April 15 2013 04:52AM
Five laboriously-constructed thoughts focusing on players and storylines we'll be following this week at The Leafs Nation. This week: Phil Kessel the juggernaut, more shooting percentage junk, Randy Carlyle's Jack Adams candidacy, Nazem Kadri's usage and Mark Fraser's excellent segment on Hockey Night in Canada.
No. 1 - Phil Kessel's career season
You may not have noticed it Saturday night given the attention paid to Nazem Kadri this season, but Phillip J. Kessel has overtaken the young stud for the team lead in scoring. Not that this is a discredit to Kadri, but he's having trouble scoring points now that 20% of the shots while he's on the ice aren't going in the net (although when I said this about the Maple Leafs' losing streak last month, they went on a crazy run towards the end of the season, so…)
When Kessel was interviewed post-game, it occurs to me it was the first time I'd ever heard the man talk or seen him outside the context of a hockey game. It wasn't too pretty, and Kessel just said "right?" every second word and couldn't wipe that silly smile off his face.
Kessel gains the zone more often with control than any Leaf. Kessel is more involved in scoring chances on his line than any Leaf. Kessel leads the team in shots, and his linemate James van Riemsdyk is second on the team. The Leafs take more unblocked shots at the net with Kessel on the ice than with any other Leaf.
The shot stats are telling because none of Kessel's run this season has been percentage-driven. Here are his career numbers, in goals per 82 games, shots per game and shooting percentage. I like using those three categories to showcase a player's offensive ability:
|Goals Per 82||Shots per GP||Sh%|
Individually, Kessel's shot percentage this season is actually below his career average... and he's still on pace for 30 goals! Here are Shots For per 60 minutes, plus team on-ice Shot percentage, with Kessel on the ice over his years in the NHL:
Kessel has an elevated on-ice shooting percentage, but it isn't extreme. The small gap, if it were to revert to Kessel's career norms, would result in a change of about five goals for and perhaps three points for Kessel.
No. 2 - What about the other guys?
PDO is the addition of save percentage and shot percentage. Here are the Leafs numbers in that category:
|NAME||On-Ice Sh%||On-Ice Sv%||PDO|
|James van Riemsdyk||10.97||912||1021|
Now, remember that the league leader over any three-year stretch in the NHL is Daniel Sedin, who had a 1047 PDO between 2008 and 2011. During that time, him and linemate Henrik Sedin won two scoring titles. Henrik has been identified as one of the few players in the league who can affect teammate's shot rates.
I'm not here to bury the Leafs, just to try to contain expectations for the playoffs and next season. The Leafs success this year will have me re-evaluating certain statistical concepts in the offseason, but there are currently SIX regular Leafs who put up a higher PDO than any NHL leader over a three-year period. It's simply not a sustainable or repeatable skill for many Leafs. Matt Frattin is a useful third-or-fourth-line player because he's got some talent, can pot the odd goal and is fast, but he's not better than Daniel Sedin.
No. 3 - Randy Carlyle for Jack Adams?
Steve Simmons has company. Jonas Siegel is drinking the Kool-Aid.
When the 113-day lockout ended on January 6, expectations were low for a team that had missed the playoffs epicly for the seventh consecutive season the previous spring. But with seven games left in the 2013 campaign, the Leafs sit a surprising fifth in the Eastern Conference, well on their way to the postseason for the first time in nine years.
There may be more deserving candidates for the honour, Paul MacLean, Dan Bylsma, Joel Quenneville, Michel Therrien and Bruce Boudreau among them, but Carlyle deserves to have his name in the conversation for the Jack Adams Award. Under his direction, the Leafs have transformed into a brute, scrappy, high-scoring annoyance, one that despite inexperience – especially in goal and on defence – has managed to "earn respect back for the organization".
Known to be meticulous in his demand for details, Carlyle has incorporated structure, order and an edgy culture to the team in Toronto, ensuring a grinding brand of hockey that most of his players have accepted as necessary for success.
My beef with the Jack Adams coronations year-to-year is that they don't seem to focus on any tactical pursuit that leads to a team's success. You can talk day and night about changing the "culture" of an organization, but what exactly on the ice, other than the penalty kill, is noticeably better this season than last when it comes to player positioning or deployment.
Maybe other people are seeing it, but I'm not. I'd like to challenge anybody to find tangible differences between the Carlyle squad of this season and the first-half Ron Wilson squad of last season. The only real difference is that the team fights more, but even that effect gets nullified in the wash when you set the PVR, start the game on a 2-minute delay and fast-forward through the inevitable first period fight.
The Jack Adams always gets awarded to the coach of the team that the media lowballed at the start of the season. Nobody really notices tactical innovations and without the right data it's impossible to compare to other teams.
No. 4 - Can you at least give Carlyle some credit?
He's brought along Nazem Kadri nicely. After Jeff posted his bit on centremen last week, Patrick Burke, son of Brian and President of You Can Play, stepped up and said that you can't just look at a player's goal-scoring or point-scoring rate over 15 minutes and pro-rate it to 20 minutes. That dragged into a long conversation.
He's exactly right, of course. Jeff wasn't necessarily doing that, but it's an interesting point to make and one that I think should be addressed.
This is all about Nazem Kadri naturally. There's some talk about Kadri's ice-time and how it's still hovering below 16 minutes most nights.
I looked at this somewhat with Cody Hodgson last season in Vancouver and found a "sweet spot" of minutes that was somewhere between his highest-deployed times and lowest-deployed times. The reality is that when you play more minutes, you run a greater risk of running into top defenders that Kadri has for the most part stayed away from this season. Splitting a 41-game sample in half isn't going to tell us much about how much ice-time is right for young players, but I absolutely buy what Patrick is selling in that just because Kadri is putting up high point totals in 14 or 15 minutes, doesn't mean the same rate will stretch to 19 or 20.
The way Carlyle has shown patience with Kadri is admirable.
No. 5 - Mark Fraser seems like a cool guy
You watch a feature like this and all of a sudden I feel bad for calling for the guy's removal from the lineup:
Sort of humanizing, isn't it? That's what access should be used for. Players are conditioned to say real boring things in post-game scrums but reporters like to parrot lines about chip-and-chase or playing the right way and pretend it's insider information. The best interviews are one-on-ones when there's no microphone to be seen. It's just two guys having a conversation. Elliotte Friedman can pull this off because Elliotte is an interesting guy who genuinely cares about the things that drive Mark Fraser.
You never really stop to think about guys who get thrown on the waiver wire monthly. There are a lot of replacement players in the NHL who never get a choice about where they play. It's a pretty awful system compared to baseball when players have a lot more leverage coming out of the draft. Fraser signed in New Jersey, was waived once in October 2011, another time in November 2011, was traded to Anaheim, waived again, traded to Toronto…
It's just part of the inner workings of the hockey sausage factory. It can take forever for a good, hard-working guy like Mark Fraser to get his big break, and then when he has a modicum of success, a bunch of asshole bloggers pop up and have the nerve to say he isn't as good as Jake Gardiner.