September 30 2013 12:54PM
Over the next few days, we'll take a brief look at the teams in Toronto's newest division. The division is called the "Atlantic" but only three of the teams in the division are even close to the Atlantic Ocean. Given there are six teams in the Northeast and two in the state of Florida, the hockey community as a whole has decided to rebrand this division "The Flortheast". We will get team bloggers from each group to profile their teams as we get ready to start the season…
Today's second preview comes from the former editor of this blog, Cobourg, Ontario's own Julian, or "PPP" who blogs over at Pension Plan Puppets. He will take a look at the Maple Leafs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have doubled down on Randy Carlyle hockey, a phrase that I will try to refrain to use but that I will no doubt come to loathe in the weeks to come, through their summer moves. Gone is Mikhail Grabovski so that Tyler Bozak could be re-signed, gone is cap flexibility and common sense so that the seemingly never-ending "David Clarkson is from Toronto and must sign there because he's truculent!" saga could have the inevitable ending that was expected, and gone - at least for some - is the feeling of optimism that reigned when Nazem Kadri banged in Phil Kessel's rebound and it seemed that despite the Leafs' best efforts that they had stumbled onto their best lineup.
The team did improve their defence as Paul Ranger returned from wandering the proverbial Sinai after a successful season with the Marlies, Jake Gardiner will presumably be given a role commensurate with his prodigious talents (although Carlyle's training camp comments do give one cause for concern), Carl Gunnarsson is hopefully healthy, Cody Franson was given a last minute reprieve from missing the entire preseason with yet another below market deal, and rookie Morgan Rielly will be given a chance to find a spot on the blue line. It has become a tired refrain but the Leafs' defence DOES actually look pretty good on paper.
Up front, the Leafs are deep on the wings with Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, and James Van Riemsdyk probably all cracking 30 goals in healthy seasons while David Clarkson and Nikolai Kulemin at least have a passing familiarity with the target although the former may forget that during his moronically earned ten-game vacation to start the season. Mason Raymond will have a chance to show that he still possesses some semblance of the things known as 'hands' if there are injuries, otherwise his 'wheels' can provide defensive help. The Leafs hilariously decided to weaken themselves talent-wise down the middle by keeping Tyler Bozak over Grabovski thus freeing up some cap space to make the Clarkson mistake but McClement and new arrival David Bolland will hopefully provide some defensive steel to the spine of the team. Nazem Kadri will carry the heavy burden of meeting offensive output expectations as Bozak weighs down his best buddy Kessel. God forbid any of the centres gets injured since the thin backups got even thinner with the departure of Joe Colborne for Calgary. Who's next if there is an injury? Greg McKegg? God help us.
In net, the Leafs made what is likely a marginal upgrade although the best case for the Leafs may be hoping that James Reimer tanks or is injured so that at least the Bernier trade can be wholly justified in hindsight. This is a position of strength for the Leafs and it'll have to be outstanding if they are to make the playoffs.
What makes the upgrade in net only marginal?
Unfortunately, you can only play one goalie at a time. So, if Reimer continues to be as good as he has shown that he can be then he'll probably play 55-60 games. That leaves 20-25 games for Jonathan Bernier (career .912 sv%) that would have gone to Ben Scrivens (career .910 sv%). If you tally up how many shots they're likely to face over those games (32.5 SA/G last year for about 808 shots) then that difference over their career numbers would represent *drum roll please* two goals. The major belief of course is that Bernier's pedigree weighs much more heavily than their shared AHL background. The gap grows if you change your assumptions like if you think that Bernier matches last year's save percentage of .922 then that's a difference of 8 goals (6 represents a win) and now maybe the cost of acquiring Jonathan Bernier represents value.
Clarkson and Kulemin are both former 30-goal scorers. Where do you think they top out this season?
Kulemin looks like he is going to get a chance to start the year with Nazem Kadri which will hopefully help somewhat his arrest the slide in his shots per game figure. His shooting percentage won't likely hit the heady heights of 17.3% from his 30-goal year but at last year's number of 9.7% I think 12 goals is achievable especially considering he's likely to be used in a strong defensive role. Clarkson on the other hand generates shots like crazy which is a good thing but he'll miss the first 10 games of the season because he is an idiot which is a bad thing. At the season ticket holder event - I was snuck in, I'm no moneybags - Nonis said they don't pay Clarkson to score 30 which is a good thing because he probably won't. If it's a lucky year shooting percentage and health-wise, maybe he sniffs 25. If not, he'll struggle for 15. I'm taking the under because I've already had my heart broken too many times.
How many games until Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel are finally paired together? How many games until Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel *should* be paired together?
Until Bozak is injured or suspended. 0.
|2013 Stats||Toronto (Lg. Rank)|
|Points/82 Games||97.4 (9th)|
|Goal Differential||+12 (10th)|
|Corsi Tied||43.8% (29th)|
|5v5 Shot %||10.56% (1st)|
|5v5 Save %||.924 (15th)|
And well… these are the statistics that will get a test this season. It's the Toronto Maple Leafs Grand Experiment, to see if they can become the first team ever to repeat such a high shooting percentage.
It feels so impossible to summarize my feelings about the state of the Leafs into a few sentences, especially since so much of these thoughts can be found in other posts on here. I will say though - this is going to be a wild year.
On one hand, I expect the team to be better. Having two very good goalies instead of one is a plus, and the skaters that didn't fit Carlyle's philosophies seem to have been swapped with some who do. Your on-paper talent only goes so far if not used correctly, so it's not crazy to say that a team built to the coach's specs will be better suited on a night in, night out basis.
On the other hand, will they produce better results? The Leafs weren't as well suited last year, and didn't perform in a lot of places that correlate with success long term, but soldiered on with great shooting percentages and James Reimer standing on his head. An improved team that's missing the luck may be less nerve-wracking to watch, but produce fewer wins.
The only way to know for sure what happens is to see how it plays out. This is a crucial year in terms of flexing a blueprint, and it'll be interesting to see where Toronto takes it.
This is going to be a very interesting year. I don't think I've ever been so curious about where a team will finish in the standings. There's a large disconnect between where stat analysts and traditionalists think is going to go, and the unfortunate thing is that the Leafs this year are going to be the team that confirms a lot of people's hypotheses into whether statistical metrics have any merit.
But of course, this is just one season out of many, many seasons, and the Leafs do have several good offensive pieces in Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk and David Clarkson and Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul if he can stay healthy. They have very good goaltending, and odds are if either Jonathan Bernier or James Reimer falters that the other will pick it up. Julian's right on the mark talking about the D: Paul Ranger could be the top 4 piece the Leafs needed, as could Cody Franson after a big improvement last season.
I think this team will take, and concede, fewer shots than last season. I do not think that all the key players will remain healthy, and forward depth is going to be an issue. I think this team finishes close to, but ultimately out of a playoff spot. I am eager to be proved wrong.
Fifth across the board, but the Montreal Canadiens blogger thought they could fall as low as sixth:
I find it pretty interesting that a lot of analytics types, myself included, are predicting a collapse for Toronto, but nobody has the guts to bring them all the way down to lottery contention.
The other thing you may have noticed, if you were following along the other three previews, is that all eight of our guest bloggers picked Toronto, Tampa, Florida and Buffalo in the bottom 4 spots. The remaining teams in the division only received votes in the top 4. Consensus has spoken.