December 19 2013 01:01PM
I don't know what it will take for the Toronto Maple Leafs to break out of this funk. All I can really say is that the current course doesn't feel right. The prolonged slump (we're over a month now) is currently leading the general manager of the organization to spout out excuses over the radio.
No, the team probably won't play at a 63-point pace from now until the end of the season. That sort of record is reserved for lottery teams and teams stuck in perpetual rebuild modes. The Leafs are still a team whose true talent probably puts them somewhere around .500. Hopefully, we never do get a chance to find out just how bad this slump can get, and alarm bells start going off, forwards start giving defencemen shorter options on passes and the Leafs change from a defensive zone strategy that doesn't lead to players getting wide open in the slot. It's possible to win in the NHL even if your team is getting out-shot, but it's a lot harder if you try to make your fast players play slow and your slow players play fast.
Hence the title. I'm just waiting on the epiphany. The urgency should have set in sometime in April last year when the team won just two of its final six and got massively out-shot. Then came the Boston series, the Leafs were a much better team, and then that progress was wasted. Thankfully, this game against Phoenix doesn't look so bad as it did a month ago. At one point the Coyotes were 13-4-2, but they've gone 5-6-3 since. Regression hurts a lot of clubs, as we'll see below.
|Corsi Close %||48.5% (21st)||43.1% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.71 (4th)||2.10 (18th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.32 (19th)||2.21 (15th)|
|PDO||101.3 (6th)||101.7 (4th)|
|5v4 GF/60||7.53 (6th)||8.06 (5th)|
|5v4 SF/60||54.5 (13th)||56.1 (7th)|
|4v5 GA/60||7.63 (26th)||6.98 (24th)|
|4v5 SA/60||61.8 (27th)||61.4 (26th)|
|Penalty Differential||-6 (21st)||-18 (30th)|
As you can see, the Coyotes are very similar to the Leafs. Deadly powerplay, questionable penalty-killing, take more penalties than they receive, and had a pretty high record in the early going thanks to some beneficial percentages despite lousy possession.
That stretch before their miniature collapse? Shootout win, shootout win, shootout win, loss, shootout win, overtime win. Something that's perhaps overvalued is a team's ability to win close games. A closer game improves the chances that the game will be decided on one bad break or blown coverage, so establishing distance from your opponent is important. Jonathan Willis has gone on to show that teams that win a disproportionate number of one-goal games don't necessarily do that great in the playoffs.
There's a simple formula you can use to determine about how many wins a team should have earned if they scored X number of goals and allowed Y. It's called "Pythagorean Expectation" or "Jamesean Expectation" since it was originally developed for baseball by Bill James:
Just convert "runs scored" to "goals scored" and we're golden. After their first 19 games, the Coyotes had scored 63 goals and allowed 58 (counting goals awarded for winning a shootout). Their pythagorean winning expectation was 0.541. Multiplied over 19 games, that's worth a 10-9 record, not a 13-6 record. Because so much of sports results are luck-based, every now and then a team slips through the cracks and performs better than they did over a long period of time, despite calls that they're going to come back to earth. They make sports analysts look bad, and ultimately, help keep market inefficiencies alive.
The Coyotes aren't in freefall, but losing streaks aren't kind to teams in the Western Conference. On November 13, the Coyotes were in the playoffs by five points, and the Leafs were clear by four. Since then, with the Yotes going 5-6-2 and the Leafs going 6-10-3, the Coyotes are four points out while the Leafs are still three points in. Granted, the Leafs have played six more games, but while Phoenix lost eight points in the race, over the same stretch, Toronto have lost just one. The Coyotes have three games in hand over Vancouver and Minnesota for the final wild card spot.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
Jerred Smithson got called up yesterday, because Dave Nonis is determined on making my life a living hell. This has led to the introduction of the Jerred Smithson Tequila Challenge™. For every shot on goal Smithson takes through this call up, I will take an equal number of tequila shots and possibly record it on video for you all to see.
He had exactly one shot on net in his first stint with Toronto, and is back because Trevor Smith broke his hand blocking a shot.
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul - Peter Holland - David Clarkson
Jerry D'Amigo - Jay McClement - Nik Kulemin
Mason Raymond - Jerred Smithson - Troy Bodie
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Mark Fraser - Morgan Rielly
Dave Nonis was on the radio today making excuses for his team's recent play, and he also said that "we need Clarkson to be himself. Capable of scoring between 15-20 goals and being hard to play against. These were our expectations". Obviously, with the failure being Nonis' expectations for Clarkson, the onus falls on the player, and he's punished by taking Mason Raymond's spot on the second line.
That's the equivalent of letting your dog cook Christmas dinner, and then after not enjoying the meal, having the dog cook more meals. I can't think of a player less suited to Raymond's talents than Jerred Smithson. Maybe Zenon Konopka.
Here's a series of tweets from good guy Matt Fenwick (who created the famous Fenwick number) about how much David Bolland is worth, should Bolland be the key reason Toronto has lost so much since his injury:
It's actually a math problem: if Dave Bolland's presence is the difference between 9-4-0 Leafs & Leafs since, what is he worth?— Matt Fenwick (@FenwickMatt) December 19, 2013
It's at least $30M/yr. For the Leafs, maybe $70M/yr? $100M/yr?— Matt Fenwick (@FenwickMatt) December 19, 2013
Maybe it's no wonder the word is Nonis is looking to extend now. If you attribute certain successes to Bolland, he's worth 10x the contract.— Matt Fenwick (@FenwickMatt) December 19, 2013
Sign him before everyone else -- including the team he was with for 9 years -- figures out what's going on!!— Matt Fenwick (@FenwickMatt) December 19, 2013
The difference between 10-4-0 and 7-12-3 is about 54 points over an 82-game season. Hockey Prospectus frequently makes reference to a "3-1-1" rule, that states that three goals is worth one point in the standings and approximately one million dollars.
That means that David Bolland is worth approximately $53.8-million.
Would the people grumbling about Bolland's departure and the fact he has "a certain on-ice compete leadership" sign Bolland to a $54-million a year deal? Two years at $108-million? No. That's absurd, and that's also the thing with intangibles: at some point you have to put a tangible value on them and the lower the Leafs get during this streak, the more I'm chomping at the bit as Bolland's agent to get something done before the streak inevitably turns around (again, you can't play the rest of the year at a 63-point pace) or he returns from injury and it turns out the Leafs are just as mediocre since he wasn't driving the difference.
The follow-up from Fenwick made me giggle:
Math Problem #2: say the Leafs could guarantee a playoff spot by playing Willie & Waylon's 'Good Hearted Woman' 2x night on the PA.— Matt Fenwick (@FenwickMatt) December 19, 2013
How much royalty $$$ would be worth paying the ol' red-headed stranger? Note: this is the same math problem as #1.— Matt Fenwick (@FenwickMatt) December 19, 2013
The Leafs didn't suddenly go from contenders to a lottery team as soon as Bolland got hurt. That's just basing your sports opinions on results rather than process. Too many journalists conflate correlation with causation. If I'm riding the streetcar and it breaks down before the train gets to the next stop, would Steve Simmons assume that my "certain on-streetcar leadership" was what was keeping the thing running?
No, because that's absurd, and nobody thinks that, just like nobody thinks that a Willie and Waylon song would keep a team running. And yet (!) teams bring out "lucky" anthem singers out all the time, and not a single anthem singer has had the stones to suggest "oh, it's me driving your success? Pay me $108-million and I'll do it for two more seasons."
Tim Kennedy - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Kyle Chipchura - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker
Rob Klinkhammer - Mike Ribeiro - David Moss
Paul Bissonnette - Jeff Halpern - Jordan Szwarz
Derek Morris - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Keith Yandle - Connor Murphy
Michael Stone - David Schlemko
You could refer to them as "Team spellcheck".
Despite the press Oliver Ekman-Larsson gets, from the #fancystats crowd a year or two ago and by the more mainstream press this season, he's had a bit of a down year. He had +0.1% Relative Corsi % (meaning the Coyotes took as much of a percentage of shots with OEL on the ice than off of it) and that was notable because he played absurdly tough minutes.
This season, the tough minutes remain, but OEL's Relative Corsi % has dipped to -4.2% per ExtraSkater. I have no good guesses as to why, so we can perhaps assume it's a dip and Ekman-Larsson will continue in the future to put up the excellent underlying numbers he did in the past.
For now, he plays on a pretty dedicated checking unit partnered with Zbynek Michalek (who is out of the lineup) with Antoine Vermette's line sharing the ice. Vermette's spent most of his time with Boedker and Rob Klinkhammer, but Kyle Chipchura has replaced him on that line for some reason.
The third and fourth lines for the Coyotes have done a good job driving both play and goals this season. They're collectively talented enough to score goals on weaker opposition, so Dave Tippett never seems to be too worried about getting his top line away from the best defensive players. That works well for him tonight, and the potential Mark Fraser-on-Mike Ribeiro matchup would scare the pants off of me if bloggers wore pants.
(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)
Mike Smith versus Jonathan Bernier. If you were to rank goalie seasons as "great" "good" and "replacement level", this has been Mike Smith in his five years with 40+ games, starting with 2008-2009: "good" "replacement level" "great" "replacement level" "replacement level".
If you were to do the same thing for Marc-Andre Fleury, you'd get "replacement level" "good" "good" "good" "replacement level" "good" "replacement level" "good" "great". It's fun how that one "great" complete season from Smith makes him less of a joking Team Canada candidate. I wouldn't know how to pick the Canada goalies either, because it's impossible to project what a goalie will do over a large sample, and you're dealing with the smallest of samples here.
That, as much as anything, is why I've just stopped bothering with goalie statistics unless it's using a decline to explain a losing streak or an uptick to explain a winning streak. I really like James Reimer, but damned if I know whether he'll be better than a .915 goalie from now until the end of the year.
The Maple Leafs and the Coyotes are live on TSN tonight at 7 Eastern, and God help me if Jerred Smithson records eight shots tonight.