I originally intended this to be a look back after 41 games, but recent events made it much more sensible to use 40 games as a cut-off. Come April, there should be some interesting comparisons between Carlyle’s coaching era and Peter Horachek’s.
For background, my methodology is listed as part of my first post at MLHS. There’s also been some very nice work done on scoring chances recently at war-on-ice.com. Those numbers usually don’t agree with mine, and I’m a little hesitant on them because of how poor some of the shot location data can be from rink to rink. In general, though, it’s interesting stuff.
|Overall||Even Strength||ES Close|
Dave Nonis talked about trends when he discussed the firing of Randy Carlyle, and you can see that reflected pretty clearly in these numbers. Through 21 games, there was room for optimism. The Leafs had possession numbers much higher than they’d had in previous seasons. Over the second quarter, though, things fell apart. 40% at ES Close is abysmal, and it’s shocking that this stretch included an 8-1 Leafs run. The scoring chance numbers in this stretch are worse than the Leafs averaged all of last season, and seeing them it’s easy to understand how a case was made to replace Carlyle now. These poor performances are hardly confined to just scoring chances, as James Mirtle, among others, has shown.
The Leafs‘ numbers have dipped in all periods. In the first quarter of the year, the Leafs managed to out-chance opponents in the middle frame, but they’ve dropped well below that mark over this stretch, as they had only 44% of chances over these 21 games. They also had terrible starts, getting only 40% of chances in first periods.
You can see that the Leafs have barely managed 50% of chances while behind, while giving up almost 60% when they have the lead. It’s also interesting to see that they’ve been broadly out-chanced when the score difference is three or more, regardless of whether they’re the team ahead or behind.
|Overall||#||Even Strength||ES Close|
There is only one Leaf who’s been above 50% at ES Overall, and that’s Leo Komarov, who was injured for much of the Leafs’ lean period. The Finn has consistently driven play, and even in the few games since his return has been a positive player. Daniel Winnik’s ES Close numbers have been good, but his ES Overall numbers have lagged behind, which may be down to his usage in games that aren’t close, or simply to different samples.
More consistently successful has been Nazem Kadri. The youngster could be one of the breakout players under Horachek, as even in Carlyle’s low-possession system, I’ve had him among the best of the Leaf forwards, near 50%. He’s also the best regular Leaf forward in terms of Corsi. His numbers have come down since the first quarter, but he still ranks right near the top.
The happy story that was David Clarkson’s strong start has taken a bad turn, and he’s been one of the big disappointments of the ‘downward trend’ period. In the first quarter, he was among the best Leaf forwards, but since then he’s barely been above 40%, and has fallen a long way down the table.
The top line has drawn a lot of the criticism, and the numbers show that it’s well deserved. That line was nearly at even through the first part of the season, but has been terrible since, with all three forwards finishing under 40% at ES Close. Of particular concern is Phil Kessel, who’s usually been somewhat better than Bozak and Van Riemsdyk, but has actually been the worst of the three over this stretch. He will be a fascinating player to watch in the second half, and he will have to play a big role if the Leafs are to improve. Unsurprisingly, most of this line’s troubles have come in their own zone, as their offensive numbers are decent, but they’ve been on for nearly 10 ES chances against/20 minutes, a frighteningly high number. This line ended up determining a lot for the Leafs in the first half, as when they can even hold their own in chances the Leafs tend to do well. In this last twenty games, nights when they broke even were few and far between. Joffrey Lupul had great numbers before his injury, but since he’s been the only player with worse defensive numbers than the top line, and his failure to produce on his return is another big disappointment.
Trevor Smith has had some solid performances when called upon to fill in on the top three lines, as had Richard Panik, and they will be among the players fighting for more ice time under the new regime. Mike Santorelli is one of the few Leafs who’s been between 40-45% at ES Close in this time period, which leaves him above average, even though the number itself isn’t great, and he’s proven to be a versatile and useful forward.
David Booth has been the worst of the Leafs regular forwards, despite playing relatively little. Most of his game-to-game numbers are not much different than the likes of Smith and Panik, but unlike them, Booth hasn’t had any strong games to help boost his numbers. Unless he can start to produce something more consistently, I’d like to see a younger forward get a chance in his spot. Peter Holland continues to be a bit of a mystery to me, as there seems to be far more optimism about him than his play seems to justify. Hopefully, he’ll be a player who will thrive with a new approach. Since he joined the team, Holland has consistently been one of the Leafs worst forwards in terms of chances, and this season is no different, as he is barely at 40% and has been clearly below that in the last twenty games.
|Overall||#||Even Strength||ES Close|
Looking at usage numbers, the eight defencemen who have suited up for the Leafs basically fall into three categories.
Phaneuf and Franson are on their own, as a pairing that has faced tough competition with moderate zone starts. They’ve been pretty solid. In particular, Franson has been great, one of the only regular Leafs close to even in chances. With his UFA year upcoming, he is making a strong case for himself to get a major raise, especially given how teams will pay for talent (right-handed to boot) on the back end.
Phaneuf has been at the centre of the media firestorm because of his contract, his leadership and his play. While he, like most of the team, has fallen off in the second quarter, his numbers are still among the best on the defence, despite how difficult his minutes generally are. His play tends to get more criticism than I feel it deserves, but he has consistently been asked to do a lot in Toronto. You’d like to see some of the difficult minutes get shifted to other players, but looking at the defence, it’s not at all clear who could handle a more difficult workload.
Holzer, Percy and Polak have all been used in difficult minutes, with Percy in particular getting brutal zone starts in his handful of games. The numbers show that Polak’s been pretty effective, despite how bad the raw totals look, as he’s easily outpaced his two younger partners in those minutes, and actually managed to finish ahead of Robidas, who’s part of class three. I’ll admit I wasn’t bullish on the Czech when he arrived, but he’s been far from the worst of the problems on the Leafs’ back end.
Holzer got a lot of praise when he first came up, but his numbers have always been below Percy’s, and hopefully Percy will be able to come back into the Leaf line-up at some point this season. He likely would have at some point already, if not for cap concerns and a recent injury. Holzer seems like a decent replacement level player; when Carlyle didn’t bury him with difficult zone starts, he ended up posting decent numbers.
The third class are the defencemen who have been used against the easiest competition and in the softest zone starts. It features the two young defenceman and veteran Stephane Robidas. I said this at the first quarter mark, but Robidas has been the biggest disappointment on the team, and his three year deal already looks iffy, less than half a year in. While his numbers were bad in the first update, they’ve been putrid since, as he’s been on for under 30% of ES Close chances. Even in the minutes Polak’s been playing, that would be a bad result, and given that Robidas’ had such relatively soft ice time, it’s truly worrisome.
The two youngsters, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, have had pretty similar numbers over the first half, and they are two of the players I would watch most for improvement under new coaching. Rielly was the better player in the first quarter, but has cooled off a little in this quarter. Gardiner has steadied out somewhat after having some terrible games early in the year, and while his experience and contract mean that more is expected from him, at least he hasn’t followed the negative trend like the rest of the team.
Rielly, on the other hand, has had a much worse stretch, after being one of the best defenceman in the first part of the season. That kind of up-and-down play isn’t surprising from a second-year player, and there’s still plenty of positives in his performances. He is the best defenceman on the team in Corsi, although that is in fairly soft usage. Typically, he’s had some great numbers when given easy minutes, but when asked to play difficult ice time, there have been really ugly results. Rielly is the only player who has twice been -10 or worse at ES in individual games, including a -13 in Carlyle’s final game in Winnipeg.
|Overall||#||Even Strength||ES Close|
Finally, a quick note on the two goaltenders. I mentioned this last week, but there’s been a clear split in the Leafs’ play when each goaltender has been in the net. In the seven games Reimer played this quarter, Toronto averaged under a third of the scoring chances in front of him. That saw his season average dip well behind Bernier’s. Whether that reflects some difference in their play, the difficulty of the games they’ve been in, the scheduling of Reimer’s starts, or something else, it’s hard to say, but it is a substantial difference.