The FanPost


Why the Maple Leafs should make the playoffs in 2010-11‏

By: Joe Cino

Everything that could have gone wrong for the Maple Leafs in 2009-10 did. A combination of cold streaks, underperforming veterans, bad goaltending and a slew of injuries capped off a basement finish. The roster has been fine tuned, with additions like Giguere, Phaneuf and Versteeg chief among them, but by and large most of the roster is the same as last year’s iteration. With so many holdovers from the previous year, are the playoffs a realistic goal for the Maple Leafs? I believe that they are, with Corsi ratings, Goals versus Threshold and the realistic impact of the new Leafs taken into account.

We’ll start things off on a positive note with the Corsi ratings for the team last season. Popular hockey blog The Puck Stops Here recently wrote an article detailing the high team Corsi rating for the Maple Leafs in 2009-10 (found here:  Corsi is a fairly simple stat: it simply logs the shots directed at the opposition’s net and shots directed at their own net for a given player when they’re on the ice. A high Corsi +/- for a player indicates that they are generating more offensive pressure than their opponent. A high team Corsi suggests that a team as a whole is getting more chances than their opponent to score goals. With that said, the team Corsi rating for the Maple Leafs in 2009-10 was +422, good for third best in the league.

As The Puck Stops Here outlines, the rebuttal that the Leafs were often losing and thus had more chances because the other team was playing defensively is not valid. The other four bottom five teams do not hold a candle to the team Corsi Toronto has:

Edmonton Oilers: -730

Toronto Maple Leafs: +422

Florida Panthers: -782

Columbus Blue Jackets: -304

New York Islanders: -382

So it’s clear that the Maple Leafs will pressure their opponent more than they are pressured, so why the terrible record? The answer is simple: the most important position in the new NHL is goaltending. Vesa Toskala was nothing short of abysmal. He played 26 games for the blue and white this season, picking up a 7-12-3 record to go along with his 3.66 GAA and .874 SV%. Gustavsson was then thrust into the spotlight before he was ready, leading to the culmination of a 16-24-11 record before the Giguere trade.

What happened after the Giguere and Phaneuf trades is another story. Their new record was 13-10-5. Doesn’t look all that impressive until you stretch it out over 82 games, where it becomes 38-29-15, which would be good for 91 points in the standings. The Eastern Conference is notoriously weak and a record culminating in 91 points would have been good enough for 7th place, leapfrogging both Montreal and Philadelphia. This is all well and good on its own merits, as it suggests that the Maple Leafs would have been in the hunt for a playoff spot if they had competent goaltending all season. However, it is important to take note of the castoffs and additions to the roster in the past season.

Goals versus Threshold is a very complex and important personal stat that tracks a player’s offensive and defensive contribution to his team. A high GVT suggests a player either very skilled at offense or defence, but it can also suggest a complete player in both ends of the rink. Here is the GVT of the current Maple Leafs:

Phil Kessel: 10.7

Tomas Kaberle: 9.3

Nikolai Kulemin: 7.2

Mikhail Grabovski: 5.1

Carl Gunnarsson: 4.9

Luke Schenn: 4.8

Francois Beauchemin: 3.5

Tyler Bozak: 3.5

Jean-Sebastien Giguere: 3.0

John Mitchell: 2.6

Dion Phaneuf: 2.1

Jeff Finger: 1.2

Luca Caputi: 0.5

Fredrik Sjostrom: 0.1

Christian Hanson: -0.5

Mike Komisarek: -0.7

Jonas Gustavsson: -1.6

Colton Orr: -1.7

Of importance to note is that games played do factor in rather heavily to GVT, making the GVT for Giguere, Phaneuf, Gunnarsson and Bozak rather impressive. Of these players, Hanson is the one most likely to be on the Marlies next season. Komisarek had a very poor season riddled with injuries, so some kind of bounce back should be expected. Gustavsson didn’t start showing signs of his potential until late in the season when he calmed down a tad, so his GVT is understandably low. Colton Orr is a goon who doesn’t score and doesn’t play defence, so his GVT doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things.

These numbers are encouraging, but perhaps the numbers of the players that left are most positive. Some players had good GVT stats on the Leafs: White at 7.9, Ponikarovsky at 7.6, Hagman at 6.2 and Stajan at 5.1. Others did not: Blake at 3.2, Stempniak at 2.1, Stalberg at 0.5, Mayers at -0.1, Lundmark at -0.1, Tlusty at -0.3, Exelby at -0.4, Primeau at -0.8, Wallin at -1.2, MacDonald at -1.4 and finally, Toskala at -15.3. We gave up some decent players, but we also gave up a lot of bad players. In addition, our season acquisitions and call ups of Giguere, Phaneuf, Gunnarsson and Bozak further improved the roster.

Now we finally come to the offseason acquisitions. Versteeg had a GVT of 9.4 playing on the Blackhawks’ third line, which is unbelievably impressive. Colby Armstrong’s 4.5 is pretty good for a third line player, especially considering his defensive GVT is higher than his offensive GVT. Lebda finished with a 0.9 on Detroit, par for the course with a number 6 defenceman.

In conclusion, the Leafs generate more chances than their opposition, purged the team of bad players and personalities and brought in a slew of players that do the job better. If the numbers are to be believed, the Leafs would have made the playoffs with a good goalie this year, so one has to assume that they will be in the hunt in 2010-11. When you factor in the potential impact Nazem Kadri could have on our offense as well as the return for a possible Kaberle trade, the fortunes of our Maple Leafs seem to be going up.

Congrats and job well done on excellent and thorough academic exercise by Joe. He’s looking to get into amateur sports writing, so be sure to provide him with plenty of constructive feedback.

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