Apr 122013
 

The Toronto Maple Leafs shooting percentage has been predicted to fall for a couple of months now but it has held steady. I know that about 5-6 weeks ago the Leafs 5v5 shooting percentage was at 10.4% and I predicted it was sure to fall but as of this morning their 5v5 shooting percentage is even higher at 10.59%. Here is a graph of their 5v5 shooting percentage through out the season.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2012-13 Shooting %

Toronto Maple Leafs 2012-13 Shooting % (shots across x-axis)

League average 5v5 shooting percentage is normally just shy of 8% and the Leafs are about 33% higher than that which is incredibly high. Over the previous 5 seasons only one team has maintained a 5v5 shooting percentage above 10% over the course of an 82 game season and that was the Washington Capitals in 2009-10 when they shot at a 10.39% clip and only a handful of teams have managed to post a 5v5 shooting percentage above 9%. What the Leafs are doing is quite extraordinary even if it is a shortened season. Only 13.4% of the running 50 shot shooting percentage data points in the above graph fall below the typical league average of 8% so about 86.6% of the time they are at or above average in shooting percentage.

The only other team with a 5v5 shooting percentage above 10% this season is the Tampa Bay Lighting but they have been falling back a bit lately and in danger of falling below the 10% line as they currently sit at 10.01%.

Barring a collapse the Leafs should almost certainly end the season with a shooting percentage above 10% but it is difficult to know how much of it is luck/circumstance/randomness and how much is truly skill.

 

Apr 052013
 

Yesterday HabsEyesOnThePrize.com had a post on the importance of fenwick come playoff time over the past 5 seasons. It is definitely worth a look so go check it out. In the post they look at FF% in 5v5close situations and see how well it translates into post season success. I wanted to take this a step further and take a look at PDO and GF% in 5v5close situations to see of they translate into post season success as well.  Here is what I found:

Group N Avg Playoff Avg Cup Winners Lost Cup Finals Lost Third Round Lost Second Round Lost First Round Missed Playoffs
GF% > 55 19 2.68 2.83 5 1 2 6 4 1
GF% 50-55 59 1.22 1.64 0 2 6 10 26 15
GF% 45-50 52 0.62 1.78 0 2 2 4 10 34
GF% <45 20 0.00 - 0 0 0 0 0 20
FF% > 53 23 2.35 2.35 3 2 4 5 9 0
FF% 50-53 55 1.15 1.70 2 2 1 10 22 18
FF% 47-50 46 0.52 1.85 0 0 4 3 6 33
FF% <47 26 0.54 2.00 0 1 1 2 3 19
PDO >1010 27 1.63 2.20 2 2 2 6 8 7
PDO 1000-1010 42 1.17 1.75 1 0 5 7 15 14
PDO 990-1000 47 0.91 1.95 2 1 3 4 12 25
PDO <990 34 0.56 1.90 0 2 0 3 5 24

I have grouped GF%, FF% and PDO into four categories each, the very good, the good, the mediocre and the bad and I have looked at how many teams made it to each round of the playoffs from each group. If we say that winning the cup is worth 5 points, getting to the finals is worth 4, getting to the 3rd round is worth 3, getting to the second round is worth 2, and making the playoffs is worth 1, then the Avg column is the average point total for the teams in that grouping.  The Playoff Avg is the average point total for teams that made the playoffs.

As HabsEyesOnThePrize.com found, 5v5close FF% is definitely an important factor in making the playoffs and enjoying success in the playoffs. That said, GF% seems to be slightly more significant. All 5 Stanley Cup winners came from the GF%>55 group while only 3 cup winners came from the FF%>53 group and both Avg and PlayoffAvg are higher in the GF%>55 group than the FF%>53 group. PDO only seems marginally important, though teams that have a very good PDO do have a slightly better chance to go deeper into the playoffs. Generally speaking though, if you are trying to predict a Stanley Cup winner, looking at 5v5close GF% is probably a better metric than looking at 5v5close FF% and certainly better than PDO. Now, considering this is a significantly shorter season than usual, this may not be the case as luck may be a bit more of a factor in GF% than usual but historically this has been the case.

So, who should we look at for playoff success this season?  Well, there are currently 9 teams with a 5v5close GF% > 55.  Those are Anaheim, Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago, San Jose, Toronto and Vancouver. No other teams are above 52.3% so that is a list unlikely to get any new additions to it before seasons end though some could certainly fall out of the above 55% list. Now if we also only consider teams that have a 5v5close FF% >50% then Toronto and Anaheim drop off the list leaving you with Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver as your Stanley Cup favourites, but we all pretty much knew that already didn’t we?

 

Mar 152013
 

A few people didn’t like that I suggested that Jay McClement was a bad player in yesterday’s Mikhail Grabovski post so I thought I would provide a visual representation of McClement’s  mediocrity in the form of 5v5 Zone Start adjusted CF% WOWY charts for each of the past 6 seasons (this season included).

Let’s start with this current season even though the sample size is relatively small and so the number of line mates with a reasonable number of minutes with McClement is relatively small.

McClementCFPctWOWY201213

In this chart, it is better for McClement to have the bubbles below and to the right of the diagional line indicating his teammates corsi for % improved when they were on the ice with McClement. As you can see, none did.

So, what about previous seasons?

Continue reading »

Mar 142013
 

Mikhail Grabovski is starting to get a little heat in Toronto. The other night against Winnipeg he benched for a good chunk of the game and people are starting to question what is wrong with Grabovski this season. Truth is, there is probably nothing wrong with Grabovski except for his line mate Jay McClement.

When one looks at Grabovski’s stats this season you will actually see that his 5v5 Goals/60 is actually up this year to 0.946 goals per 60 minutes of play from 0.895 last year and 0.924 the year before so his 5v5 goal production is certainly there. It is his assist totals that are down dramatically. The problem is his most frequent line mates are Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement and Leo Komarov, none of which are dynamic offensive players. McClement has never scored more than 12 goals in any season in his career and Kulemen had a 30 goal season in 2010-11 but never more than 16 otherwise and has just 9 goals in his last 97 games and Komarov is a rookie not known for his offensive ability. You can’t expect Grabovski, who probably isn’t a dynamic playmaking center to start with, to rack up a lot of assists with a pair of third line players on his wing.

On top of that, Jay McClement is actually a pretty bad hockey player. When the Leafs signed McClement in the summer I questioned the signing because he had terrible numbers in Colorado the previous 2 seasons.  In fact, over the past 2 seasons in Colorado and St. Louis he was 4th last in the league in 5v5 ZS Adjusted goals against per 20 minutes (sadly ahead of only Kessel, Bozak and Lupul). He also ranked 230th of 258 in terms of fenwick % over those 2 years. This season he is last on the Leafs in zone start adjusted fenwick % at a terrible 41.1%.

On top of McClement being pretty bad, the player McClement replaced on that line, Clarke MacArthur, is pretty good. MacArthur has the best fenwick % on the Leafs this season and in the 58:11 of 5v5 ice time he and Grabovski played together this year they had a corsi % of 57.1% while Graobovski has been at 41.7% when separated from MacArthur. Last season when Grabovski and MacArthur played together they were at 56.0% and when Grabovski was without MacArthur he was at 50.9%. In 2010-11 Grabovski’s corsi% was 55.3% with MacArthur and 47.0% without.

In summary, there is nothing wrong with Grabovski. It is the coach that took a good player who had very good ‘chemistry’ with Grabovski off Grabovski’s line replacing him with at best a mediocre 3rd liner to go with the other 3rd liner on his other wing. Maybe when Lupul comes back Carlyle will be forced to put a real top 6 winger on the Grabovski line and then people will stop asking “What is wrong with Grabovski?” but until then, blame Jay McClement (with a primary assist to Randy Carlyle).

 

Mar 122013
 

Yesterday I posted an article on comparable players to Tyler Bozak so today I thought I’d tackle the Maple Leafs other key free agent forward, Clarke MacArthur. As with Bozak, I first looked at the offensive stats Goals/60, FirstAssists/60, Primary Points/60 and Primary Points % (percentage of goals scored while on the ice that the player had a goal or a first assist on). Here is a list of offensively comparable wingers:

Player Name G/60 FirstA/60 PPts/60 PPts%
TLUSTY, JIRI 1.094 0.501 1.595 53.01%
PERRON, DAVID 0.991 0.521 1.512 55.75%
MACARTHUR, CLARKE 0.979 0.513 1.492 55.20%
SYKORA, PETR 0.916 0.593 1.509 56.01%
MOULSON, MATT 0.898 0.647 1.545 54.44%
SIMMONDS, WAYNE 0.891 0.563 1.454 59.61%
PARISE, ZACH 0.875 0.533 1.408 58.74%
OKPOSO, KYLE 0.867 0.591 1.458 59.71%
MALONE, RYAN 0.844 0.619 1.463 53.06%
MCGINN, JAMIE 0.796 0.703 1.499 57.10%
PARENTEAU, PIERRE 0.659 0.931 1.59 59.42%

The above list was selected for similar PPts/60 and PPts% to MacArthur and then sorted by G/60 and identifies the most comparable offensive players to MacArthur. McGinn and Parenteau are not the goal scorers of MacArthur and the others so probably deserve to be dropped from the list.

As an aside, it is quite hilarious to think that the Minnesota Wild have committed nearly $100M over 13 years to Parise when Parise’s best offensive comparable the past year+ is Kyle Okposo. The Wild better hope Parise gets back to his 2008-09 and 2009-10 form when he scored 83 goals and 176 points over that 2 year period or else they are spending a ton of money for a second tier winger.

So, what about defensively? In the Bozak article, to evaluate players defensively I looked at their corsi against per 20 minutes relative to their teammates corsi against per 20 minutes and suggested any players that improved their teammates corsi against is probably a decent defensive player. Here is how that comparison looked for MacArthur.

Player Name CA20 TMCA20 CA20/TMCA20
MACARTHUR, CLARKE 18.634 19.686 0.947
PARENTEAU, PIERRE 18.782 19.269 0.975
PARISE, ZACH 15.671 15.904 0.985
SYKORA, PETR 14.741 14.567 1.012
MOULSON, MATT 19.445 19.112 1.017
MCGINN, JAMIE 19.053 18.678 1.020
OKPOSO, KYLE 19.398 18.983 1.022
PERRON, DAVID 16.821 16.247 1.035
SIMMONDS, WAYNE 19.346 18.558 1.042
MALONE, RYAN 19.422 18.539 1.048
TLUSTY, JIRI 20.576 19.400 1.061

The list is sorted by CA20/TMCA20 and the lower the number the greater they improved their teammates corsi against rate. In this list, MacArthur comes out on top which is a suggestion that he is probably a good defensive player, or at minimum not a defensive liability. Since Perron, Parise and Sykora have significantly better defensive teammates it is more difficult for them to improve their teammates CA20 so I am not convinced that MacArthur is better than them, but MacArthur’s defensive numbers look good.

So, with that in mind, what is MacArthur worth? Ignoring the Zach Parise comparison, he is probably worth in the $3-4M/yr range. Matt Moulson is in the middle of a 3 year deal worth a little over $3.1M/yr. Okposo is in the second year of a 5 year RFA deal paying him $2.8M/yr. Wayne Simmonds signed a long term extension at just shy of $4M/yr. Parenteau signed as a UFA in Colorado for 4 years at $4M/yr. David Perron signed an RFA deal that pays him an average of just over $3.8M. Ryan Malone is in the middle of a contract that is paying him $4.5M/yr.

For me, I would like to see the Leafs sign MacArthur to a 4 year contract extension, preferably in the $3.5-4M/yr range. That would be a fair contract for both sides.

Feb 212013
 

Over the past few years I have had a few discussions with other Leaf fans about the relative merits of Francois Beauchemin. Many Leaf fans argue that he was a good 2-way defenseman who can play tough minutes and is the kind of defenseman the Leafs are still in need of. I on the other hand have never had quite as optimistic view of Beauchemin and I don’t think he would make this team any better.

On some level I think a part of the difference in opinion is that many look at his corsi numbers which aren’t too bad but I prefer to look at his goal numbers which have generally not been so good. So, let’s take a look at Beauchemin’s WOWY numbers and see if there is in fact a divergence between Beauchemin’s corsi WOWY numbers and his goal WOWY numbers starting with 2009-11 5v5 WOWY starting with CF% WOWY.

Beauchemin200911CFWOWY

I have included a diagonal line which is kind of a ‘neutral’ line where players perform equally well with and without Beauchemin. Anything to the right/below the line indicates the player played better with Beauchemin than without and anything to the left/above they played worse with Beauchemin. As you can see, the majority of players had a better CF% with Beauchemin than without. Now, let’s take a look at GF% WOWY.

Beauchemin200911GFWOWY

While a handful of players had better GF% with Beauchemin, the majority were a little worse off. There is a clear difference between Beauchemin’s CF% WOWY and his GF% WOWY. What is interesting is this difference can be observed in 2007-08, 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12 (he was injured for much of 2008-09 so his WOWY data is not reliable due to smaller sample size). Looking at his 5-year WOWY charts you get a clear picture that Beauchemin seemingly has a skill for ‘driving play’ but not ‘driving goals’. Let’s dig a little further to see if we can determine what his ‘problem’ by looking at his 2009-11 two year CF20, GF20, CA20 and GA20 WOWY’s.

CF20:

Beauchemin200911CF20WOWY

GF20:

Beauchemin200911GF20WOWY

As you can clearly see, Beauchemin appears to be much better at generating shots and shot attempts than he is at generating goals. The majority of players have a higher corsi for rate when with Beauchemin than when not with Beauchemin but the majority also have a lower goals for rate. What about ‘against’ rates?

CA20:

Beauchemin200911CA20WOWY

GA20:

Beauchemin200911GA20WOWY

For CA20 and GA20 is is better to be to be above/left of the diagional line because unlike GF%/CF%/GF20/CF20 it is better to have a smaller number than a larger number. There doesn’t seem to be quite as much of a difference between CA20 and GA20 as with CF20 and GF20 so the difference between CF% and GF% is driven by the inability to convert shots and shot attempts into goals as opposed to the defensive side of the game. That said, there is no clear evidence that Beauchemin makes his teammates any better defensively.

There are two points I wanted to make with this post.

  1. Leaf fans probably shouldn’t be missing Beauchemin.
  2. For a lot of players a corsi evaluation of that player will give you a reasonable evaluation of that player but there are also many players where a corsi evaluation of that player will not tell the complete story. Some players can consistently see a divergence between their goal stats and their corsi stats and it is important to take that into consideration.

 

Feb 162013
 

Ok, let me justify that headline a little before people get all over me.  He isn’t completely terrible as in he shouldn’t be in the league terrible.  He’s just a terrible first line center, and probably not a very good second or third line center either (at least not until he improves defensively). He’d be an OK 4th liner and injury fill in depth player at close to minimum salary. Let me explain.

The last 2 seasons Bozak has mostly played with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul became his second winger when he joined the Leafs. Those are two pretty solid wingers to play with so lets look at Bozak’s production with those two solid players.

I want to compare Bozak to other top 9 players and conveniently if we look at all forwards with 1250 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past 2 seasons we come up with 270 players which is precisely an average of 9 per team, or 3 lines per team. So, how does Bozak rank among these players?

So, despite playing predominately with first line players his individual offensive stats are at a 3rd line level.

So, what about PP situations?  There are 169 forwards with 250 5v4 PP minutes over the previous two seasons while Bozak has played 417:28 which puts him among the top 65 forwards in the league. How has Bozak fared?

Think about that for a minute.  Of 169 forwards with >250 5v4 PP minutes over the past 2 seasons he ranks 5th last in shots/60 and has the 30th worst first assists/60 rankings. That means he is playing on the PP but isn’t shooting much and isn’t a primary set up man for the shooters either.

The only redeeming factors for Bozak is that he seems to be developing into a really good face off guy and he seems to be able to play with an elevated shooting percentage. His 5v5 ZS adjusted shooting percentage ranks 30th of 270 over the past 2 seasons while his 5v4 PP shooting percentage ranks 14th of 169. If you look at Bozak’s shot locations for last season you will see that the majority of Bozak’s shots and goals come from close in and 5 of his 11 5v5 goals last season came on rebounds.

So, to summarize, Tyler Bozak doesn’t shoot much, isn’t a great playmaker, isn’t good defensively (explained elsewhere) and yet coaches seem to insist on using him as a first line center. His main contribution to a team is winning face offs and going to the opposing teams net waiting for the puck to come to him so he can pot an easy close in goal. It is not completely unreasonable to believe that a guy like David Steckel could give you as good or better performance on face offs and similar lackluster offensive results with better defensive play if given the same opportunities to play with top end players that Tyler Bozak has had. That isn’t to say I want Steckel to be the Leafs new first line center, I was just trying to put Bozak’s usefulness (or lack of) into perspective.

 

Feb 052013
 

Before Leaf fans get all over me, let me say that there is nothing wrong with being a complementary player. Every team has and needs them and they can be valuable pieces of the puzzle. When I say complementary player I mean he is a player that needs others to help him get the most out of his game rather than someone who can elevate his game and those around him on his own. The complementary player isn’t as valuable as the guy who can elevate his game and the game of his line mates on his own (I call this a core player) but every good team needs a good cast of complementary players. Let me explain further with this chart of 2007-12 (5yr) even strength 5v5 data.

Sh% TOI/G
with Savard 13.9% 39:40
without Savard 8.9% 61:08
with Lupul 12.8% 46:34
without Lupul 9.1% 58:46
with Savard or Lupul 13.3% 43:07
without Savard or Lupul 7.7% 68:44

In my opinion, the two best (offensive) players that Kessel has played with over his career are Marc Savard and Joffrey Lupul so I focused on Kessel’s play with and without them. In the chart above, you can clearly see that Kessel has been substantially better when he is on the ice with either Savard or Lupul and in reality somewhat ordinary otherwise. When those two guys are on the ice Kessel’s shooting percentage, and thus goal production, sky rockets. Whatever Savard and Lupul are doing, they make Phil Kessel better. Does that make Savard and Lupul core players and Kessel a complementary player?  Maybe.  Let’s take a closer look at Lupul and see if his boost in Kessel’s performance extends to some of the other line mates he has had over the years (again, using 5 year 5v5 shooting percentages).

Linemate with Lupul without Lupul
Phil Kessel 12.8% 9.1%
Tyler Bozak 12.9% 13.4%
Scott Hartnell 12.1% 9.3%
Jeff Carter 12.4% 9.2%
Mike Richards 14.3% 9.0%

Aside from Tyler Bozak (and Kessel may be a factor as he has only played with Bozak when Kessel is also on the ice), he has improved the shooting percentage of each of his line mates over the past 5 seasons. This is fairly significant evidence that Lupul is in fact a core player that improves the performance of his line mates.

Every team needs core players, but there aren’t enough core players in the NHL to fill out your roster so every team also needs quality complementary players. From my perspective, Kessel is a good complementary player that guys like Lupul and Savard can elevate into very good very productive players, but because Kessel is also dependent on Lupul to be highly productive, Kessel isn’t worth the money that you would pay a core player. For this reason, if I were the Leafs management, I’d be very cautious about paying Kessel big money (i.e. in excess of $7M) on his next contract since, if something happens to Lupul (as is the case right now) he quickly becomes ordinary.

Now with that in mind, and the fact he is currently on a significant goal drought (12 games dating back to last season, mostly without Lupul) I think it is up to the Leaf coaching staff to mix up the lines and see if you can find another core player that can maximize Kessel’s production. Bozak and van Riemsdyk don’t seem to be the guys. Personally, I’d put him with Grabovski but it might also be interesting to see him with young energy players like Kadri and Frattin. The coaching staff has to do something but the current line is not working at all.

Jan 172013
 

Yesterday evening James Mirtle from the Globe and Mail posted an article on The Curious case of Tim Connolly and the Leafs.  It’s worth a read so go read it but the premise of the article is how the narrative around Tim Connolly in training camp is he had a poor year last year and he needs to perform better this year.  Makes sense from most peoples view points but Connolly tries to present a different perspective.

Connolly can be prickly to deal with and wasn’t particularly interested in talking about last season, but when pressed, you could tell he felt he did more of value than the narrative – that he’s been an unmitigated bust in Toronto – would suggest.

Here was his answer when asked (maybe for the second or third time) about needing to “rebound” this season.

“Even strength, I think I had my second highest career points last year,” Connolly said. “I’d like to improve my play on the power play and maybe play a bigger role. Penalty killing, I think, my individual percentage was 89 per cent I read somewhere. I was able to lead the forwards in blocked shots.”

He makes two points in there.  The first is that he had his second highest even strength points last year and the second was something about individual percentage was 89 percent. Lets deal with the first one first by looking at his even strength points since the first lockout.

Season Goals Assists Points
2011-12 11 20 31
2010-11 7 16 23
2009-10 9 27 36
2008-09 12 16 28
2007-08 3 20 23
2005-06 9 20 29

(Note: Connolly only played 2 games in 2006-07 so I have omitted it from the table and discussion)

Tim Connolly is actually correct.  His best even strength point total came in 2009-10 when he had 36 points followed by his 31 even strength points last year.  But let’s take a look at those point totals relative to even strength ice time.

Season ESTOI Points TOI/Pt
2011-12 940:12 31 30:20
2010-11 840:31 23 36:33
2009-10 966:41 36 26:51
2008-09 631:26 28 22:33
2007-08 603:18 23 26:14
2005-06 708:47 29 24:26

The last column is time on ice per point, or time on ice between points.  Last year he was on the ice for an average of 30 minutes and 20 seconds between each of his even strength points. This was his second worst since the locked out season. So, while Connolly was technically correct in saying that he had his second highest even strength point total last season, it was a somewhat misleading representation of his performance.

Now for the individual PK percent. It generated a bit of twitter conversation last night questioning what it actually is.

One might think it is the penalty kill percentage when he was on the ice but that seems like a strange thing to calculate.  Is it goals per 2 minutes of PK time?  Is it goals per PK he spent any amount of time killing?  I really didn’t know so I dug into the numbers deeper by looking at the Leafs PK percentages on my stats site and noticed that Connolly had the best on-ice save percentage (listed as lowest opposition shooting percentage) of any Leaf last season during 4v5 play and that save percentage while he was on the ice was just shy of 89% (88.68%). It seems that maybe what Connolly meant to say was that he had an on-ice PK save percentage of 89%.

How good is an 89% save percentage on the PK?  Well, of the 100 forwards with at least 100 4v5 minutes of ice time last year, Connolly ranks 42nd in the league so league wide it isn’t that impressive but considering the Leafs weak goaltending it might actually be fairly good.

Here is the thing though. Single season PK save percentage is so fraught with sample size issues that it is next to useless as a stat for goalies let alone forwards.

One could evaluate Connolly based on PK goals against rate in which he came up 3rd on the Leafs (trailing Lombardi or Kulemin) but that is still fraught with sample size issues. More fairly we probably should evaluate Connolly’s PK contribution based on shots against rate or maybe even more fairly fenwick or corsi against rates. In each of those categories he ranked 5th among Leafs with at least 50 minutes of 4v5 ice time with only Joey Crabb being worse. Furthermore, among the 110 players with 100 minutes of 4v5 PK ice time last year, Connolly ranked 99th in fenwick against rate.

I don’t mean for this article to be a Connolly bashing article. I actually do think Connolly was a little misused and would probably do better with a more well defined role and not bounced around in the line up so much so in that sense I agree with the premise of what Connolly is saying. With that said though, it probably is fair to say that he didn’t have a great season and if he wants a regular role in the top six with time on the PP and PK he needs to perform better as his use of stats to attempt to show he had a good season is really just evidence to how statistics can be misused to support almost any narrative you want.  As they say, there are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics.

 

Jan 102013
 

The news that shocked the hockey world yesterday had nothing to do with the CBA or Bettman or Fehr but rather that the Maple Leafs ownership group decided to make a strangely timed move to remove Brian Burke from his President and General Manager position of the Maple Leafs.  I think it is only fair to take a look back at the Burke years and evaluate where the Leafs are after his 4 years at the helm.  Let’s look at the Leafs position by position starting with the good and heading downhill from there.

Defense

Burke made some mistakes on defense (Komisarek, maybe Liles contract and to a lesser extent Beauchemin) but generally speaking defense is the Leafs strong point.  Phaneuf and Gunnarsson really developed into a quality top pairing last year capable of playing big minutes in any situation.  Jake Gardiner still has lots to learn but has shown flashes of brilliance, particularly as a puck moving offensive defenseman.  Cody Franson hasn’t been given much of an opportunity in Toronto but there is certainly a decent amount of potential there and at the very least trade value.  Morgan Rielly is the Leafs best prospect and has a chance to be a quality NHL defenseman in the not to distant future.  Beyond those guys there are some decent depth prospects close to ready like Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker and second tier prospects a year or two away like Stuart Percey and Matt Finn.  Even more veteran players like Mike Kostka and reclamation project Paul Ranger provide some nice depth.  There is certainly a need for the organization to add another quality shut down defenseman but overall there are a number of quality defensemen on the active roster with good depth in the organization and a number of quality prospects on the way.

Wingers

At the NHL level Burke has left a nice stable of quality wingers with guys Kessel, Lupul, van Riemsdyk, MacArthur, Kulemin and an emerging player like Matt Frattin.  Generally speaking that is a pretty good set of wingers for your top 3 lines and there is also a decent group of role players to fill out the fourth line and depth winger positions.  Unlike the defense position, there are not an abundance of quality winger prospects that project to top 2 line duty.  There are some prospects like Tyler Biggs, Brad Ross, Greg McKegg, Jerry D’Amigo, Carter Ashton, etc. but they all have significant question marks and in the cases of D’Amigo, Ashton and McKegg poor seasons with the Marlies this year have dropped their status from maybe prospects to not players we can seriously count on.  Luckily Burke has done a decent job at putting together some quality wingers who are mostly young or in their NHL primes because there isn’t a lot of top talent in the pipe line.

Centers

Now we get to Burke’s failures.  Although not someone Burke brought in, Grabovski has really grown during Burke’s tenure and has proven himself to be at least a very good second line center if not a second tier first line guy.  But beyond Grabovski the center position is somewhat of a disaster.  There are some decent bottom of the line up guys like Steckel and McClement but Burke has failed miserably in finding a center to complement Grabovski on the top 2 lines.  Bozak has some skills but is not the guy for the job, maybe in part because he was never properly developed for the job but rather was just thrown to the wolves.  Tim Connolly was expected to be a short term fix but so far that has failed miserably.  Long term there was hope for Nazem Kadri and while there is still reason for some hope (he is having a decent year with the Marlies) management seemed to have more interest in publicly criticizing Kadri (from everything from his fitness level, to his attitude, to his defensive ability) than properly developing him.  The other great hope at center was Joe Colborne who was picked up from Boston in the Kaberle trade.  At the time I didn’t know much about Colborne but when I looked at his numbers I was underwhelmed but lots of people thought he had a ton of potential so I kept an optimistic view of him.  But two years later and he is struggling big time with the Marlies and his status as a prospect center for the top 2 lines is all but gone.  The only hope for Colborne now is he can learn to play defense and become a big, strong, defensive third line center not unlike what Manny Malhotra has done with his career but that is probably being too optimistic.  And beyond Kadri and Colborne there is very little in terms of center prospects.  This is an area that desperately needs attention at both the NHL and at the prospect level.

Goaltending

So the score card so far is the defense situation is good all round, the winger situation is good at the NHL level, a little weak at the prospect level and the center situation needs a fair bit of work at both the NHL level and especially at the prospect level.  That leaves the goaltending situation which is a complete and utter mess.  The current Leaf goaltending situation has the Leafs with James Reimer as their starter who is really only on anyone’s radar because he had a stellar second half of a season with the Leafs in 2010-11.  If it weren’t for that stretch nobody would have any hope for him because for the several years prior to that he wasn’t even a full time starting goalie at either the AHL or ECHL (hadn’t played more than 30 games in a year since 2006-07 in WHL).  After Reimer there are second (or third) tier prospects like Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas, Mark Owuya and Garret Sparks.  Scrivens is having another solid year (not quite as good as last year though) with the Marlies and might be close to at least being a back up at the NHL level but predicting goalies development at the NHL level is extremely difficult.  In the end the Maple Leaf goalie situation can best be described as one big question mark with a grand total of 81 NHL games started experience in the entire organization.  The goaltending situation was a disaster before Burke got here, was a disaster when he was here, and is still a disaster.  Easily the absolute worst and uncertain goalie situation of any NHL franchise.