October 19 2012 08:40AM
The point projections you find in hockey magazines are based on the intuitive guesses of analysts who follow the teams closely, and can therefore occasionally be skewed by personal biases or wishful thinking. That's why it's best to supplement (not replace) them with purely statistically-based projections.
For the third season in a row over at the Flamesnation sister site we're using the two most popular statistical projection systems, Tom Awad's VUKOTA and my own Snepsts67, to anchor our expectations. The former is more established and has the advantage of also estimating games played while the latter defines lower and upper ranges, and finds good historical examples within.
For a spreadsheet with complete results and a bit more of an explanation head on over to Hockey Abstract. Speaking of which, figuring out how a player is going to be used is the trickiest part of a projection, and that context can generally be found in the Player Usage Charts also available on that site, so have that handy too.
Normally in my first article on a new site I try to endear myself to the readers with a Leafs joke, but obviously that won't work here. The good news is that our time together will be brief, covering the top-six forwards here today, the defensemen next time and then the remaining secondary forwards in a third and final piece. Let's dig in!
It was a career season for Phil Kessel, breaking out to 82 points at age 24 after three years in the 55-65 points range. Unfortunately history suggests he might slide back down a bit this year.
GP G A PTS Last Year 82 37 45 82 VUKOTA 78.7 33.5 38.9 72.5 Best 82 52.8 45.3 98.1 Worst 82 21.5 23.9 45.4 Average 82 30.4 32.8 63.2
Personally it's hard to believe that such a dominant offensive force, one of only seven players to score at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons, could slide back down into the 60s. In addition to a jump in his even-strength scoring rate, Kessel has had an impressive scoring rate on the power play of about 5 points per 60 minutes in three of the past four seasons. He's also very well disciplined and draws three times as many penalties as he takes.
Despite the apparent ease of 30 goals and 60 points, only four of the ten closest historical matches managed those milestones. It might be wiser to base expectations on both VUKOTA and Kessel's closest historical match, Eric Staal, and project something in the 70s instead - Staal's next season was 40 goals and 75 points in 82 games, followed by three more 70+ point seasons.
Kessel GP G A PTS 2010-11 82 32 32 64 2011-12 82 37 45 82 Staal GP G A PTS 2006-07 82 30 40 70 2007-08 82 38 44 82
Unfortunately Kessel's defensive game isn't as sound. Despite playing against average competition or worse, and generally starting in the offensive zone, he has a combined -38 in three seasons as a Leaf, probably since his on-ice save percentage was .896 or worse in two of those three seasons, leading to a personal goals-against average that started at 3.09 and has only gone up.
Since he also doesn't throw hits, doesn't block shots, doesn't kill penalties and is a lowly 6 for 30 on the shoot-out over the past four seasons, clearly he's deeply reliant on his offensive contributions for his ice-time, so let's hope he keeps it up.
Was it amazing chemistry with Phil Kessel that helped Joffrey Lupul jump up from an established 45-50 point player to a point-a-game player last year in Toronto? Maybe, but part of it was a three-minute boost in average ice-time, and starting in the offensive zone 55.5% of the time, compared with a consistent 46.9%-47.7% in Philadelphia and Anaheim in the previous seasons.
Even without Kessel, Lupul has always enjoyed fantastic on-ice team shooting percentages, which has helped his even-strength scoring rate top two points per 60 minutes in three of the past four seasons, including a nifty 2.7 last year – he's also scored an impressive 5 points per 60 minutes in three of the past four seasons on the power play.
While clearly a legitimate offensive talent, players so dependent on their playing conditions obviously have more reasons to regress than they have to maintain.
GP G A PTS Last Year 66 25 42 67 VUKOTA 64.1 19.6 30.5 50.1 Best 82 28.0 53.8 81.8 Worst 82 10.6 23.0 33.6 Average 82 20.1 34.4 54.6
Warning: four of Lupul's ten closest historical matches had their scoring drop all the way below 40 points. Since there is a lot of variance in Lupul's potential production this season, let's take a quick look at three other talented wingers whose era-adjusted scoring levels closely matched his, and also made the jump at around the same age (Lupul was 28).
Lupul GP G A PTS 2010-11 54 14 17 31 2011-12 66 25 42 67 Huselius G A PTS 2005-06 78 20 27 47 2006-07 81 34 43 77
Straka GP G A PTS 1997-98 75 19 24 43 1998-99 80 35 49 84 J.P. Parise G A PTS 1968-69 76 20 25 45 1969-70 74 22 47 69
Kristian Huselius kept up the momentum with 25 goals and 66 points in 81 games, followed by Martin Straka's 19 goals and 58 points in 71 games, but J.P. Parise regressed to previous scoring levels with 9 goals and 30 points in 73 games.
Like his celebrated linemate Lupul isn't known for his defensive abilities and isn't used to kill penalties, but unlike Kessel he does play a fairly physical game. The scoring fate of the two players are closely intertwined, and unfortunately we project both will move back towards previously established levels.
Now for some good news: Mikhail Grabovski could be in for a great season. Based on his possession numbers and his closest historical matches, he's a strong threat for over 30 goals and 60 points.
GP G A PTS Last Year 74 23 28 51 VUKOTA 71.3 21.4 26.1 47.5 Best 82 39.8 31.0 70.7 Worst 82 14.7 23.2 37.9 Average 82 25.5 28.3 53.8
Check out Grabovski's scoring totals over his four full seasons, and then compare them with the era-adjusted totals from his three closest historical matches Don Lever, Bill Goldsworthy and Danny Grant. While his assists will almost doubtlessly finish between 23-31, his goal-scoring will either be highly disappointing (four of his ten closest matches were at Lever's 20-goal level or below) or threaten 40 like Goldsworthy and Grant.
Grabovski G A PTS 2008-09 78 20 28 48 2009-10 59 10 25 35 2010-11 81 29 29 58 2011-12 74 23 28 51 Lever GP G A PTS 1977-78 75 14 27 41 1978-79 71 17 17 34 1979-80 79 27 26 53 1980-81 62 18 23 41 Next 82 20 27 47
Goldsworthy G A PTS 1969-70 75 33 28 61 1970-71 77 29 28 57 1971-72 78 27 29 56 1972-73 75 22 28 50 Next 74 40 23 63 Grant GP G A PTS 1970-71 78 29 21 50 1971-72 78 16 23 39 1972-73 78 26 30 56 1973-74 78 24 31 55 Next 80 39 30 69
Grabovski has absolutely sensational possession-based numbers for the past three seasons, meaning that the Leafs have the puck and take more shots than their opponents when he's on the ice, and by quite a large margin – and that's while generally facing top-six competition (albeit while starting in the offensive zone).
His even-strength scoring rate has been a consistent 2.1-2.2 points per 60 minutes in each of the past three seasons and though not as strong as Kessel and Lupul he is still quite usable with the man advantage.
Defensively his personal goals-against average has been a consistent 2.70 in three of his four seasons, though he isn't used to kill penalties (except for a brief time as a depth option in 2010-11). Last year's 51.5% faceoff percentage was his first time over 50%.
The move to Toronto has worked out well for Clarke MacArthur so far, jumping from his previously established scoring level in the 30s to 62 in his first season as a Leaf before settling back down to 43 last season.
His possession numbers have been strong since coming to town, he's been decent on the power play, his even-strength scoring rate has topped two points per 60 minutes both seasons and he's finally had the opportunity to take enough shots for his high shooting percentage to result in 20 goal seasons.
Though seven of MacArthur's closest historical matches finished on pace for 45-52 points, only four of them suggest he'll manage a third consecutive 20-goal campaign.
GP G A PTS Last Year 73 20 23 45 VUKOTA 68.7 18.3 25.6 44.0 Best 82 21.3 41.3 62.5 Worst 82 9.5 24.5 34.0 Average 82 18.0 31.2 49.3
Defensively MacArthur doesn't kill penalties, but he does throw a few hits. Historically he's been used in fairly balanced fashion against average competition, but last year his offensive zone start percentage was boosted over 50% for the first time, and he was trusted with the second highest level of competition among Leafs forwards last year.
James van Riemsdyk
In one of the off-season's best trades, the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up young top-six winger James van Riemsdyk from the defenseman-starved Philadelphia Flyers for third-pairing blue liner Luke Schenn.
Thanks to a considerable offensive zone tilt, van Riemsdyk has enjoyed good possession numbers and maintained a consistent even-strength scoring rate hovering at or above two points per 60 minutes, but his power play performance remains poor despite the big boost in playing time he got last season.
GP G A PTS Last Year 43 11 13 24 VUKOTA 59.0 16.6 17.1 33.7 Best 82 37.2 32.7 69.8 Worst 82 11.7 19.5 31.2 Average 82 23.0 25.0 48.0
Six of his ten historical matches scored 20 goals, half of which even managed 30 – and the same story for assists. You might normally expect his scoring to cool, having left one of the league's best offensive teams, but age 23 is when players generally break out offensively. A lot of his scoring potential depends on whether he gets top line duty, and whether he can figure out how to contribute with the man advantage.
Here are how his four closest matches compare these past two seasons, and how they did the following year. As you can see, there's a wide variance of results between the low-30s and 50+plus.
Van Riemsdyk A PTS 2010-11 75 21 19 40 2011-12 43 11 13 24 Seiling GP G A PTS 1980-81 74 21 20 41 1981-82 57 15 17 32 Next 75 13 16 29
Huselius G A PTS 2001-02 79 23 23 46 2002-03 78 20 23 43 Next 76 10 22 32 C. Lemieux G A PTS 1986-87 76 20 19 39 1987-88 78 22 22 44 Next 69 21 16 37
Duguay GP G A PTS 1979-80 73 21 18 39 1980-81 50 12 15 27 Next 72 26 25 51
Defensively van Riemsyk doesn't kill penalties, but has been trusted with a steadily increasing level of competition, which was clearly top-line last season.
Tyler Bozak sits on the bubble of Toronto's top six, but in a situation that is slowly declining. Though his shooting percentage remains strong, and he's an underused 4 for 8 in the shoot-out, he's losing his power play time, losing the big offensive zone tilt at even-strength, and his possession numbers are therefore sliding as well.
GP G A PTS Last Year 73 18 29 47 VUKOTA 68.4 14.7 22.5 37.2 Best 82 15.5 36.5 52.0 Worst 82 5.9 18.9 24.8 Average 82 12.6 24.0 36.6
Bozak is yet to score 20 goals, and there were no 20-goal scorers among his ten closest historical matches either. Four of them were in a tight pack from 31-33 points, and only one topped Bozak's 47 points last year (though two more were close).
The closest historical match is probably big, much-traveled winger Dainius Zubrus, who was a good-shooting, lightly penalized top-six bubble player at the same point of his career, and unfortunately one who points more towards the lower end of expectations.
Bozak GP G A PTS 2010-11 82 15 17 32 2011-12 73 18 29 47 Zubrus GP G A PTS 2000-01 61 12 13 25 2001-02 71 17 27 44 Next 63 13 22 35
Defensively Bozak is a fantastic faceoff man, can throw a few hits, has gradually been facing tougher competition, which is basically top-six at this point, has been a depth option on the penalty kill. On the flip side, Bozak has been a terrible -41 in his 192 career games, and his personal goals-against average of 3.24 in 2010-11 was actually his career best, as was the .904 save percentage the goalies posted behind him.
A fifth overall pick, Tim Connolly began his career at age 18 with the first of four straight seasons playing at least 80 games, but has struggled with injuries ever since. Though he has shown true flashes of scoring brilliance over his career, over-all he's been a second line centre at best.
Last year Connolly managed just 104 shots in 70 games, but got his even-strength scoring rate back up over two points per 60 minutes. Despite it normally being his specialty, Connolly was terrible with the man advantage last year, finally justifying the mysterious steady decrease in power play opportunities he's been going through for years. Without more shots and a bounceback season on the power play, Connolly is destined for another 30-point season.
GP G A PTS Last Year 70 13 23 36 VUKOTA 60.1 11.2 19.5 30.8 Best 82 17.0 29.5 46.5 Worst 82 7.5 12.2 19.7 Average 82 12.3 21.0 33.3
Though the average was in the 30s, only one of the ten closest matches finished in that range – his closest historical match Steve Reinprecht. Four of the ten results were in the 40s, the rest were in the 20s, so it is mostly likely a hit-or-miss season for Connolly.
As for Reinprecht, Connolly's fellow injury-prone centre, he wrapped up his career with Florida two years ago, after a 16 goal, 38 point season when he was Connolly's age.
Connolly GP G A PTS 2010-11 68 13 29 42 2011-12 70 13 23 36 Career 697 131 300 431 Reinprecht G A PTS 2007-08 81 16 30 46 2008-09 73 14 27 41 Career 489 120 214 334
Defensively Connolly has contributed as a secondary penalty killer most of his career and though the degree of his offensive zone usage varies from one year to the next, he consistently faces a second line level of competition. On the flip side he's had negative possession numbers in three of the past four seasons (meaning the team is slightly outshot when he's on the ice), and he's terrible at faceoffs – last year's 48.7% was actually his best.
That's it for Toronto's top-six forwards. Next time we'll take the same sort of look at their defensemen before wrapping up in a final piece that features their remaining secondary forwards. Thanks for reading and I hope you found it interesting.