Dec 162011
 

This will be the final part of my unplanned 3-part series on who is good and who is not on the current Leafs team.  The first was about the penalty kill and the second was defensively.  Today we look at the players offensively.

The Defensemen

Player Name GFA FenF20 Ozone%
DION PHANEUF 2.4 15.22 60.2%
KEITH AULIE 2.25 14.24 61.9%
JOHN-MICHAEL LILES 2.79 13.85 46.1%
CARL GUNNARSSON 2.1 13.42 56.1%
CODY FRANSON 2.37 13.2 47.2%
JAKE GARDINER 2.25 12.79 54.3%
LUKE SCHENN 2.49 12 47.3%
MIKE KOMISAREK 2.82 10.95 40.8%

Included in the table above are goals for average (goals for per 60 min.), fenwick for per 20 minutes and offensive zone faceoff percentage which gives an indication which players start most frequently in the offensive zone.  There really isn’t too much exciting going on here.  For the most part the defensemen’s FenF20 is driven by their Ozone%.  The r^2 between FenF20 and Ozone% is 0.60 so there is a pretty tight correlation.  The only deviation is Liles who generates more offense than his Ozone% indicates he should.  The r^2 is 0.80 if we don’t include Liles.  So offensively, it seems Liles is the only defenseman who is able to drive the play significantly more than any of the others.  Looks like he might be worth keeping around.  Let’s get his name on a contract extension.

The Forwards

Player Name GF20 FenF20 Ozone%
PHIL KESSEL 3.36 14.91 51.3%
MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI 2.79 14.67 57.6%
JOFFREY LUPUL 3.6 14.5 50.2%
NAZEM KADRI 3.54 14.13 48.1%
MIKE BROWN 1.2 14.13 49.5%
TYLER BOZAK 2.97 13.97 49.3%
NIKOLAI KULEMIN 2.46 13.68 53.4%
DAVID STECKEL 1.26 13.21 48.6%
CLARKE MACARTHUR 2.97 12.92 56.3%
MATT FRATTIN 2.07 12.64 49.5%
TIM CONNOLLY 2.43 12.63 46.1%
MATTHEW LOMBARDI 2.46 11.94 54.1%
PHILIPPE DUPUIS 0 11.65 50.0%
JOEY CRABB 2.34 11.57 56.1%
JOE COLBORNE 3.33 11.29 50.0%
JAY ROSEHILL 0 10.6 43.1%
COLBY ARMSTRONG 0.87 10.41 51.3%
COLTON ORR 3.21 9.65 22.2%

Unlike the defensemen there is very little correlation between the Ozone% and FenF20 (r^2=0.0395) which means there is no rhyme or reason to where these guys are starting on the ice.  Joey Crabb can’t seem to drive offense and yet has an Ozone% of 56.1%.  The best offensive line of Kessel-Lupul-Bozak start about 50% of the time in the defensive zone while our supposed defensive specialist Philippe Dupuis starts half the time in the offensive zone.  What’s that all about coach?  Aside from those oddities it is kind of what we’d expect.  Offense is driven by the Kessel and Grabovski lines.  Generally speaking, there aren’t too many surprises in regards to how the Leafs are performing offensively.  The only surprise might be Mike Brown rating so highly.  This is pretty abnormal for him so probably just small sample size issues going on.

 

Oct 052011
 

The Leafs traded for David Steckel yesterday and while this is by no means a significant trade my first reaction to it was a very positive one.  A fourth round pick is almost worthless and Steckel is a more than useful quality defensive third/fourth line guy who can kill penalties, something the Leafs desperately need.  Upon further review of the stats, I still like the trade because of it’s low risk but my thoughts on Steckel are a little more mixed than I first believed.

The Good

On the surface, Steckel looks like a premiere defensive forward.  Over the past 4 years, Steckel has the 9thth lowest on ice goals against per 20 minutes of the 250 forwards with 1500 5v5close minutes of ice time and he has been consistently very good at keeping the puck out of his own net at even strength.  His four year HARD+ rating is 1.152 and his HARD+ ratings for the past 4 seasons are 1.112, 1.262, 1,102 and 1.094.  All of these things point to Steckel being a good, or maybe very good, defensive forward.

The Bad

Throwing a damper on everything I just said, his quality of competition is quite weak.  His OppGF20 (opposition goals for per 20 minutes) ranks 227th of 250 and surprisingly he has over the past 4 seasons had slightly more offensive zone starts than defensive zone starts.  Now this isn’t all bad.  His opponents on average scored at a rate of 0.766 goals per 20 minutes of 5v5close ice time while Steckel and his teammates held them to 0.499 goals per 20 minutes but I would have more confidence in his defensive numbers if he was playing against top level opponents.

The Ugly

One of the key roles the Leafs likely acquired Steckel for is to provide some desperately needed help to their woeful penalty kill.  The problem is, Steckel’s PK numbers are quite woeful as well.  Of the 63 forwards with 500 4v5 PK minutes over the past 4 seasons, Steckel ranks in 48th in goals against per 20 minutes though he is a much better, but still average, 28th in fenwick against per 20 minutes.  Furthermore, the quality of his opponents on the PK hasn’t been all that great either as he ranked 57th of 63 in OppGF20 and 60th of 63 in OppFenF20.  Add it all up and it is quite likely that Steckel has been a below (maybe well below) average PK guy over the past four seasons.  That isn’t good news for the Leafs PK in 2011-12.

The Skinny

Although the numbers cast some doubts as to whether Steckel will live up to my initial reaction when I heard the trade, I still like the trade because it is a low risk trade and adds some defensive minded depth and size to the Leafs lineup.  I’ll take a wait and see attitude with regards to Steckel being a quality addition to the Leafs penalty kill unit but at the very least he’ll be a quality addition to the fourth line.  A fourth line that includes Steckel along side Mike Brown and Colton Orr could at the very least be a physically intimidating energy line that hopefully is more than responsible defensively and that isn’t all bad.

 

Nov 162010
 

Every year we hear Leaf fans making the argument that they are a patient bunch and are willing to wait out a lengthy 5 year rebuilding plan and yet a mere 15 or so games into the season (and barely 40 games into the overhaul of the group of forwards) I am reading stories about Leaf fans wanting to fire Ron Wilson, some are jumping all over GM Brian Burke calling him a failure and some are even pointing out that this is just more of the same old thing that has been happening in Toronto the past 40 seasons.  I have even witnessed people who bemoaned the demotion of Nazem Kadri after last seasons training camp claiming Kadri was ready based on a good pre-season and now bemoaning his promotion 15 or so games into this season as Kadri isn’t ready for the NHL yet.

With this post I am calling on Leaf fans to just chill and give the process a chance.  I understand your dismay at how the Leafs have played the past 10 or so games, but show a little patience that you always claimed you had and if you are honest with yourselves you will realize that there is real progress here regardless of record.  This is not the same team as last year and in fact it is vastly different, and for the better.  Here are some things we need to remember.

  1. This is a very young team, especially at forward.  Kessel, Bozak, Kulemin, Caputi, Kadri, and Versteeg are all age 24 and younger and with youth you will experience ups and downs as they develop.  They need time to develop and we need to be patient with them.  Players don’t become reliable veterans overnight.
  2. The goaltending, while still not great, is improved and as a result the Leafs have been in almost every game they have played this season and few losses can be directly blamed on the goaltending.  That’s a far cry from the past couple seasons when you can pretty much turn the game off after one period for a significant portion of the games largely due to horrific goaltending.  Plus their prospect goalies look promising as well.
  3. The defense has actually been pretty good.  They are among the league leaders in fewest shots against and combined with their decent goaltending they are middle of the pact in goals against average.  That is a huge improvement from one year ago.
  4. Most importantly we need to remember that this is still not the team Burke wants.  He isn’t finished the rebuild yet, especially the forwards. Specifically, he is looking for at least one, maybe two, offensive forwards, preferably with size, for the top 2 lines.  There may be other changes he needs to make as well as even the best laid plans need to be tweaked from time to time.  We need to give him some more time to finish the job.

I understand the concern about the team and its fortunes.  I share that concern.  I don’t like watching the team lost and I certainly don’t know how Burke’s plan will continue to unfold.  Truth is, Brian Burke feels the same and doesn’t know either.  Maybe Bozak and Kadri never develop into useful NHLers.  Maybe Burke can never find another dominant offensive forward to go with Kessel.  Maybe Gustavsson, Rynnas, etc. never develop into reliable NHL goalies and the Leafs continue to flounder with sub-par goaltending.  I don’t know how it will all unfold, but we need to at least give Burke some time to finish his rebuild and then we can evaluate him fairly.

Sep 242010
 

While I am not yet ready to make formal predictions on the upcoming season (that’ll come in a couple weeks) I believe that the Leafs have the potential to be a dramatically improved team and could/should contend for a playoff spot.  Last year was a disaster year for the Leafs and nothing went right for the team, at least until late in the season when the team seemed to come together a bit.  Here are the three keys to watch for during the Leafs upcoming season.

Giguere/Gustavsson – The Leafs have suffered through several seasons of inconsistent and troubled goaltending, and that is being generous.  For much of the past 4 seasons it has been downright awful.  Giguere is probably past his prime and no longer an elite goalie but he is a dependable presence in goal which they haven’t had.  Even with just dependable goaltending the team should be much improved.  In Gustavsson there is more upside potential than in Giguere and combined they should provide the Leafs with the best goaltending they have had since before the lockout.

Tyler Bozak – The Leafs have an abundance of decent wingers (Versteeg, Kulemin, Armstrong, etc.) and one very good one in Kessel but their center ice position is a bit uncertain.  Bozak is the key here.  He finished strong last season and ended up with 8g, 19a, 27 points in 37 games which is pretty solid performance for a rookie.  Had he scored at that pace for the full season he would have ended up with almost 60 points to lead all rookies.  If the Leafs are to become a middle of the pack offensive team the Leafs Bozak needs to repeat that performance, if not improve on it, for a full season.  I think he has the potential to score 20 goals and 70 points which would give the Leafs an unspectacular, but more than decent first line (with Kessel and Kulemin).  Bozak also represents the down low playmaking presence on the PP that the Leafs desperately lacked for much of last season.

Phaneuf/Versteeg/Armstrong – For much of the past 5 seasons the Leafs have lacked any true identity or personality.  They had a bunch of decent players but none of whom really could light a spark for their teammates.  Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong should all play with more passion and intensity than the guys they replaced and should give this team with an identity.  It isn’t just about the truculence and toughness that GM Brian Burke desires, but the energy and passion that they bring that can be contagious.  A healthy Komisarek will help as well as might Caputi or Kadri should they make the team, either right from camp or as a mid-season callup.  These guys are like the Tucker’s, McCabe’s, Robert’s and Domi’s of the past.  Energy players that define what it is to be a Maple Leaf and have a contagious passion for the game.

If Giguere/Gustavsson can provide dependable to good goaltending and Bozak can be a 65-70 point player and the contagious energy of Phaneuf, Versteeg and Armstrong spread throughout the team, there is no reason to believe that the Leafs cannot be in the hunt for a playoff spot.  Getting off to a good start to the season to build some confidence would be helpful but there are a number of reasons to be optimistic about the Leafs upcoming season.

Apr 152010
 

I have always believed that goaltending is by far the most important position in hockey and have claimed it can make or break any teams season. I have claimed that the main reason that the Leafs have failed to make the playoffs post lockout is because of bad goaltending. Many others have scoffed at this claim blaming everything from bad defense to bad offense (which is mostly not factually true) to poor coaching, to a combination of all of the above. I have seen others claim that goaltending would account for at most four or five games a year. So, I have undertaken a bit of a study to attempt to figure out how important goaltending really is and how many points in the standings poor goaltending can cost you or great goaltending can gain you.

Most goaltending studies I have seen, and done myself, have to do with comparing goalies from one team to the next. The problem with this is people can easily choose to dismiss the study with claims like ‘but team x has such a bad defense you cannot blame the goalie for that’ and to some extent there is some validity in this claim (though I do not believe it to be as much as many do). There have been other studies that attempt to factor out the defense issue by coming up with some sort of shot difficulty rating based on shot type and defense. I believe that this has some merit and improves the validity of the study but people will simply jump in and claim that not all shots from the same distance are equal and teams with bad defense will inherently give up more difficult shots so the shot quality analysis is still far from perfect. Again, there is some merit to this.

So, with all that in mind I set out to study goaltending in a way that eliminates the quality of a team’s defense in a way that most sane people cannot dispute: compare goalies who play on the same team. If we are comparing two goalies who play on the same team we immediately eliminate the ‘but he plays on a bad team’ argument because they are playing behind the same players.

I collected all the goalie statistics from the 5 regular seasons since the NHL lockout of the 2004-05 season. For each team and season I identified each team’s starting goalie (the goalie with the most starts) and then grouped all other goalies who played for that team in that season and merged their statistics into a combined backup goalie statistic. For example, this past season Jonas Hiller was the starter for the Anaheim Ducks and JS Giguere and Curtis McElhinney also played for the Ducks so Giguere and McElhinney’s stats were combined into a single team backup stat. The statistics I am interested in are save percentage and points earned for their team and the number of games started from which we can calculate points earned per start stat for the starter and the combined backup. I next subtracted the backups points per start from the starters points per start and the backups save percentage from the starters save percentage. Here is an example for the Anaheim goalies.

Goalie Starts W L OTL PTS Pts/Start SV%
Jonas Hiller 58 30 23 4 64 1.103 0.9182
JS Giguere 17 4 8 5 11 0.9000
C. McElhinney 7 5 1 2 10 0.9167
Backups 24 9 9 3 25 1.042 0.9055
Starter-Backup 0.0618 0.0128

So, from that table we see that Jonas Hiller had a save percentage 0.0618 higher than his backups and produced more points for his team in the standings at a rate of 0.0128 per start. Now since that last stat is pretty meaningless I prorated it to 82 games and over the course of 82 games Hiller would produce 5.07 additional points in the standings over his backups.

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Dec 132009
 

Fist off, I was recently interviewed by Robin Keith Thompson of Chiller Instinct (and also a long time contributor to and friend of HockeyAnalysis.com, currently in the Phoenix blog). In the interview we discuss mostly the Blackhawks and the value of their quality third line of Madden, Brouwer and Ladd. Check it out.

Now on to the Leafs. About a month and a half ago on October 24th the Leafs were 0-7-1 and almost everyone had written off the Leafs. Before the season I made a bold prediction that the Leafs would make the playoffs and a number of people called me out on that prediction calling me biased. When the Leafs started the season 0-7-1 those same people came back and asked if I wanted to eat crow now and that I was an idiot for making that prediction as the Leafs had no chance of making the playoffs. I consistently defended my prediction with ‘come talk to me in January when we have played a meaningful number of games’. The Leafs then went on a stretch of 7 games getting a point in every game by going 3-0-4 and were generally playing better. Everyone stopped feeling the need to criticize me and my prediction at this point. Then the Leafs fell back into some of their problems they experienced in the first 8 games and lost four straight in regulation to Minnesota, Chicago, Calgary and Ottawa and then blew a big lead to lose to Carolina in overtime. At this point everyone came back and criticized me again. It has been pretty quiet recently because the Leafs have been playing well but it is now my turn to stand up and gloat a little as the Leafs are currently sitting 4 points behind 8th place Montreal with a game in hand having just beaten maybe the best team in the eastern conference. But it gets better than that.

Before the season many people suggested that with the acquisition of Komisarek and Beauchemin on defense and the hopefully better play of a healthy Toskala and/or a strong rookie season from Gustavsson that the Leafs will cut down their goals against, but who is going to score? Then they traded for Kessel and many criticized giving up two first round picks and a second round picks and question whether the trade made any sense considering the Leafs had no play making center like Marc Sarvard to feed Kessel the puck. They questioned whether the Kessel could score at near the rate he did in Boston without such a center and without a play making center it made no sense to go out and pick up a pure goal scorer. I constantly defended the trade saying the two first round picks were not too much to give up for someone with the skill of Kessel because most first round picks outside of say the top 5 picks don’t turn out to be half the player that Kessel is. In short, the gamble was worth it.

Before the season I defended the Leafs offense and despite not having a true elite level forward I thought that they would at lease be OK offensively.

To summarize, too many people have a false view of what kind of offense a top 6 forward will produce. Most top 6 forwards aren’t 30 goal, 70 point guys. The majority of them are 20-25 goal, 50-60 point guys and in that regard the Leafs are just fine. Are the Leafs going to be an elite offensive team in the NHL? No. Can they be a good one, as they have been for several years now? You bet.

Fast forward to today and we find the Leafs offense is currently sitting in 9th spot in goals for average and that is pretty good considering they were near the bottom of the league before Kessel returned. We have also learned that Kessel doesn’t need a play making center to score goals, he can do it on his own. It is also worth pointing out that only the Washington Capitals, the leagues top scoring team, has more 10+ goal scorers than the Leafs. The Capitals have 5 10+ goal scorers while the Leafs are tied with the Canucks, Blue Jackets, and Ducks with four. Media hypes all the time about Chicago’s great young offensive stars but they have zero, yes zero, players with 10 goals right now. Nobody should really be surprised by any of this because the Leafs have for the most part consistently been in the top 10-12 teams in terms of offense the past dozen years or so, including the years post lockout. It’s unfortunate that so many fail to realize that.

The Leafs are not out of the woods yet but the edge of the woods is within sight and a playoff spot is just a few short steps beyond that. They are, for the most part, playing good hockey (8-3-1 in last 12 games), and for the most part, are now getting acceptable to good goaltending (no longer last in goals against average or save percentage). The goaltending is still the key for me. If it continues as it has recently by Toskala and how Gustavsson has been for much of the season, making the playoffs should be a very strong possiblity.

To summarize, the message of the story is that we all should stop drawing conclusions from 8 or 12 or even 20 games. The NHL season is a long one and a dozen games is not enough to draw any conclusions from.

Mid-summer hockey thoughts

 NHL  Comments Off
Jul 242009
 

We are approaching mid-summer, though the weather seems to indicate it is still late spring with below average temperatures and lots of rain. That said, the NHL draft is over as is the prime free agent season and while several teams have new looks and have pretty much set rosters, other teams still have moves to make. Here are a few mid-summer hockey thoughts.

Are the Philadelphia Flyers a better

The Philadelphia Flyers made one of the boldest moves of the summer trading away Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, and a couple of first round picks for Chris Pronger. As good as Pronger is though, are the Flyers a better team? In addition to losing Lupul they have also lost Mike Knuble to the Capitals via free agency and between Lupul and Knuble that is a loss of 52 goals. That is a big hit to the Flyers offense that they will have to make up. A healthy Briere and the development of Claude Giroux or James Van Riemsdyk could offset some of that loss. On defence Pronger definitely makes the Flyers a better team. With Pronger, Timonen, Coburn, Jones, Carle and Parent they will have one of the better defences in the NHL but there isn’t a lot of depth beyond those top six so staying healthy will be important. But the real problem for the Flyers has been their problem for the past 15 odd years. Goaltending. Last year the Flyers had the 6th best team save percentage as Biron had a .912 save percentage and Niittymaki had a .912 save percentage but both goalies suffered from inconsistent play from time to time. While Biron and Niittymaki are far from elite level goalies, both played fairly well in goal last year but neither of them were welcomed back to the Flyers. Replacing them will be Ray Emery returning from the KHL and Brian Boucher who had a good year in San Jose last year but over his career he hasn’t proven to be anything more than a decent backup. It may not be a stretch to say that Ray Emery will be a key to how good the Flyers will be in 2009-10. Is Emery capable of playing 60 games of quality goaltending? It is certainly possible as he played 58 games for Ottawa in 2006-07 posting a 33-16-6 record with a .918 save percentage. Problem is, he followed that up with a dismal 2007-08 season going 12-13-4 with a very weak .890 save percentage. It seems he had a good year in the KHL last year so maybe his 2007-08 season was an off year but it seems clear to me that for the Flyers to be a better team Ray Emery has to be pretty solid in goal and that is a big question mark. Without decent to good goaltending the Flyers can’t be considered among the top Stanley Cup contenders.

Are the Calgary Flames better

The Flames made a similar move to the Flyers in acquiring Jay Bouwmeester but are they really a better team? To make room for Bouwmeester the Flames had to part with Jordan Leopold, Adrian Aucoin and most importantly Mike Cammalleri. Last season the Flames finished 8th in the NHL in goals but Cammalleri scored 39 goals for the Flames and was a big part of the Flames offense. A full season of Olli Jokinen will pick up some of the slack but the Flames offense will be centered around Jokinen and Iginla and not a lot more. Additionally Rene Bourque scored 21 goals (in just 58 games) last year which was a career high and it might be a stretch to expect him to repeat. It is difficult to imagine the Flames offense next year being as good as last years. The defense is in many way comparable to the Flyers with an excellent top four of Bouwmeester, Phaneuf, Regehr and Sarich and a couple of decent guys to fill out the depth charts but not much beyond that if there many significant long term injuries. But like the Flyers, the problem I see with the Flames is in goal. That may surprise some but Kiprusoff has been relatively average the past few seasons. His save percentage has dropped from .933 in 2003-04 to .923, .917, .906 and down to .903 last season. That is not a trend that a Flames fan would enjoy seeing continue but is there really any reason to believe it won’t? One of the problems has been that the Flames have never brought in a good enough backup to give Kiprusoff any rest time and another off season seems to be passing by where they have chosen not to address that issue. I don’t see the Flames being any better this upcoming season and may in fact take a step back.

Should the Leafs keep Kaberle

There have been a number of rumours this summer about the Leafs trading Tomas Kaberle. The biggest rumour was Kaberle to the Bruins for Phil Kessel but in recent weeks the rumours have died down and the other day Burke came out and stated that he believes that Kaberle will start the season with the Leafs. For Leaf fans, I think this is good news as I believe that keeping Kaberle is in the Leafs best interest. Going into next season the Leafs could have a top 4 defence grouping of Kaberle-Beauchemin-Schenn-Komisarek. That is a pretty good group with a nice mix of offense and defense and physical play and when you round it out with two of White, Van Ryn, Finger, Exelby, Frogren and Stralman and you have one of the better top 6 in the league.
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Sep 172008
 

Brian Burke has become the Toronto hockey media’s favourite pick for the next GM of the Leafs and for the most part he has been heralded by the Toronto media as one of the best GMs in hockey and the kind of GM the Leafs desperately need. But what if Burke was GM of the Leafs. Would Burke get the same recognition?

If hypothetical Leafs GM Burke signed Todd Bertuzzi to a two year $8 million deal, only to buy him out the following off season, would the Toronto media herald Burke as one of the greatest GMs in hockey?

If hypothetical Leafs GM Burke signed Mathieu Schneider to a two year $11.25 million deal and just to put him on waivers the following summer hoping someone would claim him, would the Toronto media herald Burke as one of the greatest GMs in hockey?

Of course not. The deals to Bertuzzi and Schneider are actually far worse than the monetary cost to the team. These deals essentially cost the Ducks team a talented player in Andy McDonald because Burke was forced to trade McDonald to clear salary space. If Burke made such moves while GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs he would be criticized beyond belief. But he isn’t GM of the Leafs so the Toronto hockey media are still in love with him.

If you then factor in that Burke chose to sign Bertuzzi instead of signing a young power forward capable of scoring 25 goals while playing a solid two-way physical game named Dustin Penner and you have to ask yourself, why does everyone think Burke is such a great GM.

If you go back to his Vancouver days he never was able to acquire the goaltender the team desperately needed to seriously challenge for the Stanley Cup and his draft record was mixed at best.

He did win the Stanley Cup in 2007 in large part by his bold move to sign Niedermayer and trade for Pronger but the core of the forward crew was there before Burke arrived.

If Burke were the GM of the Leafs having put Schneider on waivers desperately hoping someone will claim him, my guess is that there would be more than a few in the Toronto media calling for Burke’s firing.

It is always greener on the other side of the fence.