Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
April 09 2013 02:05PM
Unable to sleep last night, I did what any other odd person does to wind down - I broke down hockey statistics to borderline pointless levels. Last night, my victims were the Leafs centres.
Now, I’m not going to bore a lot of you with Advanced Statistics. While they’re very good at showing things that can’t been seen at face value, plenty are still unfamiliar with them, and at the same time, I don’t consider myself to be completely knowledgeable on the subject. So what I prefer to do for arguments like this, is stretch the more basic stats to see what players production paces are.
Most pacing involves stretching a player’s games played to 82 games and calling it a day. This theoretically works, but doesn’t account for ice time. What I do as a result, is adjust everybody to ice time of 20 minutes a game, low minutes for a top line centre. While this doesn’t entirely account for quality of talent faced, I feel it to be at least somewhat offset by quality of linemates.
Moving forward. This is what the Leafs centres currently look like:
Next, let’s take these numbers and stretch them over 48 games played of 20 minutes each:
Finally, over 82 games/20 minutes. I’ve adjusted the faceoffs taken to 1042 - the average amount that Tyler Bozak has taken per year. It’s not reflective of a full season (seeing as he’s on pace for 1063 over 48), but gives a general idea when comparing draws by year.
Here are the things that immediately come to mind:
Nazem Kadri is on another level
Look, at this point, it’s impossible to deny that Kadri has been by far the best Leafs centre, if not Leafs player this year. It’s not even a stretch to consider him a Hart/Lindsay finalist directly this year. But without getting too carried away, look at those numbers. He was already outproducing Bozak without adjustments, but add four minutes a game to one and take away a minute and a bit from the other, and suddenly, he’s doubling him in goals, assists, points, powerplay goals, and shots.
Now, what works in Bozak’s favour are his faceoff stats. It’s not even so much that they’re good, even though they are the best on the team. Your best faceoff man doesn’t have to be the player with the most minutes just because he can win draws. But when you combine Bozak’s ability with Kadri’s inability (a gap of 112 wins when adjusted to 1042), and a case could be made. Mind you, this can be counter-argued by the fact that the Leafs don’t really keep possession when they get it (whoops, this stat is advanced), and by the fact that the top line’s zone starts are overwhelmingly in the offensive end, somewhere that Kadri’s production would be of use.
The point here is simple - whether or not you think Kadri should be moved up to the top line, to say he hasn’t been the number one centre on this team by a considerable margin would be crazy. That said..
Nazem Kadri is on another level.. for now
All of the above considered, one should start tempering their expectations now. Because really, even if the Leafs decide that he is the number one centre moving forward, there is no way that he’s going to score 105 points next season. Absolutely none.
There’s a certain point where believing in a players development hits a tipping point, and expectations and temporary results become so completely unrealistic that a stop should be put to them, and that’s right here. At the end of the day, we’re talking about a player who was in and around a point per game at the AHL level suddenly becoming the best player in the world that doesn’t wear a Penguins uniform. Speaking of Penguins uniforms, to show how insane this year has been, let’s compare Kadri’s 82 game year to another centre when they were 22 years old.
Sidney Crosby won the Rocket Richard trophy in this year, and finished second in NHL scoring, just three points behind Henrik Sedin’s career year. Sidney Crosby was 22 years old, with his 4th 100 point season in five years, and 5th straight 100 point pace. Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player of our generation with little argument possible to say otherwise.
Nazem Kadri’s 2012/13 season, at the same age, is more impressive per minute.
You can believe all you want that this is what we’re going to see out of him every year, but that would make you optimistic beyond sensibility. To give another case of a highly touted, point per game AHLer making an elite impact in his rookie year under low minutes, here’s Bobby Ryan:
A slight difference in the entry year (21 vs 22), but you can see that other than a team-wide drop last season, Ryan quickly found his rate of production. Not as mind blowing, but still very good.
I expect Kadri to have a bit more of a dip - probably to the 65 point range, if only for the fact that his shooting percentage is a good chunk higher than Ryan’s has been. But even then, that would be wicked production out of a prospect that people were beginning to write off a few months ago.
My point is simple - I think Nazem Kadri is an incredible player, and feel confident in him being in the Leafs’ first line centre moving forward. But like any high talent player suddenly thrust into a league that doesn’t know him, goalies will figure out a few more of those dekes and shots, defencemen will be a bit more aware of where the passes are going, and he’ll find a level of consistency that isn’t “the next Sidney Crosby”.
We’ve seen the whole Bozak story
Next up, if this year’s proven anything to me, it’s that Tyler Bozak has topped out, and if anybody signs him to an inflated contract and uses “potential” as a reasoning, they should be fired. Current play, and making him not a go-to guy, sure. But here are his last 4 seasons, adjusted:
Minus the one “sophomore slump” year in 2010/11, Bozak has proven himself to be a 20ish goal, 30ish assist guy who’s production may even be dipping a bit as time progresses. His plus minus (which isn’t really a useful stat) stays about the same, he remains about as effective on the powerplay every year, takes about the same amount of shots, and really doesn’t vary much in his faceoff skill - consistently rather good.
What we see here is an effective that would be key depth on a good team. David Bolland is a guy I like to bring up a lot, and if you look at his stats, Bozak appears to be a version who wins more draws and you’d be more comfortable with getting extra minutes from time to time.
A team would be smart to pick up Bozak in the 3-3.5M range (Bolland makes 3.375, but got it, long term, as a reaction to a 47 point breakout year that wasn’t replicated). But at this point, don’t expect more than what we’ve got - he’s a known quantity, and likely won’t ever be a true first line centre on a team that has better options.
Stop it Randy, you’re killing Mikhail
Speaking of players who’s quantities were known. Let’s look at Mikhail Grabovski for a second. Sure, he’s having an off year. His shooting percentage is down and he doesn’t appear to be making as many of his typical creative plays. With others producing, Carlyle has decided to use him as a defensive forward. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, seeing as the team has seen success under the plan, but it’s also the explanation for his “off year” having this much of a gap:
As you can see, Grabovski has maintained a similar production rate for pretty much his entire career up to this point. The idea that he’s suddenly lost the ability to get 50% more points than he’s on pace to seems odd. The thought that it’s the result of fewer (and less accurate) shots, a different role, and much less powerplay time (7th amongst Leafs forwards, down from 4th, 3rd, and 3rd in his past three years), on the other hand, seems sensible.
Oh, and Jay is pretty cool
Just because I feel like I’m ignoring him, I will say that I’m very happy with Jay McClement’s play this year. No extrapolated tables here - he was signed to be a 4th line guy who goes out on the penalty kill, and has done just that, leading the league in penalty kill ice time per game, despite the Leafs being 10th in the league in the team version of that stat. By the way, they’re third in the league in penalty kill efficiency - compare that to 28th, 28th, 30th, 30th, 29th, and 27th in the six seasons prior. Jay has been huge in that, while also putting up a respectable 0.33 points per game despite limited minutes.
Nazem Kadri is very good at hockey. Nazem Kadri is not Sidney Crosby. Tyler Bozak is not a first line centre. Tyler Bozak may be Dave Bolland on steroids. Mikhail Grabovski has not fallen off. Mikhail Grabovski probably should do more offensive stuff. Jay McClement’s offensive stats are irrelevant. Jay McClement’s penalty kill stats deserve a medal.
…statistics are fun.