July 04 2013 03:45PM
One of the reasons I liked the David Bolland trade is that even though he was coming off a playoffs where he won the Stanley Cup and scored the Cup-winning goal, he had played a real lousy regular season, possibly his worst in the NHL, and lost his job as the Chicago Blackhawks' primary defensive faceoff man.
In 2011, Bolland was Jonathan Toews' shelter. While Toews earned a Selke Trophy nominee, it was controversial in the online community because Bolland was on the ice for 334 defensive zone faceoffs while Toews had just 268, despite way more minutes. The next year, Marcus Kruger gradually took over Bolland's role and eventually ended up as the primary defensive zone faceoff option in 2013.
Bolland isn't a good player because he starts a lot in the defensive zone—that would be an awful argument. It is worth keeping in context though because offensive and defensive zone starts, while there's a dispute onto how effective they are in helping scorers score, it's tough to deny that there isn't a practical purpose in establishing who are the offensive and defensive options for a coach.
So Bolland was Quenneville's, until he wasn't. Absent a role and on the fourth line, Bolland was the only negative Corsi player on the Chicago Blackhawks until Michal Handzus showed up midway through the season. He scored just 7 times, and his 0.40 points per game rate was the lowest of his career.
But it was only one season. Bolland's PDO was also the lowest on the Blackhawks' forwards. Despite Corey Crawford and Ray Emery being nails all season for the Blackhawks, the team's goalies had just an .884 even strength save percentage when Bolland was on the ice. While it would seem that certain players and teams can help out a goalie's save percentage by restricting high quality shots, the data doesn't bear that out.
Team shooting percentages are definitely a bit trickier, but one year samples of shooting percentage can be attributable partly to luck. Bolland's on-ice shooting percentage, or the overall shot percentage of the Blackhawks when he was on the ice, was just 8.42%. That was a career-low for Bolland.
Combined, Bolland's PDO of 968 (88.4% plus 8.42%) showed that he hadn't produced last year the way that he performed, and his 0.40 points per game rate and his minus-7 were partly the result of low percentages. He played poorly, but he could probably rebound after a bad season, and he certainly didn't play as poorly as his basic statistics showed.
And that brings us to Mikhail Grabovski's "down" season.
Steve Simmons has tried to make the argument that Grabovski's 5-year, $5.5-million extension was a poor one because "he's a lone wolf centre who doesn't make teams better". There was perhaps a case for that this season. Grabovski was buried defensively and didn't get many opportunities to show his value on offence.
From 3:08 of powerplay time a game in 2011 and 2:05 in 2012 when he was the second highest scorer on the Leafs, Grabovski had just 1:42 in 2013. While Grabovski only had 9 goals and 16 points, his PDO was also just 988, the lowest on the Leafs and the only Leafs forward to be below 1000 on the season.
There were flashes of brilliance, but ultimately Grabovski's Relative Corsi fell to just 1.0 as he stockpiled defensive zone starts and shifts against other team's top competition with Nikolai Kulemin. In previous years, in a slightly easier role, Grabovski would be among the league leaders in Relative Corsi with numbers up in the +20s. While Simmons can dispute the importance of Grabovski's goals and points, there's no disputing that the Leafs got way more shots "for" than "against" with him on the ice.
While Simmons quotes Grabovski's plus/minus in the playoffs, he fails to note that over the larger sample, the two years between 2010 and 2012, Grabovski was one of two plus players that were regulars on the Leafs at a +14, the other being Nikolai Kulemin. Nobody criticized Rod Brind'Amour for scoring a single goal in the 2001 playoffs and being a minus-7, the lowest in the league. He and the Carolina Hurricanes played in the Cup Finals the very next season. In 2009, the lowest minus in the playoffs was Patrick Kane. He was second on his team in scoring and scored the Cup-winning goal the very next year.
I'm not sure whether Grabovski's year was good or bad. He was a plus player in Relative Corsi, but he fell off from his perch as one of the top in the league in that category. Surely that can be attributed to losing Clarke MacArthur on his wing, and how defensive his minutes were, but I'm reluctant to say that Grabovski was as good in 2013 as he was in 2012 or 2011… and yet his Relative Corsi was still in the pluses, and he still had just five fewer even strength points than Tyler Bozak in 58 fewer minutes, and 578 fewer minutes with Phil Kessel.
Will the Leafs even get to buy him out? $5.5-million for four years of an excellent centreman is a deal that's real tempting to claim off of waivers, and I know that there are teams in the NHL that use Corsi and other measures to make personnel decisions.
Dave Nonis had better have a good plan of what he's willing to do with the money, but simply accepting Randy Carlyle's faith in players like Jay McClement and Dave Bolland is not going to make me confident that next season the Leafs will ice any line that isn't a blue collar checking line. Randy Carlyle is more replaceable than Mikhail Grabovski ever would be, and his usage of Grabovski, which wasted the talents of the Maple Leafs' second best forward, combined with the Maple Leafs trying to buy him out represents some of the worst asset management in hockey.
Picking off a player after one down year like David Bolland makes sense, but not when you turn around and get rid of a better player a week late after, wait for it, a down year. Getting rid of Grabovski for free is inexcusable. A smart team will pick him up, play him in situations he will succeed, and Grabovski will have success. Unless Jonathan Bernier gets a .924 save percentage next season, I don't see the Leafs making the playoffs. Nonis better know something about him that I don't.