Preview: Game #8 Bruins @ Leafs - Know Your Role

Cam Charron
February 02 2013 12:35PM

Any Leaf fan disparaging Dion Phaneuf or Phil Kessel's apparent struggles as a problem of effort should probably heed the words from then-defending Stanley Cup champion general manager Stan Bowman. Bowman was talking to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference about his teams' efforts attempting to more properly gauge player value:

Stan Bowman [discussed] a system the Blackhawks used when Bowman joined the hockey operations department. It was a simple tool to chart out the coach’s player rating for a player over the course of a game on a scale of 1-to-5.

Well, Bowman pointed out, the ratings provided by the coach, tallied up after every game, never matched reality. A coach’s subjective bias, he explained, benefit the third line players and the players who were closer to replacement level. Those players ratings were “unfairly propped up because the expectations for that player are much lower.”

A grinder, Bowman pointed out, has a much easier job than a scorer and ranked higher on the post-game scale. It didn't take long for Blackhawks brass to realize that their equivalent of Mike Brown in the early 2000s had identical or higher ratings than Phil Kessel. At that point, Bowman says the Blackhawks streamlined a system that charted different kinds of objective events during the game, which proved to be much more useful?

The moral? You can't accurately gauge a players performance based on whether they accomplished the objectives defined by their role. It's easier for Mike Brown or Colton Orr to fight somebody than for Phil Kessel to score. Kessel's role is more difficult, and also more important for the team, and the Blackhawks learned these lessons rather quickly when the data from the inaugural attempt at a rating system showed a screwy ranking of players.

The Toronto Maple Leafs face the Boston Bruins tonight, the Bruins a team unfairly characterized by their "toughness" when their danger really lies in having a wealth of forward depth and probably the best defenceman in the NHL over the last three or four years. They will be without Shawn Thornton, who was concussed in a fight with John Scott on Thursday.

Broadcast Info:

Puck drop: 7 PM EST

TV: CBC

Setup:

Returning once again to whether Orr or Kessel are performing up to expectations this year, let's just explain it through this little chart. I know some readers may be nervous by the incorporation of advanced stats like "goals" "fights" and "wins" and "losses" but bear with me. The data was collected through HockeyFights.net and Yahoo Sports' Game Logs:

  W L OTL Points per 82
When Orr Fights 16 17 4 79.8
When Orr Doesn't Fight 90 95 31 80.1
When Kessel Scores 51 24 8 108.7
When Kessel Doesn't Score 55 88 27 66.1

When Colton Orr fights, he has no impact on the team's wins and losses record. When Kessel scores, he most certainly does. These numbers aren't surprising. Most analyses that look for a correlation between fighting and winning say that if there is an effect, it's marginal. Good dude @67sound wrote one up for this blog two summers ago and found absolutely none.

And yet, tonight, there's a possibility that the Leafs will not only send out Colton Orr into the Leafs' lineup but also waiver pickup Frazer McLaren. I remember watching McLaren the first year I had WHL season tickets with Kamloops when I went to university. He was an important part on a very bad Portland roster. He fought, but also played top six minutes that game, and by the end of the 2007 season had 19 goals to go along with his 186 PIMs. Portland was 17-52-3, the worst team in the WHL by a mile.

I don't imagine what Dave Nonis or Randy Carlyle expect when they put McLaren in the lineup. Are either of them going to be able to match up against any of these lines?

Tyler Seguin - Patrice Bergeron - Brad Marchand
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Chris Bourque - Rich Peverley - Chris Kelly
Lane McDermid - Gregory Campbell - Jamie Tardif

Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Dougie Hamilton
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid

Tuukka Rask
Anton Khudobin

Rumour has it, there's a $100 bounty offered to anybody who can spell both Bruins' goalies names correctly without looking. So far, no winners.

Those top two lines are deadly, with the third line also a perfectly cromulent scoring threat in its own right. Peverley and Kelly combined for 31 goals last season, which is a pretty good total for a third line pair. I think Chris Bourque will get to slot in there in absence of an injured Danny Paille, Bourque has a single NHL goal in his journeyman-like career, but he's been a five-time 20-goal scorer at the AHL-level. He's basically an older, smaller Matt Frattin.

Carlyle gets last change, and I think I'd prefer him to put Phil Kessel-Tyler Bozak-James van Riemsdyk out against the Bruins' second line while Mikhail Grabovski, Jay McClement and Nik Kulemin try and shut down that Bruins' top line. The rationale is that Bergeron could light up Kessel when he doesn't have a good play-driving centre. The play would be almost exclusively in Toronto's end, and I like his odds moving the puck better against Krejci. Bergeron and Grabovski are similar players, and keeping that line "even" in scoring chances or goals would be considered a success for the Leafs.

As for the defence, well, it's going to be another high-minute game for Mike Kostka, as Jake Gardiner remains down in the minors. The defence hasn't changed in a couple of games, so why would it now? Cody Franson and Mike Kostka on the low pairing, Carl Gunnarsson and John-Michael Liles on the middle. They'll be attacked by a nasty forecheck and a wave of good hockey players. I don't like Toronto's chances on any of the prospective match ups, so the Leafs should hope for lots of special teams time, another dud of a night from Tuukka Rask (he let in 6 against Buffalo last game) and a gem pitched from James Reimer.

But strangers things have happened.

Also, I'm not sure if you knew this, but one of the story lines coming in is that Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton were drafted with picks the Leafs traded to Boston for Phil Kessel. Boston's starter Rask was also traded for a goalie named Andrew Raycroft.

Again, not sure if you knew any of that.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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