensive ability of these two players to see if Leaf fans perceptions of these two players matches reality.

Schenn Komisarek
TOI 864:56 558:53
Goals Against per 20 min. 0.902 0.895
Opposition GF/20min. 0.767 0.757
HARD+ 0.810 0.840
Fenwick Against per 20min. 15.400 15.424
Opposition FenF/20min. 13.708 13.798
FenHARD+ 0.934 0.929
Def. Zone Face Off % 31.9% 37.8%

The above table shows all of the pertinent stats from the 2010-11 season for 5v5 close situations (close being teams are within 1 goal in first or second period or tied in third).  I have included both goal and fenwick based stats because I know some people prefer fenwick but in reality they tell pretty much the same story.

Last season when Luke Schenn was on the ice the Leafs gave up about the same number of goals against per 20 minutes (0.902 vs 0.895) and fenwick against per 20 minutes (15.400 vs 15.424) as when Komisarek was on the ice.  Schenn played against slightly tougher competition based on opposition goals for per 20 minutes while Komisarek played against slightly tougher competition based on opposition fenwick for per 20 minutes.  The end results were Komisarek had a slightly better HARD+ than Schenn (0.840 vs 0.810) but Schenn had a slightly better FenHARD+ (0.934 vs 0.929).  It should be noted that these ratings are quite poor for both players.

HARD+ and FenHARD+ take into account quality of teammates and competition, but they do not take into account zone starts.  For Komisarek, 37.8% of the faceoffs he was on the ice for were taken in the defensive zone while only 31.9% were in the defensive zone for Luke Schenn.  So, while all the other numbers are quite similar, the defensive zone face off percentage clearly means Komisarek faced tougher situations defensively than Luke Schenn.  I didn’t include the data above, but Schenn played with higher quality teammates than Komisarek (for example, Lebda’s #1 defense partner was Komisarek).

For interest sake, and to gain more confidence in the results, here are each players stats over the past 2 seasons.

Schenn Komisarek
TOI 1537:15 853:46
Goals Against per 20 min. 0.976 0.890
Opposition GF/20min. 0.751 0.759
HARD+ 0.783 0.853
Fenwick Against per 20min. 15.053 14.641
Opposition FenF/20min. 13.534 13.679
FenHARD+ 0.932 0.957
Def. Zone Face Off % 31.9% 35.7%

Over the past 2 seasons the edge is distinctly in Komisarek’s favour though in 2009-10 Komisarek had far fewer defensive zone faceoffs than last season (only 28.7%).  For the 2 years Schenn gave up more shots and goals per 20 minutes than Komisarek and faced weaker opponents (offensively at least) and had a much lower defensive zone face off percentage.

Based on the above, Leaf fans perceptions of Komisarek are pretty much true.  He has struggled defensively and hasn’t lived up to his contract or expectations but is also nothing to suggest that Luke Schenn has been any better at the defensive aspect of the game.  Schenn has just played more, not better.

Jul 202011
 

So I woke up this morning and started reading the usual morning news and blogs and one of the first ones I happened to read was an article at Maple Leafs Hot Stove on the Luke Schenn contract negotiations.  One comment early in the post really caught my attention.

While he may not be an offensive machine (I believe there is still some upside there), at 23, he has blossomed into one of the leagues best shutdown defensemen.

First off, Schenn is 21 not 23 but what really caught my attention is the assertion that he is one of the leagues best shutdown defensemen.  This isn’t an uncommon sentiment regarding Schenn, especially among Leaf fans.  There are a lot of people who believe Schenn has developed into a superior shut down defenseman, or at the very minimum is on track to becoming one.  The thing is, the stats don’t back that up.

2010-11 GA20 TMGA20 OppGF20 ExpGA20 GA20-ExpGA20
Tomas Kaberle 0.638 0.843 0.756 0.800 -0.162
Keith Aulie 0.745 0.845 0.780 0.813 -0.068
Dion Phaneuf 0.783 0.846 0.786 0.816 -0.033
Carl Gunnarsson 0.838 0.831 0.741 0.786 0.052
Luke Schenn 0.838 0.785 0.753 0.769 0.069
Francois Beauchemin 0.884 0.792 0.759 0.776 0.109
Mike Komisarek 0.994 0.782 0.740 0.761 0.233

The above table shows the most used defensemen for the Leafs last season.  Numbers are for 5v5 ice time.  GA20 is the players on ice goals against per 20 minutes.  TMGA20 is a defensive quality of teammates measure in goals against per 20 minutes.  OppGF20 is an offenwive quality of opponent measure in goals for per 20 minutes.  ExpGA20 is an expected goals against average based on quality of teammates and quality of opponents and is simply an average of TMGA20 and OppGF20.  The final column is GA20-ExpGA20 which tells us whether fewer or more goals were scored against than expected when the player was on the ice so negative values are better than positive values.  Note:  Kaberle and Beauchemin’s stats include their time with Boston and Anaheim respectively.

What it all means is Schenn was far from a good shutdown defenseman last year.  His defensive numbers are actually quite poor.  He didn’t play against especially tough opposition (especially compared to Phaneuf and Aulie) and had a very poor GA20.  Overall one could say he was a weak defensive defenseman.  Based on the numbers above, only Beauchemin and Komisarek were worse.  So how does he stack up against the rest of the leagues defensemen?  Lets take a look.

Season(s) GA20 Rank OppGF20 Rank HARD+ Rank CorHARD+ Rank
2010-11 0.838 122/163 0.753 94/163 0.888 121/163 0.922 142/163
2009-10 0.930 145/169 0.744 152/169 0.846 140/169 0.929 142/169
2008-09 0.971 152/159 0.774 44/159 0.818 143/159 0.870 156/159
2009-11 (2yr) 0.876 138/157 0.753 128/157 0.880 138/157 0.922 146/157
2008-11 (3yr) 0.907 161/169 0.762 123/169 0.868 154/169 0.930 160/169

The above table shows how Schenn compares to the rest of the defensemen in the league at 5v5 even strength ice time.  GA20 and OppGF20 are the same as above.  HARD+ is a composite defensive ranking that takes into account the players GF20 as well as defensive quality of teammates (TMGA20) and offensive quality of opponents (OppGA20).  CorHARD+ is similar to HARD+ but instead of using goal data to calculate it uses corsi data.  Personally I think this is somewhat meaningless but this is for those out there who put stock in corsi based stats.

As you can see, his 5v5 even strength defensive numbers range from bad to horrible, his quality of opponent is mediocre at best, his HARD+ rankings are quite poor, and his CorHARD+ rankings are even worse.  IT is really tough to find a compelling argument that Schenn is even an average defensive defenseman let alone one of the best shut down defensemen in the NHL.

His 4v5 PK numbers are even worse.  Of the 87 defensemen with 400 4v5 PK minutes over the past 3 seasons, Schenn has the highest (by a decent margin too) goals against per 20 minutes on the PK.  His 4v5 PK HARD+ rating is also the worst at 0.652 which is pretty atrocious.  His PK corsi numbers aren’t quite as bad, but are still below average (67th of 87 in corsi against per 20 minutes).

All in all it is really difficult to suggest that Schenn is even an average defensive defenseman.  He is certainly not among the leagues best shut down defenseman.

Now, with all that said, I am all for signing Schenn to a new 3 or 4 year contract in the $3-3.5M range.  He is a physical defenseman who blocks shots (as noted by the Maple Leaf Hot Stove article) and gives a good effort all the time.  It could be that he is just a little over zealous with the hits and blocked shots that he gets out of position a bit too often and just needs to learn when to take chances going for the hit or blocked shot.

Part of the problem is also that he was rushed to the NHL and put in a high pressure situation with a lot of expectations placed on him so we was never really given an opportunity to really learn the craft.  I really hope that with the addition of Liles and Franson and the further development of Aulie and Gunnarsson that some of the pressure comes off Schenn and he can take a bit of a step back and really learn the details of playing defense (maybe some new assistant coaches will help too).  Some good goaltending and team success will take some pressure off him as well.

Finally, as fans, I really hope we stop putting pressure on him to be one of the best shutdown defensemen today and one of the faces of the franchise and we begin to view him for what he really is: a young 21 year old defenseman with lots of ability and drive but with lots still to learn.  There really haven’t ever been many elite shut down defensemen at 21 years of age so we should stop expecting him to be that now and instead hope he can be that a year or three from now.

(Final note:  Strangely enough, Schenn’s on ice offensive numbers are actually reasonably good.  His 3 year on ice GF20 is 0.833 which ranks 44th of 169 defensemen and his HARO+ is 1.030 which is good for 42nd.  His 2 year numbers are even better.)

Jul 132011
 

Yesterday I described my player analysis method and used Brad Richards as an example.  Over the next little while I’ll apply my analysis method to a number of players so if there are any players you are interested in seeing my analysis for let me know.  First up is Tim Connolly.  The Leafs lost out on the Brad Richards sweepstakes so lets take a look at how Tim Connolly stacks up.

Let’s start off with a table of what I consider Tim Connolly’s most pertinent information – his 5v5 HARO+ (offense), HARD+ (defense) and HART+ (overall) ratings over the years.

Season(s) HARO+ HARO+ Rank HARD+ HARD+ Rank HART+ HART+ Rank
2007-11 (4yr) 1.171 18/310 0.985 152/310 1.078 31/152
2008-11 (3yr) 1.242 23/319 0.980 158/319 1.111 36/319
2009-11 (2yr) 1.169 67/319 0.975 170/319 1.072 85/319
2010-11 1.045 156/336 0.856 268/336 0.951 220/336
2009-10 1.289 32/338 1.082 100/338 1.185 34/338
2008-09 1.615 2/335 0.941 187/335 1.278 16/335
2007-08 1.322 38/328 0.974 159/328 1.148 55/328

Generally speaking Connolly’s offensive rankings have been well over 1.00 and ranking very highly among all forwards with at minimum 500 minutes of 5v5 time per season and his defensive rankings have been middle of the pack.

Based on Connolly’s offensive statistics he is legitimately a first line center though he has played against relatively weak defensive competition (232/310 in 4 yr OppGA20) as he has played behind Derek Roy in Buffalo.  Last year he played against somewhat tougher defensive competition than he did in 2008-09 and 2009-10 as Derek Roy was injured for more than half the season and he had his worst offensive (and defensive) season so that should be a bit of a concern for Leaf fans.  Still, one season is too short to draw any conclusions so it could just be an anomaly as well but it is something to watch for next season as he’ll likely be given top line duty in Toronto with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul and play against the oppositions better defensive players.

Of interest to Leaf fans who have suffered through several years of poor PP and PK play is Connolly’s special team numbers.  Over the past 4 seasons Connolly has been played a significant role on Buffalo’s power play and the results have generally been good (his 4 year 5v4 HARO+ rating is 1.169).  Connolly has also played a fair amount (about 100 min/season) on the Buffalo PK unit and his performance has been better than what one would expect from his 5v5 defensive numbers.  His 4-year 4v5 PK HARD+ rating is a more than respectable 1.196 so maybe he can play defense when is he trying to stop the opposition from scoring as opposed to trying to produce offense himself.

Based purely on his performance over the past 4 seasons it seems Connolly is a more than reasonable gamble as one could argue he has legitimate first line offensive capabilities and is at least middle of the pack defensively.  The big question of course with Connolly is his health.  Has has played just 48, 48, 73 and 68 games over the past 4 seasons.  The good news is he hasn’t had a significant concussion in several years and his injuries over the past couple of seasons have been non-serious in nature.  If he can be healthy enough to play 70+ games I think a year from now we could look back and say that Connolly was one of the better free agent signings of the 2011 off season, even with a $4.75M cap hit.

Jun 082011
 

Lance Hornby has an article this morning discussing a report from the New York Daily News that the Leafs are looking to make a trade for the rights to Brad Richards. Two problems with this:

1.  Just last week Brian Burke said “it wasn’t something we are in the process of looking at” (right at end of interview)

2.  Brad Richards agent Pat Morris over the weekend was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying Richards was not willing to waive his no trade clause and will almost certainly wait out June and become a UFA July 1st.

The second point is interesting because in the Lance Hornby article Mr. Hornby wrote:

If Dallas is trying to maximize compensation for Richards’ rights, he must first agree to waive his no-trade clause, a move that agent Pat Morris told the Daily News the Stars have not yet requested. Richards is also awaiting developments with the Stars and their ownership change.

The original New York Daily News article that Mr. Hornby referred two said Pat Morris hadn’t been asked to waive his no trade clause:

“The Stars have not asked Brad to waive his no-trade clause, and at this point in time, he has no intention of doing so,” agent Pat Morris told the Daily News Monday night when informed that a source had said a move to the Toronto Maple Leafs could be completed by the end of this week. “We’re still pointing toward July 1.”

Now it is a shame that Mr. Hornby chose to leave out the important fact that Morris indicated that Richards has no intention to waive his no trade clause at this time but the other interesting point is Morris being quoted as saying that the Stars have not asked Richards to waive his no trade clause.  This contradicts the Toronto Star article over the weekend where Pat Morris said the Stars asked Richards to waive the no trade clause and the request was denied:

“We’ve been asked by Dallas to (waive the no-trade). We’ve analyzed it and, to date, we’re not in the position to give any clearance on a trade,” said Richards’ agent Pat Morris on Saturday.

“In all likelihood, as we go through the remainder of June, we will not be doing so. It isn’t likely that Brad’s mind will change.”

So what is the real story?  Has Brad Richards been asked to waive his no trade clause and chose not to?  Who knows.

Jun 072011
 

As it stands right now the Leafs have six NHL experienced defensemen under contract and another three who are restricted free agents.  Assuming all three of the RFA’s get re-signed it leaves the Leafs with 7 defensemen, five of which will be regulars (Phaneuf, Schenn, Gunnarsson, Aulie and Komisarek) and two that are more along the lines of depth defensemen (Lebda and Lashoff).  Phaneuf and Schenn are the top two guys (though they may not end up playing together) and depending on where you see Gunnarsson and Aulie fitting into the mix the Leafs will be looking for a #3, #4 or #5 type guy.  Depending on how much they end up spending on a first line center, it is probably safe to assume they could allocate anywhere between $2-4M and there are enough UFA defensemen available that they can probably acquire what they want via free agency rather than have to resort to a trade.  Let’s take a look at some of the potential UFA defensemen the Leafs could have interest in.

Definitely Too Expensive

Christian Ehrhoff – Ehrhoff is definitely the top potential UFA defenseman.  The Canucks will definitely want to bring him back and if he ever made it to UFA status I am certain the Red Wings will throw some or all of just-retired Rafalski’s money at him.  Ehrhoff is in line for a $6M paycheck and as much as I would like to see him in a Leaf uniform, he is probably out of the Leafs budget so lets take a look at some of the other free agent defensemen.

Probably too Expensive

Kevin Bieksa – Bieksa really had a breakthrough season this year, particularly in his own zone and he ended the season at +32, tops on the Canucks, and is a +9 in the playoffs, again tops on the Canucks.  His +32 in the regular season trailed only Chara’s +33 among defensemen but Bieksa was +32 in just 66 games.  Bieksa is probably a good 2-way second pairing defenseman but his excellent season might push his salary demands beyond what he deserves (unless this past season is the new norm for him which is unlikely) and out of the Leafs budget.

James Wisniewski – Wisniewski started his career with the Chicago Blackhawks and he just seemed like he was that typical #5/6 guy.  He was a decent enough player who did a number of things well but not necessarily a core guy, but when he was given an opportunity to play a more prominent role with the Ducks, and then with Islanders and Montreal his offensive numbers really jumped and he was a strong PP performer.  He’d probably really help the Leafs PP but there will be enough demand for his services that he’ll probably cost more than the Leafs can afford.

Joni Pitkanen – Pitkanen is one of those guys who had #1 potential but never really took the next step and instead has had a career that some might consider a disappointment because he never really reached his full potential.  Pitkanen is a better offensive guy than a defensive guy and would be a nice fit on the Leafs PP unit.  He earned $4M last season and is probably in line to earn about the same on his next contract which makes him probably out of the Leafs budget and I think he’ll be happier staying in a non-hockey market like Carolina.

Continue reading »

May 262011
 

The biggest hole in the Leafs lineup that GM Brian Burke has been trying to fill for a couple of summers now is the first line center role and that hole in the lineup still exists and needs to be addressed before the Leafs can be serious playoff contenders.  Tyler Bozak was given a chance and failed (though it was probably overly optimistic to expect him to be that level of player) and the hopes of getting a top center in a Kaberle trade also did not pan out (though Colborne is a fine center prospect and may be a quality center a few years from now).  High first round draft pick Nazem Kadri is another option but as of yet hasn’t developed into that level of player.  That said, if nothing changes Kadri is the guy penciled into that role but that wouldn’t be an ideal situation entering the 2011-12 season.  Not only is that putting a lot of pressure on Kadri (who has enough on his shoulders already)  but some within the organization have suggested Kadri might be better suited as a winger than a center.  Regardless of the reason, Burke is desperately in search of a true, established first line center.  Let me take a look at a few of the options.

The only real first line center option in the unrestricted free agent market is Brad Richards.  At 31 years of age he probably has at least 4 or 5 really good seasons left in him and he is a very good playmaker and overall offensive player and likely be a significant boost to the woeful Leafs power play but he is a liability defensively which is a concern for me.  The question is, what are you willing to pay for him as there will be ample competition for his services from Dallas, the NY Rangers and probably others.  Since Burke is against handing out long term deals more than 5 years it may cost Burke 5 years at $8-8.5M per season to get Richards signed.  The Leafs have the cap space to do it, but should they commit that much to Richards?  Would you? Personally, I think if you can get him for $8M or less you do it.  Anything more is getting a bit rich.

The other option for filling the first line center hole is through trade.  Two teams that I can think of that are deep at center and may be (or need to be) looking to make changes are the Flyers and the Sharks.  The Flyers have depth at center, very little cap space, would like to re-sign Ville Leino (but would be at a significant increase in salary) and need to spend some money improving their goalie situation as well (Vokoun?).  They have Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux who have or can play center.  I’d love to see a Jeff Carter or James van Riemsdyk in a Leaf uniform but van Riemsdyk is still on a cheap rookie contract so doesn’t really solve the Flyers money issues and Carter has one of those long term deals that Burke doesn’t like to hand out.  Briere would probably be available and not cost much but his cap hit is $6.5M for four more seasons and he’ll be turning 34 around the time the 2011-12 season starts so he isn’t really someone I see Burke being interested in.

San Jose just suffered another playoff disappointment at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks so one has to wonder if they finally bite the bullet and make a significant change to their core group of forwards.  They have Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and my rookie of the year pick Logan Couture as players able to play the center position and all are capable of being first or second line centers.  Of the four, Pavelski might be the most ‘available’ but he is also probably the least suitable as a first line center so I am not sure the Sharks are an ideal trading partner for a center.

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May 242011
 

This is the first of several posts I will dedicate to what I expect the Leafs will do this upcoming off season.  In this post I outline where the Leafs are at now and what holes need to be addressed over the summer months.

The Leafs ended the 2010-11 season on a high note being backstopped by solid goaltending from James Reimer and an improved offense including significant offensive contributions from Dion Phaneuf for the first time in a Leaf uniform and Nazem Kadri among others.  This late season surge has given Leaf fans renewed optimism entering the 2011-12 season but before we get to the 2011-12 season we need to take a look at what the Leafs might do during the summer and before we get to that lets take a look at the team that finished the season.  After all the trades made at the trade deadline, this is the lineup that finished the 2010-11 season.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Joffrey Lupul Nazem Kadri Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur* Mikhail Grabovski Nikolai Kulemin
Fredrik Sjostrom** Tyler Bozak* Colby Armstrong
Colton Orr Tim Brent** Mike Brown
Jay Rosehill** Darryl Boyce** Joey Crabb**
Defense Defense
Dion Phaneuf Luke Schenn*
Keith Aulie Carl Gunnarsson*
Mike Komisarek Matt Lashoff*
Brett Lebda
Goalie
James Reimer*
JS Giguere**
Jonas Gustavsson

*Restricted Free Agent

**Unrestricted Free Agent

There are essentially 6 restricted free agents that need to be re-signed and an additional 5 unrestricted free agents that decisions need to be made on.

Restricted Free Agents

James Reimer – Maybe the most important RFA to be re-signed is James Reimer.  In Reimer the Leafs hope to have finally found a true #1 goalie but as of yet Reimer can’t claim to be that having only started 35 NHL games.  I expect Reimer to get a similar deal to the one Gustavsson signed (2 years at 1.35M/year) after his first season in the NHL in which he started 39 games.  Now Reimer performed better so might deserve a little more but I think 2 years at $1.5M/year is reasonable.

Luke Schenn –  If Reimer isn’t the most important RFA to be re-signed, Luke Schenn is.  The question is, what is he worth?  The New York Rangers re-signed Marc Staal to a 5 year deal at an average salary of $3.975M per season last summer.  It could be argued that Staal is a better defenseman than Schenn but the difference would not be great so I’ll suggest that $4M/year is an upper limit on Schenn at this point in time.  I think Schenn’s contract will probably come in around $3.5M/year on a three year deal or a more Staal-like $4M/year deal if the contract length was 5 years.

Carl Gunnarsson – I like Gunnarsson as a defenseman and he has done some really good things in his brief NHL career.  He has good long term upside but as of right now is still not yet proven.  I think a fair price for him is a 2 year deal at $1.25M/year and lets see what he can do in a full time, possibly top four, role.

Clarke MacArthur – I wrote an article a month or so ago on the progression of the Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line in which I suggested that MacArthur might not have as much value as we think.  Brian burke was listening to trade offers on MacArthur at the trade deadline and I think he will continue to do the same, especially if MacArthur is asking for $3M/year type money.  I personally don’t think he is worth that.  He isn’t that great defensively and while he was important as a playmaker for Grabovski and Kulemin, I don’t consider him someone that isn’t easily replaced and I think Kadri might be good replacing MacArthur on the wing if the Leafs manage to find a proven #1 center.  If he is asking for much more than $2.0M/year I’d seriously consider trading him.

Tyler Bozak – I am not quite sure what to make of Bozak yet.  He has some offensive skill, but not good enough to be a first line center.  He has shown some ability defensively and on the PK but his defensive ratings are still quite poor (HARD+ of 0.816 over past 2 seasons is actually pretty bad) but he is the Leafs best faceoff guy (54.6%) and I think the potential is there that he can be a solid 2-way third line center.  As such I would like to see him re-signed and see if he can excel in that role.  A fair value might be a 2 year deal at somewhere around $1-1.25M/yr, certainly no more.

Matt Lashoff – I liked what I saw from Lashoff in his short time with the Leafs at the end of last season.  In limited ice time over the past 4 seasons he has a weak 0.611 HARO+ rating but a very solid 1.288 HARD+ rating.  I’d like to see him as the #6/7 defenseman and see what he can do.   He has good size and skates well and as a former first round pick was once highly thought of.  He might be one of those guys that just needs to be given a chance and he’ll be cheap so why not.

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