Next TLN Blogger: Round Two

Justin Fisher
September 11 2014 11:24AM

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls... Welcome to Round Two of the Next TLN Blogger contest. You already know who our five finalists are, but today you'll get to see some of their writing first hand. 

Be aware that we've packed five articles into this one post - it's a beast - so go do a few stretches and grab a water bottle before you begin. And do not forget to comment on who's work you like at the bottom!

"Joffrey Lupul - is he Worth it?" by Adam Laskaris

Joffrey Lupul is perhaps the Leafs’ most puzzling player heading into the 2014-15 season.

In a popularity contest among the Leafs fan base, Lupul would easily be one of the top picks and it’s not all that hard to see why.  He’s easy to like, outgoing, and photogenic. He’s actively engaged with the fan base and charitable efforts, and Lupul’s widely recognized as one of the most media-friendly Leafs in recent times. Search “Lupul for Captain” on Twitter and there’s no shortage of fans who believe he’d be a great fit having the C on his chest next to the Maple Leaf.

Besides his personality, Lupul’s also shown in Toronto he’s capable of being a strong player in the NHL. After being acquired in a trade the previous spring from Anaheim, Lupul’s popularity skyrocketed in a breakout 2011-12 season where he formed a formidable 1-2 punch on the top line with Phil Kessel, scoring 67 points in 66 games as well as being named an alternate captain for the annual NHL All-Star game.  Unfortunately, Lupul was sidelined late in the year with a shoulder injury that put him out for the final 16 games of the season. After suffering a broken arm early into the new lockout-shortened season of 2013, Lupul came back and proceeded to produce better than ever, putting up 18 points in just 16 games, including 11 goals.  

Looking at Lupul’s shooting percentages from those 83 games from 2011-13, we see a 13.1 shooting percentage in 2011-12 followed by a ridiculous 26.2 shooting percentage in his 16 games from 2013. While 13.1 was higher than his current career average of 11.5 (yet still maintainable), it didn’t take much insight to assume that his 26.2 shooting percentage and production was going to slow down at some point.

In a league where perceptions about a player can be hard to change and assumed intangible qualities are often valued by many over on-ice performance, Lupul fits a mold of a player who’s been largely able to dodge criticism from both fans and media while in the blue and white, influenced at least slightly by his popularity. While Lupul’s had his fair share of ups and downs over the course of his 10-year career after being drafted 7 th overall by Anaheim in 2002, so far it’s been mostly a mutually strong relationship in Toronto.

Suggesting Lupul’s overpaid or should be put on the trading block would certainly upset some among in Leafs Nation, but his most recent season should certainly raise some eyebrows as to Lupul’s true worth to his team.

After producing among the game’s best for that aforementioned 83 game stretch, the magic of Lupul’s scoring touch mostly disappeared. 2013-14 was predicted by many to be a regression year for Lupul and well, he regressed. His 0.64 points per game was exactly on par with his career totals, which was also exactly 0.64. Even weirder, he shot 11.5 percent last season, again lining up exactly with his current career total of 11.5. To say last year was an average year for Joffrey Lupul was an understatement, it was as close to average as a player could get. By scoring 22 goals, and adding 22 assists in 69 games this past year, Lupul’s certainly looking for something to prove in the new campaign.

It’s easy to ignore criticisms of a fan favourite, but perhaps it’s time to evaluate Lupul and see exactly how he fits into the big picture for the Leafs moving forward.

CAP HIT COMPARABLES

In the salary-cap era of the NHL, it’s no longer sufficient to just classify a player as good or bad. With a limited allocation of resources, it’s crucial to evaluate players by how they perform in relation to players on similar contracts around the league.

Lupul currently has four years left on his contract (signed in 2013, at the peak of his performance) at $5.25 million per year, which isn’t the biggest issue on the team, but clearly isn’t a bargain either.  Using Capgeek.com’s salary cap hit comparables tool, we can see the 20 players across the league on contracts that closely resembles Lupul’s in both length and value.

To compare their production to Lupul, two similar yet slightly different methods have been employed.
Points per game is a simple, traditional metric used to evaluate a players’ production. In the case of injured players like Lupul or John Tavares, it allows us to create a more fair comparison to other NHL players who have played more games during the season. 

Even strength points/60 is another newer stat (taken here from hockeyanalysis.com) which helps to even the playing field to compare players who may be utilized differently during the course of an average game. For example, two players may each have 50 points during the year at even strength, but player A may be playing top-line minutes while player B is playing second-line minutes. It stands to reason that the added ice time will on average lead to more points, so by representing these numbers as a rate stat such as ES P/60 it allows us to value a player’s contributions more fairly. As well, power play and penalty kill stats are not included, as these numbers may skew the perceived effectiveness of a player due to team effects. Either way, we get a solid idea of the sort of numbers that a player getting paid should put up in an average season.

By comparing Lupul to players with a comparable cap hit, a picture is painted of what exactly a $5-5.5 million player should be producing like.

Player

Even Strength Points/60

Points/Game

Cap Hit

Contract End

Jamie Benn

2.93

0.98

5.25

2017

Dustin Byfuglien

1.21

0.72

5.2

2016

Mike Cammalleri

1.86

0.71

5

2019

Jeff Carter

1.86

0.69

5.2

2022

David Clarkson

0.66

0.18

5.25

2020

Shane Doan

1.51

0.68

5.3

2016

Patrik Elias

1.71

0.82

5.5

2016

Valtteri Filppula

1.76

0.77

5

2018

Shawn Horcoff

0.99

0.26

5.5

2015

Nathan Horton

1.71

0.51

5.3

2020

Marian Hossa

2.1

0.83

5.275

2021

Jarome Iginla

1.95

0.78

5.33

2017

Jaromir Jagr

1.98

0.82

5.5

2015

Evander Kane

1.78

0.65

5.25

2018

Ryan Kesler

1.3

0.56

5

2016

David Krejci

2.18

0.86

5.25

2015

James Neal

2.32

1.03

5

2018

Tomas Plekanec

1.29

0.53

5

2018

Bobby Ryan

2.18

0.69

5.1

2015

John Tavares

2.33

1.12

5.1

2018

Joffrey Lupul

1.58

0.64

5.25

2018

Average

1.77

0.70



Lupul’s past season sees him ranked 17th out of 21 in points per game out of this group and 15th in even strength points/60. Those aren’t exactly the most promising numbers. It appears that the production for a player in this contract range should be north of 0.70 points/game to be above average, higher than both Lupul’s past season and his career averages.

As noted previously, the kind of player Joffrey Lupul can produce like (see 2011-12 and 2012-13) or the kind of player he’s produced like for much of his career are two very different things. If Lupul manages a point per game, he’s on a very positive contract, but he’s been able to do that just twice in his career to date. Currently, he’s slightly below average, and therefore a little overpaid.

The issue we run into here is, what kind of season was last year for Joffrey Lupul? Was it a down year? Or were his most productive games in Toronto merely the product of top line minutes alongside an elite talent like Phil Kessel and an inflated shooting percentage, and was last season more closely resembling what his next four seasons will look like?  It’s more likely the latter, which isn’t exactly the best news for Leafs fans to hear.

Fun note: David Clarkson has the third longest time left on his contract on the list, signed until 2020. He scored five goals this past season.

LUPUL’S DEFENSIVE “STRENGTHS”

Of course, there’s more to a forward’s game than just offensive production. For the past few years, there’s been an idea in some Leafs’ fans heads that Lupul’s contributions not only show up on the scoreboard, but that his defensive responsibility allows him to help keep his linemates in check who may struggle in that regard.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is understanding how exactly this can be measured.  A personal favourite of many bloggers involves the idea of measuring a player’s stats with and without a certain teammate. Defensively, measuring shot suppression of various Leafs (the amount of shots the opposing team takes) with Lupul and without Lupul on the ice give us a picture of his defense effects. It isn’t perfect, but it’s likely a better tool than simply relying on the eye test alone.

Corsi Against/20 minutes, or CA20 is measured similarly to points/60. It is calculated by the number of shot attempts (goals, shots on goal, shots missed, and shots blocked) by all members of the opposing team divided by every 20 minutes of ice time. Lupul’s numbers in the past 3 years with and without his three most common teammates from forward and defense read as follows:

Player

CA20 With Lupul

CA20 Without Lupul

Did Lupul Make This Teammate Defensively Better?

2011-12 Kessel

21.42

19.42

NO

2011-12 Bozak

21.73

19.95

NO

2011-12 Phaneuf

21.09

18.27

NO

2011-12 Gardiner

20.56

19.63

NO

2011-12 Gunnarson

20.76

17.87

NO

2011-12 Connolly

22.95

18.67

NO

2012-13 Kadri

21.78

19.8

NO

2012-13 Kulemin

21.3

22.87

YES

2012-13 Phaneuf

25.13

22.9

NO

2012-13 Gunnarson

25.22

19.82

NO

2012-13 Kessel

22.89

22.56

NO

2012-13 Fraser

20.81

21.16

NO

2013-14 Kadri

23.26

19.46

NO

2013-14 Gardiner

20.48

17.6

NO

2013-14 Franson

21.29

21.09

NO

2013-14 Rielly

24.17

21.52

NO

2013-14 Raymond

22.13

22.36

YES

2013-14 Kulemin

21.72

21.56

NO

Clearly, Lupul has a negative impact on his teammate’s shot suppression more often than not. Out of 18 teammates he’s played with over the past three years, just three times has he lowered their shot suppression compared to playing without him. It seems like the evidence doesn’t hold up to the theory of Lupul’s solid defensive play.

WHAT’S UP NEXT?

In short, in Lupul is a player who defensively often makes his teammate’s numbers worse, and whose reputation and popularity likely exceed his on ice performance. With Lupul turning 31 on September 23, it’s more than likely he’s already hit his prime, and his career averages suggest he’s getting paid in the range of a player who should be producing more than he currently is. With James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel both in their primes, it’s unlikely Lupul will get another chance at top-line minutes in Toronto, so it’s highly likely his most productive days are in the past.

If Lupul plays the full season, there’s a good chance he’ll score somewhere in the range of 20-25 goals for the Leafs and put up about 50 points as a second-liner if he stays in line with career averages. The thing that makes Joffrey Lupul so intriguing is, you never really know what to expect. Injuries have hindered much of Lupul’s career, as he’s played more than 70 games in only four out of his ten seasons to date.

Trading Lupul would be a possibility, but it’d likely only be a wise move with a proper return. Exactly what the Leafs would be able acquire for Lupul is unknown, but it wouldn’t hurt for the management team to go search for a buyer, at the very least.

Shedding some of the $5.25 million annual cap hit Lupul currently takes through 2018 would most likely be a smart move for the Leafs management, assuming there’s a willing taker around the league with a fair return. Lupul’s not horribly overpaid or extremely unproductive, he’s just not likely worth his current contract value.

A younger, suitable top-six winger straight up would be ideal (and preferably one on a favorable contract,) but it’d be a tall task to pluck such a talent from a team. The Leafs’ best bet if they were looking to move Lupul could be to potentially find an under-utilized third-line winger with a higher production rate than Lupul (points/60) if they feel he’d be up to the task of playing top six minutes.

If the Leafs choose to move Lupul for either draft picks, a prospect, or another position, the hole in his spot will have to be filled somehow. How the Leafs second line will look on opening night exactly isn’t clear at the moment, but the absence of Lupul would certainly be tough to fill immediately. Peter Holland, David Booth, Daniel Winnik and Matt Frattin are a few candidates to fill a second-line winger role, as well as the possibility of David Clarkson fitting that role. While Clarkson’s contract isn’t going away any time soon, there is no obligation of guaranteed ice time or any reason to not put the most appropriate choice on the second line.

Maybe it’ll have to wait for top prospect William Nylander to come to the NHL before a suitable top-six winger comes to replace Lupul. The Leafs best option may in fact may be to retain Lupul through the remainder of his contract, but they’ll more likely than not be paying more than they should in relation to the rest of the league for his level of production.

2014-15 should be an interesting year for Lupul, as it’s anybody’s best guess how exactly he’ll produce this upcoming year. All in all, we never really know what to expect out of any player, but it seems we really never know what’s next with Joffrey Lupul. And while he’s done a lot to earn the respect and admiration of Leafs fans, perhaps it’s time to start talking about if it’s in this team’s best interests to keep him sticking around.


"Kicking Out the Crutches" by Dakoda Sannen

It’s been dubbed the “summer of analytics.”

From the proverbial mother’s basement, to the front office, bloggers and prominent analytics people got hired left and right in the summer of 2014.

It was no real surprise.

Guys like Tyler Dellow, (allegedly) Cam Charron, and Rob Pettapiece had been doing great work for years, and it’s a wonder they hadn’t been snatched up sooner.

The surprise came out of just exactly who did the hiring.

The Toronto Maple Leafs came out swinging, firing Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin and hiring Sault St. Marie Greyhounds GM Kyle Dubas to be their assistant GM.

And just like that, the firmly-in-place old guard was shook.

Dave Nonis, a man whose management group decried the very philosophy Dubas was hired to help instil lost his right and left hand man.

Randy Carlyle, another firm non-believer lost his right and left hand man, and even his best friend in Dave Farrish.

Brendan Shanahan, analytical in his own approach, looked up and down the organization and saw that a change in philosophy was required. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail mentioned on the Steve Dangle podcast that, in an interview with Brendan Shanahan, Shanahan said there would be a change in the system.

Was it finally time for the Maple Leafs to consider icing a competent fourth line? Were the days of two enforcers over? Would the leash be lengthened to let faster, more skilled players play in high leverage situations? Would management finally value the process over the results?

Almost every roster move made this summer was, at the very least, encouraging.

You could almost feel an aura of optimism brimming out of Toronto.

You could almost forget that at the end of the day, Dave Nonis is still the general manager and Randy Carlyle is still the head coach.

They saw to that yesterday, embarking on what can only be described as the Leafs Management Crush All Summer Optimism Media Tour 2014 .

Carlyle started it off strong, remarking that a “memorandum” had been sent to every player on what was expected of them this season, and that the team last year was “unacceptable.”

Well, he’s not wrong. A bottom 10 performance from a capped out team is, quite frankly, unacceptable.

He continued:

That sounds vaguely familiar.

Not to be outdone, Dave Nonis chimed in, and if you’re not following @Hope_Smoke on Twitter and you’re a Leafs fan, what is wrong with you?

So, enforcers are still going to be used, and the team still needs to compete harder.

Although there is a glimmer of optimism in those words; He’s right, they can’t continue to play the fourth line for less than five minutes a night!

Oh, there’s more?

Kind of like Mike Komisarek, Ryan O’Byrne, Mark Fraser, and Tim Gleason, right?

Oh, there’s, uh…still more.

That’s agreeable, chasing an element of some team (toughness, Anaheim) that you believe won them a championship some years ago does seem like a bad id- oh? There’s still more?

If you don’t want to “chase the rabbit” of championship teams, surely you don’t want to chase the magic of an awful possession team that rode the percentages to a first round playoff loss two years ago, right?

And just like that, Maple Leafs fans were nervously tugging their collars again, worried about being the butt of hockey Twitter’s jokes.

Carlyle gave essentially the same speech the year before he was fired in Anaheim. He claimed he’d have to be tougher on their players. (Bobby Ryan and Jake Gardiner could probably have a good conversation.)

The fact is Carlyle and Nonis have had the crutches kicked from under them. Their guys, in Poulin, Loiselle, Cronin, Gordon, and Farrish are all gone, replaced by the new guard who are eyeing their jobs.

They’ve been wounded and their guards are up. This is their last chance to make a difference.

And what a fitting way that would be to end the Nonis and Carlyle era in Toronto: The two most results-oriented men in Toronto falling to their own poor results.

It’s almost poetic. It’s almost like it should have happened years ago.

When, and if it does, let the process finally begin.


"Leafs Fan Fest, the weekend that was & the long awaited Legends Row" by Dane Nichol

The Leafs Fan Fest kicked off this past weekend to mixed reviews by fans. Some compared the experience to an amusement park, or a lineup fest, without all the best parts of an amusement park like the rides, carnival games with impossible odds to win, and of course funnel cake. Some people claimed they waited in line for well over four hours for an autograph, not knowing who they were waiting in line for, only to discover that it was a fairly low profile player, not a first line star like they expected or were promised.

Fortunately from Saturday to Sunday the event staff learned a lot about proper event planning and those who attended Sunday’s events reported having a much happier experience. An incredible turnaround in one day. Now if only management could achieve the same turnaround for the team in one offseason.

One part of Fan Fest which was perfectly executed with which no one could argue was the unveiling of the long awaited Legends Row. Traveling Leafs fans have long wondered what some of their very own legends might look like immortalized in bronze in front of the ACC after seeing the likes of Bobby Orr flying through the air in front of the TD Garden, or the French Connection standing proudly in front of the First Niagara Centre. And on Saturday their curiosities were satisfied with the first three members of Legends Row unveiled: Ted Kennedy, followed by Darryl Sittler and Johnny Bower.

All three of these men are excellent choices and it would be hard to argue otherwise. Each has their place in Leafs lore: Darryl Sittler’s 10 point night which essentially banished Dave Reece from the NHL for life before the rookie tender even got his start; Ted Kennedy fearlessly leading the Leafs to 5 cups during his 15 years there and creating what some would consider to be one of the first NHL dynasties; and last but not least Johnny Bower, the ageless wonder, who didn’t even crack an NHL squad until the ripe old age of 34 where he would go on to become a staple of the four time Stanley Cup winning Leafs of the 1960s.

These are all fairly easy choices to make but now that they’re out of the way it leaves room for much debate among hockey pundits and all beleafers about who the remaining 9 to 10 players featured on Legends Row should be. There hang another 13 banners of Leafs greats in the ACC (along with a Bon Jovi banner for some reason) and if Legends Row is only going to feature 12 or 13 members in total, it’s obvious that some cuts are going to have to be made. Even more cuts will need to be made if they decide to honor someone like Conn Smythe in the row. So let’s start by making one bold cut for now.

I don’t think Tim Horton should be on Legends Row. Now I know what you’re thinking. Hey, put the projectiles down. Good. Now listen. Tim Horton has often been considered in the top 5 Leafs players of all time by many but it would appear as though, or at least many believe, Legends Row should feature key members of the organization from each decade of its existence, like a time machine of giant bronze bodies.

This puts Tim Horton in competition with Bob Pulford, Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, and Johnny Bower as potential representatives of the franchise from the 1960s to be honored on the row. Obviously Johnny Bower is already present. I’m not saying there can’t be multiple members of the ‘60s Leafs on the row, but there obviously can’t be too many members from the ‘60s otherwise they’ll start stepping on the toes of Leafers from other decades.

Unfortunately I think the achievements of the other high profile members of the 1960s overshadow those of Horton’s. Dave Keon won four cups with the Leafs and was a huge part of them, feared as forceful, yet careful forechecker who rarely took penalties and won a Calder during his rookie campaign. Frank Mahovlich also won a Calder during his rookie outing and during the 1960-61 season came up just short in the points race behind Habs greats Bernie Geoffrion and Jean Beliveau. Bob Pulford is one of the Leafs top 10 scorers of all time and also earned 4 cups with the team. Even Gordie Howe, the man who could hit you as hard with his elbows as he could his stick, hated playing against Pulford. While Horton, to his credit, has 3 cups and played well over 1000 games in a Leafs sweater.

And besides, do we really need another monument to Mr. Horton when one stands on practically every corner throughout this great country? That’s not a knock on Tim Horton by any means but each Tim Horton’s coffee shop we see serves as a reminder of the lasting legacy the former Leaf has left behind and how much he’s now associated with a daily routine of many Canadians.

Obviously some are going to disagree with me. And that’s fine, these things are fun to speculate about, eventually the entire Legends Row will be unveiled piece by piece each year to either agreement, surprise, or a round of “I told you so’s.” I’m sure there are those among you who would argue that Tie Domi fully well deserves to be a member of the row because of how loved he was by the fans and how much merchandise his name sold over many of the other Leafs at the time. Hopefully he doesn’t get selected though; lord only knows where they’ll find enough bronze to craft that man’s brow.

But it’s an exciting time for us to see the ongoing building of a monument to honor the best of best of this team we so love. And thankfully for once the Leafs aren’t beating a dead horse by only honoring the past greats of the cup winning teams from the 1960s. Again.


"Changing the Way We View Special Teams" by Shawn Reis

Part One: Rethinking Special Teams

Last season, the Leafs ranked sixth in the league with a 19.8% success rate on the power play.  That means they had the sixth best power play in the league, right?

Not so fast.

In recent years, hockey has undergone a complete makeover in the way the game is thought of and evaluated.  Statistics like plus/minus and goals against average have largely become devalued, while newer and more advanced stats used to evaluate players, such as Corsi and Fenwick, have been adopted.  

Special teams are one area of the game that has also seen something of a re-evaluation.  It seems that more and more people are excusing the impact of special teams and choosing to focus more on the importance of even-strength play.  I strongly agree that even-strength play is more indicative of a good team than say power play efficiency.  What I’m interested in, though, is figuring out what exactly power play efficiency really is.

Like I said to open this article, the Leafs had the sixth-best power play percentage in the NHL last season, meaning they were sixth-best in the league at converting on their power play opportunities.  But the way I see it, people are looking at it all wrong.  It’s not simply how good you are at converting on your opportunities, but more emphasis needs to be placed on how many opportunities a team gets.

For example, let’s stick with the Leafs.  As I’ve said twice already, this is team that was sixth-best in the league at converting on their power play opportunities, clicking at a 19.8% success rate and scoring 50 power play goals total on the season.  And yet the San Jose Sharks, 20 th in the league with a 17.2% success rate on the power play, scored the same amount of power play goals as the Leafs (again, 50). Why? Because the San Jose Sharks had 39 more power play opportunities than the Leafs last season.

It’s the same thing with a lot of stats in hockey, there’s a relationship between two or more of them in a given context.  It’s like saying Martin Brodeur had a better season than Jonathan Bernier last year because he had a better GAA.  Well, no, you have to consider the amount of shots each goalie faced a game (22.86 and 32.09 respectively) as well as their respective save percentages (.901 and .923).  Or (and don’t get me wrong, I love Corsi as a stat) that the Leafs were the fourth best team in the league in the 09/10 season because they had the fourth best CF%, yet in reality they finished second last in the league essentially due to having the league’s second-worst PDO.  You can’t consider GAA without save percentage, you can’t consider Corsi without PDO (even if one of those numbers is largely luck-driven), just like you can’t consider power play percentage without considering the number of opportunities a team gets.

Now, I know this isn’t exactly a novel concept.  There are certainly people before me who have suggested thinking about special teams the way I’m suggesting today.  All I wanted to do was to try and illustrate the point in a simple-to-understand way.

Part Two: Combining Power Play and Penalty Kill

Okay, so we have a new way of looking at power play, and for that matter penalty kill efficiency.  The next step is finding a way to best utilize this new approach.

Remember what I said about using statistics in combination with each other to best understand their value?  That’s what we’re going to do here.  We’re going to combine power play and penalty kill efficiency, using the approach I described above, to calculate a special teams goal differential.  After all, what good does a good power play do if you have an atrocious penalty kill?  Well, we’re about to find out.  Below is a table of all 30 NHL teams last year and how they fared in special teams goal differential.

Team

GP

PPGF

PPGA

DIFF

Pittsburgh Penguins

82

65

38

+27

San Jose Sharks

82

50

33

+17

Washington Capitals

82

68

51

+17

New York Rangers

82

48

34

+14

St. Louis Blues

82

56

42

+14

New Jersey Devils

82

47

36

+11

Philadelphia Flyers

82

58

48

+10

Boston Bruins

82

50

43

+7

Montreal Canadiens

82

48

43

+5

Chicago Blackhawks

82

50

46

+4

Columbus Blue Jackets

82

54

50

+4

Colorado Avalanche

82

50

48

+2

Detroit Red Wings

82

50

50

E

Nashville Predators

82

46

47

-1

Phoenix Coyotes

82

56

57

-1

Tampa Bay Lightning

82

50

52

-2

Carolina Hurricanes

82

41

44

-3

Dallas Stars

82

46

49

-3

Anaheim Ducks

82

44

48

-4

Calgary Flames

82

39

43

-4

Edmonton Oilers

82

46

50

-4

Los Angeles Kings

82

43

50

-7

Vancouver Canucks

82

39

46

-7

Minnesota Wild

82

45

53

-8

Toronto Maple Leafs

82

50

58

-8

New York Islanders

82

49

58

-9

Winnipeg Jets

82

40

49

-9

Ottawa Senators

82

50

61

-11

Buffalo Sabres

82

36

51

-15

Florida Panthers

82

27

63

-36

This is an interesting table.  If you count the best 16 special team units, 12 of them made the playoffs.  That’s pretty good.  However, it’s not much of an improvement on isolated special teams efficiency.  What I mean is, 11 of the 16 best power play teams made the playoffs last year, and 11 of the 16 best penalty kill teams did as well.  What’s more interesting to me though, and perhaps what it most telling, is if you look simply at whether or not a team had a positive goal differential on special teams.  10 of the 12 teams that had a positive special teams goal differential last season made the playoffs, while 12 of the 17 teams with a negative special teams goal differential did not.  The Detroit Red Wings, who had an even goal differential on special teams, also made the playoffs.

Part Three: Implications

So, what does this mean?  What does this imply?  Well for one, it certainly suggests that special teams goal differential has at least some value in measuring team quality.  However, I think most would agree even strength goal differential is still a far superior tool to measure team quality with, since the majority of time is spent at even strength in hockey.  

What I’d be interested in is finding out more about special teams goal differential.  After all, this article takes just one season into account.  Stacking these numbers up across multiple seasons would be needed to determine the validity of this stat.  

Another thing I’d be interested in is weighting even strength goal differential and special teams goal differential.  I talked at length in this article about how stats should be used in combination.  Similar to how I mentioned the Leafs low PDO in the 09/10 season negating their high Corsi, I’d be interested to look at how a strong even strength goal differential can negate a bad special teams goal differential, or vice versa.

Special teams are a fascinating thing.  It almost seems to me like traditional stats loyalists overvalue special teams, while advanced stats aficionados have spent so much time sweeping them under the rug that they’ve forgot to fully explore them.  I don’t believe that special teams are even close to the strongest indicator of team quality, but they are a part of the game.  And what I love about advanced stats is that they ask questions, even if the answer turns out to be boring or wrong.  So in an age where information is power and new information shapes and reshapes our understanding of the game, special teams should continue to be a part of the discussion.


"Is Third Time the Charm for Santorelli and Booth?" by Wesley Tenneson

As the Vancouver Canucks jettisoned players this offseason, depth players David Booth and Michael Santorelli found themselves looking for jobs.  Both opted to follow the Clarke MaCarthur/Mason Raymond blueprint for prolonging the career of a skill player on the fringes of a top 6 role by signing in Toronto; Santorelli on a 1 year deal worth $1.5 million, and Booth for 1 year at $1.1 million.  

Exciting as this development in Leafland was earlier this summer, why am I only telling you what I think about it now?  Well 1) There’s a 99% chance you didn’t know or care that I existed before this:  

http://theleafsnation.com/2014/8/29/next-tln-blogger-the-final-five

And 2) That although there’s been plenty of speculation about what each of these guys could bring to the team individually, there’s been little to no mention of the relationship they have with each other and what they bring to the table as a duo.  

Let’s start by looking at Booth first.  

During the second and third years of his career in 2007-08 and 2008-09 Booth earned himself a reputation as an above average points producer by posting seasons of 2.33 and 2.5 P/60 at 5v5, and 31 goals in 2008-09 – all without the benefit of an inflated shooting %.  However, those have been the best offensive years of his career thus far.  As a speedy and talented 23-25 year old at a time when clutch and grab hockey was non-existent, on a team that was willing to give him a lot of ice time beside players like Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, and Olli Jokinen, Booth’s early years were spent inside a bubble that was about to burst.  

Since 2009-10, Booth’s offensive numbers have been respectable but modest.  His possession numbers, however, have trended as consistently solid across his whole career, as you can see below:  

Season

Team

Team CF%

Booth’s CF%

2007-08

Florida

48.7

52.0

2008-09

Florida

46.7

51.9

2009-10

Florida

44.5

51.1

2010-11

Florida

50.3

51.8

2011-12

Florida/Vancouver

52.7 (Vancouver’s by virtue of more GP)

57.3

2012-13

Vancouver

51.4

60.5

2013-14

Vancouver

51.3

51.9

Stats taken from Hockeyanalysis.com

Those are monstrous possession stats.  He has had a positive Corsi% and CorsiREL every single season, despite playing on a team that made the playoffs only once in his career.  

Now Santorelli.

His career has had a lot more bumps along the road than Booth’s has.  Santorelli has had to establish and reestablish himself in the NHL time and time again, and Toronto is the fifth team the journeyman will try to catch on with.  Looking at his career, Santorelli looks to be a “Jekyll and Hyde” player.  He spent most of his time in the Predators’ organization in the AHL, then scored 40 points during his first year on Florida.  After a few lackluster seasons there, he was waived by the Panthers and then allowed to walk as a free agent by the Jets in the span of only a few months in 2013, only to score 28 points in 49 games for the Canucks last year.  

Santorelli isn’t a top – notch possession player like Booth is, and so for him to stay in the NHL on a consistent basis he has to produce points, plain and simple.  When he hasn’t produced, Nashville, Florida, and Winnipeg have all dumped him relatively quickly.  My guess is that this may be a byproduct of the Brian Burkean top-six and bottom-six model for building a roster, where the only way anyone under 6’1 can stay on the roster is if they’re scoring every other night.  As we know, this model is quickly going out of style and skilled players like Santorelli are getting more opportunities to play regular minutes.

Now the fun part: talking about how awesome these two could be for the Leafs this year (I’m actually serious).

Take a look at Santorelli’s basic career stats:

Great college and AHL stats.

He has two NHL seasons that stand out from the rest – with Florida in 2010-11 and with Vancouver last season in 2013-14.  What’s the common thread between the two?  David Booth.     

The Florida Panthers of 2010-11 stank.  Really bad.  They finished with 72 points and the only reason they weren’t last in the league was because the Oilers and Avalanche were both somehow more mediocre.  Bereft of offensive talent, the team thrust Santorelli (he of 3 career NHL points) into a top six role, where he ended up playing more than 50% of his TOI with Booth.  Santorelli posted 41 points and Booth had 40; this is a career high for Santorelli and ties for Booth’s second most points in a season.  

The two teamed up once again three years later in Vancouver, albeit in a slightly different fashion.  Before Santorelli underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in January, the two teamed up with Jannik Hansen to rotate through the open right wing spot on the Canucks’ second line beside Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins.  Sound familiar?  Whoever was producing took turns on the second line, and all three received powerplay time on the second unit.  Unfortunately the two of them hit their strides at different times; Santorelli had a great first half before succumbing to injury, and Booth really only turned his game on in the last twenty games of the season, robbing us of having a bigger sample of the two of them to draw on.  

It’s a common practice for NHL coaches (and coaches at all levels for that matter) to put together center-winger duos and then rotate a third player through a line, seeing who sticks around and who washes out in that role.  A great example of this on the Leafs is the Kadri-Lupul pair, where Raymond, Clarkson, and Kulemin all saw considerable time as the third winger last season.  

Santorelli and Booth provide the Leafs’ coaching staff with a suitable and familiar tandem on the third line, where they can provide scoring depth and good possession play.  They also both project well as short-term fixes on the second line, as they were in Vancouver last season.  On a team that lacked confidence in its lower lines last year and ended up overplaying Kessel-Bozak-JVR, the ability to put the second and third lines on the ice for a regular shift in a close game next season could be the biggest difference in personnel deployment we will see from the 2014-2015 Leafs.  

Is third time the charm for Santorelli and Booth?  

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

C0293e2b4678f1e929600607efbd5b6b
Justin Fisher is TLN's Managing Editor and resident axe thrower. He enjoys comic books and burritos, and can be followed on Twitter at @thejustinfisher.
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#1 Shawn Reis
September 11 2014, 11:58AM
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Frankly, I thought the piece by Shawn Reis was breath-taking.

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#2 bobi
September 11 2014, 12:07PM
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All this to become a blogger, lmao. I hope the pay is worth it boys, oh wait it AINT!

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#3 SneakyPenguins
September 11 2014, 12:48PM
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Shawn's piece is my favourite. You can take this kind of thinking to some interesting places.

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#4 Cudd
September 11 2014, 01:09PM
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Wesley Tenneson's article was the best followed closely by Shawn Reis's article

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#5 SteinS
September 11 2014, 01:45PM
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Laskaris and Reis.

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#6 TheShadierTwin
September 11 2014, 02:19PM
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We got an analysis of Nation temperament from Laskaris, a contextual look at the situation of the Leafs management from Sannen, a historical comparison of Leafs legends from Nichol, a statistical comparison of special teams from Reis, and a predictive statistical analysis of two inbound players from Tenneson.

It's interesting how everybody seemed to pick a different topic and tone for their freeform article, even without being assigned to do so. That's probably going to make it harder for the judges to decide, but we're also going to be able to read a more interesting set of articles as a result!

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#7 Adrian
September 11 2014, 02:24PM
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I think Sannen's article is more what I was looking for. Someone needed to remind us that the 2 biggest problems carlyle and nonis are still here.

I also liked reis.

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#8 Wes
September 11 2014, 03:02PM
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@Cudd

I like this guy

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#9 Lupul4Captain
September 11 2014, 03:02PM
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Wesley Tenneson and Shawn Reis' articles are top notch. very well done.

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#10 Yo
September 11 2014, 04:32PM
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Dakoda's piece FTW

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#11 Skill2Envy
September 11 2014, 05:11PM
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I thought Adam Larkaris, Wesley Tenneson, and Shawn Reis were best overall.

The Adam and Shawn brought ways to bring analytics into articles on TLN in a way that is easy for non-analytic types to read and how they are useful to both management, viewers and readers of the game. As well as got readers to think about how we look at players value.

Wesley used some stats to look at connections between players and how players could be used this season.

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#12 Trackster
September 11 2014, 05:30PM
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Wesley Tenneson's article was very insightful, good job.

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#13 Lorne
September 11 2014, 06:06PM
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Sannen really hit the nail on the head. Great read!

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#14 Adrian O
September 11 2014, 06:31PM
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First off, I want to say I was impressed with all five articles. It made my decision extremely difficult, to say the least.

That said, I pick Wesley Tenneson's article as the best of this crop, followed by the one from Adam Laskaris.

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#15 Maximum Taco
September 11 2014, 06:34PM
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I found Reis' article to be the most compelling, followed closely by Sannen's.

Great reads all around though, gonna be a tight competition.

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#16 DG
September 11 2014, 07:25PM
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Dakoda knows what's up, numbers don't lie, screw Carlyle.

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#17 Dakoda
September 11 2014, 07:42PM
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bobi wrote:

All this to become a blogger, lmao. I hope the pay is worth it boys, oh wait it AINT!

Uh, you're telling me $200 isn't worth it?!

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#18 Javid
September 11 2014, 09:37PM
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I think Wesley's was awesome. Very unique thoughts and made it enjoyable. Also liked Laskaris' a lot.

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#19 Tommy bee
September 11 2014, 10:14PM
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Last piece by Wesley tenneson was extremely well written and was very enjoyable to read!

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#20 Christopher Hodgson
September 12 2014, 06:40AM
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D. Sannen for the win

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#21 ThePhil
September 12 2014, 07:39AM
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I think Dakoda's article is the best here. In combination with a demonstrated knowledge base, he seems to have a firm grasp on his talent for writing. I think there is something said for his use of multimeda in the post as well.

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#22 Neal
September 12 2014, 03:55PM
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I enjoyed Sannens article because it did not go into large number stats .This can become quite boring.

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