The Leafs’ D So Far

This year for the Maple Leafs Annual (may it R.I.P.) my contribution was a preview of the Leafs’ defence. I predicted then that they would be marginally better than last year’s incarnation, with the addition of Cody Franson taking Brett Lebda’s place as the extra defender, and John-Michael Liles filling Tomas Kaberle’s shoes more or less adequately. I’d also hoped that the defence would get a little more help from the goaltending department with James Reimer set to see more action.

So far, the Leafs have allowed 122 goals against, and have an overall goal differential of -6. This isn’t good enough for a team that hopes to finish in the top 8 in the East, and it’s actually a significant decline over last year’s record on December 31st, which was 108 goals against and – good Lord, would you look at that – a goal differential of -22. So the fans are witnessing progress, but it’s nearly all coming from the forwards.

Below the jump, I’ve taken a look at which individuals have performed best using Behind the Net’s statistics.


Puck Possession and Luck

Last year’s: 

And this year’s:

Carl Gunnarsson has seen a big jump in his ice time, as he has taken Keith Aulie’s place next to Dion Phaneuf. He’s doing it without as much luck as Aulie did either, which is somewhat reassuring. Hid Points per 60 also look a tich better than Aulie’s last year. I have to think that having a defenceman like Gunnarsson that can contribute offensively on occasion (as opposed to Aulie) is also helpful to the likes of Lupul and Kessel on the top line.

Dion Phaneuf’s numbers, to no one’s great surprise, look markedly better than last year’s. Even though his 5v5 TOI/60 has slipped a little, his P/60 has jumped with better luck in Sh%, his Corsi Rel and Corsi On look much better, and with a PDO of 970, he’s not terribly lucky, either. This is the Dion Phaneuf we all hoped for.

One player that has had a rough first half is Luke Schenn. His minutes have slipped, his Corsi numbers are way down, he’s getting the best goaltending of any defender, and has a PDO of 1026. Even his on-ice Sh% is way high. Yikes. Well, he’s still young, folks.

Komisarek, despite flashes of good play, has plummeted to new lows in his stat lines, and has struggled to stay healthy. And he’s getting lucky with a PDO of 1049. This doesn’t bode well.

The numbers aren’t exactly kind to Jake Gardiner, either. Although we don’t have a previous year’s worth of data to examine, his Corsi numbers don’t look great, but Ron Wilson keeps playing him. It’s probably good a good thing, since he’s such a young man, and will need lots of ice time to develop into a top-4 defender. There are bound to be bumps along the way.

It’s only 7 games, but Keith Aulie has seen his luck run out with the Leafs this season. It appears that he’ll need to finish this year with the Marlies.

As for Cody Franson, has he really been better than Brett Lebda? That answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. He’s played more minutes, put up more points (and P/60 for that matter), and although his Sh% is a little high, he’s been much better in terms of Corsi and Sv%, which indicates he’s better in his own end.


Situational Usage

Last year’s: 


And this year’s:

Zone starts reveal a lot about the kinds of situations in which a coach uses a player, and Mike Komisarek wears the crown in both years as the defender with the lowest percentage of offensive zone starts. This definitely makes up for a certain part of his poor Corsi numbers. He also faced the toughest competition of any Leaf defender last season, and continues to play against tougher opponents than every one of his colleagues except Gunnarsson, Phaneuf, and Rosehill.

Getting sheltered in terms of zone starts? Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner – as they both should be, though for very different reasons. Cody Franson’s Ozone% and Fin Ozone% don’t look lovely, and his Quality of Competition isn’t providing any excuses, but again, he’s NOT BRETT LEBDA.

Quality of Competition helps balance out both Phaneuf and Gunnarsson’s high OZ%, though it doesn’t do much for Luke Schenn’s poor Corsi numbers. Schenn’s Quality of Teammates is also pretty high, which probably explains some of his good luck.


OK, so there’s nothing shocking here. Dion Phaneuf has played very well against good competition with little in the way of luck, even though he does have a rather high Ozone%. Komisarek – contrary to popular opinion – has not fared well this season, albeit against tough competition. Schenn is something of a mess right across the charts. Gardiner still has a fair bit of work to do on his game, but he’s getting a lot of (sheltered) minutes, and will no doubt improve in the coming seasons.

Carl Gunnarsson is easily the Leafs’ best defenceman after Dion Phaneuf. His Corsi numbers stand above all others, he’s not been particularly lucky in terms of either Sv% or Sh%, he’s handling more minutes against a high level of competition, and his Ozone% isn’t out of control. He might not put up points like Dion Phaneuf, but then, MLSE isn’t paying him like Dion Phaneuf, so he can certainly be forgiven that much.

This defence corps still has a lot of growing up to do, and it’d be a shame to see any of them traded before we knew with a little more certainty what they will become. That said, young and talented forwards aren’t a bad thing to acquire either.

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  • OilFan

    Very interesting post. Why did you include Rosehill, he is a winger? Also Kaberle’s stats are missing. If We compare Franson to Lebda then probably Liles should be compared to Kaberle’s. Who does Gardiner compare to Aulie and/or Komisarek?

    Happy New Year!

    • Rosehill has switched position at various points in his career. It’s true the Leafs use him on the wing, but Behind the Net lists him as a defender, and I just didn’t bother to take him out.

      The reason Kaberle’s stats don’t show up is that only final end-of-season statistics are available, so to include his numbers would show all his time with the Bruins as well.

      As for Gardiner, he doesn’t compare so much as he contrasts with Aulie and Komisarek. The former is a puck-moving defenceman, and both of the latter are more stay-at-home defencemen. They really fulfill different roles.

      • JP,

        A lot of time and effort went into your article but Kaberle’s stats even with the Bruins numbers are essential because Kaberle’s should be compared to Gardiner, Liles and Franson as they are all puck moving defencemen. The comparison is necessary. Secondly is having more puck moving defencemen preferable to having more “defensive” defencemen in terms of corsi etc stats?

        • While I would love to include Kaberle’s Leaf numbers if they were available – no doubt, they would bring good information to the article – I don’t think that comparisons between Kaberle and Gardiner (or any other player) are so critical.

          Labels such as “puck-moving defenceman” that we have come to use for different types of players generally come from talking heads on TV or video games. It’s really too rigid a way of thinking of these players.

          Gardiner, for instance, loves to skate with the puck, join the rush, pinch, and, yes, can make a nice pass. Kaberle, on the other hand, only jumped into the rush on occasion, and, while a smooth skater, was never the fastest on the team, and preferred to let his crisp passes and hockey smarts get him out of tight spots. That people have come to identify both players as ‘puck-moving defencemen’ is a bit simplistic. Yes, they both distribute the puck well, but their playing styles aren’t actually that similar.

          So, as for your question regarding the ‘types’ of players that are important to Corsi numbers, there really isn’t much difference. Some players are great passers, but too weak in their own end (sometimes our friend Tomas Kaberle) to keep the puck moving in the right direction. Some defenders are much more conservative, and yet are so rarely caught out of position that the play is never in their end for long, and they wind up with great-looking Corsi numbers as well. It is possible that Corsi numbers favor offensively-oriented players, but then, it’s also relative to your teammates, your quality of competition, etc.