On Auston Matthews and Making Toronto "Safe" For Players

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September 30 2016 07:13AM

Back in June, on the day that the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Auston Matthews first overall, Mike Babcock told reporters that Matthews would start the year playing on the 3rd line, with Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak ahead of him on the depth chart.  On Wednesday this week Babcock repeated that sentiment and said it would be up to Auston to determine how quickly he's able to climb the depth chart.

Hearing Babcock say that Matthews, the Leafs franchise player, will play on the 3rd line behind Tyler Bozak may sound strange at first.  Auston recently dazzled fans at the World Cup of Hockey while playing on Team North America's first line with Connor McDavid.  Matthews had three points in three games, and his two goals were tied for the team lead.  How could a player so exciting be relegated to the third line of a team that just finished last in the NHL?  But if we look a bit deeper at what the Leafs are trying to build, it makes perfect sense.

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Gardiner vs Rielly: Who is Toronto's Best Defenceman?

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September 29 2016 09:19AM

It's well known that September is Jake Gardiner Appreciation Month.  But did you know that Toronto has other defencemen?  It's true.  One of those defencemen is Morgan Rielly, the former 5th overall pick who recently played a major role on the exciting Young Guns team at the World Cup of Hockey.  In fact, some people even think Morgan Rielly is better than Jake Gardiner.  What a world!

I decided it was time to answer the question once and for all.  This is the post that will end all arguments on Twitter, forever, I think.  So I gathered a bunch of stats and put them in some charts and now you can see them.

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Jake Gardiner Makes His Teammates Much Better

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September 20 2016 09:12AM

As everybody knows, September is Jake Gardiner Appreciation Month.  I kicked off JGAM by writing about how, contrary to popular opinion, Gardiner is actually very good defensively.  As I discussed in that piece, Jake has had pretty big, positive defensive impacts over the past few seasons, comparable to some of the better defencemen around the league.  This time around I'm going to talk about another area where Gardiner's impacts are impressive: how he lifts his teammates.

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Jake Gardiner Is Really Good Defensively

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September 06 2016 08:05AM

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Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SPORTS

If you were to ask people around the NHL what Jake Gardiner is good at, you'd probably hear a lot of things related to his offensive abilities.  Earlier this year James Reimer said that Gardiner has a rare aptitude for passing.  Writing for the Canadian Press last fall, Stephen Whyno described Gardiner as a "young, smooth-skating, offensive-minded" defenceman but added that he "could be an adventure in the defensive zone."  I think those comments are representative of the general opinion about Jake: he's a talented skater who's got great vision, but he hurts his team when he doesn't have the puck.

Conventional wisdom on Gardiner, however, is wrong.  While he struggled a bit early on in his NHL career, over the past few seasons Gardiner has been one of the most reliable players in the league at reducing the burden faced by his team's goalie.  The same skills that Gardiner uses to generate offence, like his skating and his vision, help him keep the puck away from his own net.

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Projecting Auston Matthews' Scoring total in 2016-17

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August 31 2016 10:04AM

There's now less than a month until NHL training camps open up and, and the first exhibition games will start getting played in late September.  That means Auston Matthews's debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs is getting pretty near.  While Auston's time spent playing in the World Cup may delay his first game with the Leafs by a week or so, it won't be long until Leafs fans finally get to see him don the blue and white. 

Expectations for the recent 1st overall pick are sky high, but Mike Babcock has tried to keep expectations in check by saying that Matthews will start the season on the third line.  Any player's production is going to be affected by their ice time, so just how many points the Leafs prized rookie can score is going to depend if (or, let's be honest, when) Matthews starts moving up the lineup.

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