Projecting Leafs Scoring

The point projections you find in hockey magazines are based on the intuitive guesses of analysts who follow the teams closely, and can therefore occasionally be skewed by personal biases or wishful thinking.  That’s why it’s best to supplement (not replace) them with purely statistically-based projections.

For the third season in a row over at the Flamesnation sister site we’re using the two most popular statistical projection systems, Tom Awad’s VUKOTA and my own Snepsts67, to anchor our expectations.  The former is more established and has the advantage of also estimating games played while the latter defines lower and upper ranges, and finds good historical examples within.

For a spreadsheet with complete results and a bit more of an explanation head on over to Hockey Abstract.  Speaking of which, figuring out how a player is going to be used is the trickiest part of a projection, and that context can generally be found in the Player Usage Charts also available on that site, so have that handy too.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Normally in my first article on a new site I try to endear myself to the readers with a Leafs joke, but obviously that won’t work here.  The good news is that our time together will be brief, covering the top-six forwards here today, the defensemen next time and then the remaining secondary forwards in a third and final piece.  Let’s dig in!

Phil Kessel

It was a career season for Phil Kessel, breaking out to 82 points at age 24 after three years in the 55-65 points range.  Unfortunately history suggests he might slide back down a bit this year.

          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 82   37   45   82
VUKOTA    78.7 33.5 38.9 72.5
Best      82   52.8 45.3 98.1
Worst     82   21.5 23.9 45.4
Average   82   30.4 32.8 63.2

Personally it’s hard to believe that such a dominant offensive force, one of only seven players to score at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons, could slide back down into the 60s.  In addition to a jump in his even-strength scoring rate, Kessel has had an impressive scoring rate on the power play of about 5 points per 60 minutes in three of the past four seasons.  He’s also very well disciplined and draws three times as many penalties as he takes.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Despite the apparent ease of 30 goals and 60 points, only four of the ten closest historical matches managed those milestones.  It might be wiser to base expectations on both VUKOTA and Kessel’s closest historical match, Eric Staal, and project something in the 70s instead – Staal’s next season was 40 goals and 75 points in 82 games, followed by three more 70+ point seasons.

Kessel  GP  G  A PTS
2010-11 82 32 32 64
2011-12 82 37 45 82

Staal   GP  G  A PTS
2006-07 82 30 40 70
2007-08 82 38 44 82

Unfortunately Kessel’s defensive game isn’t as sound.  Despite playing against average competition or worse, and generally starting in the offensive zone, he has a combined -38 in three seasons as a Leaf,  probably since his on-ice save percentage was .896 or worse in two of those three seasons, leading to a personal goals-against average that started at 3.09 and has only gone up. 

Since he also doesn’t throw hits, doesn’t block shots, doesn’t kill penalties and is a lowly 6 for 30 on the shoot-out over the past four seasons, clearly he’s deeply reliant on his offensive contributions for his ice-time, so let’s hope he keeps it up.

Joffrey Lupul

Was it amazing chemistry with Phil Kessel that helped Joffrey Lupul jump up from an established 45-50 point player to a point-a-game player last year in Toronto?  Maybe, but part of it was a three-minute boost in average ice-time, and starting in the offensive zone 55.5% of the time, compared with a consistent 46.9%-47.7% in Philadelphia and Anaheim in the previous seasons. 

Even without Kessel, Lupul has always enjoyed fantastic on-ice team shooting percentages, which has helped his even-strength scoring rate top two points per 60 minutes in three of the past four seasons, including a nifty 2.7 last year – he’s also scored an impressive 5 points per 60 minutes in three of the past four seasons on the power play.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

While clearly a legitimate offensive talent, players so dependent on their playing conditions obviously have more reasons to regress than they have to maintain.

          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 66   25   42   67
VUKOTA    64.1 19.6 30.5 50.1
Best      82   28.0 53.8 81.8
Worst     82   10.6 23.0 33.6
Average   82   20.1 34.4 54.6

Warning: four of Lupul’s ten closest historical matches had their scoring drop all the way below 40 points.  Since there is a lot of variance in Lupul’s potential production this season, let’s take a quick look at three other talented wingers whose era-adjusted scoring levels closely matched his, and also made the jump at around the same age (Lupul was 28).

Lupul   GP  G  A PTS
2010-11 54 14 17 31
2011-12 66 25 42 67

Huselius    G  A PTS
2005-06 78 20 27 47
2006-07 81 34 43 77
Straka  GP  G  A PTS
1997-98 75 19 24 43
1998-99 80 35 49 84

J.P. Parise G  A PTS
1968-69 76 20 25 45
1969-70 74 22 47 69

Kristian Huselius kept up the momentum with 25 goals and 66 points in 81 games, followed by Martin Straka’s 19 goals and 58 points in 71 games, but J.P. Parise regressed to previous scoring levels with 9 goals and 30 points in 73 games. 

Like his celebrated linemate Lupul isn’t known for his defensive abilities and isn’t used to kill penalties, but unlike Kessel he does play a fairly physical game.  The scoring fate of the two players are closely intertwined, and unfortunately we project both will move back towards previously established levels.

Mikhail Grabovski

Now for some good news: Mikhail Grabovski could be in for a great season.  Based on his possession numbers and his closest historical matches, he’s a strong threat for over 30 goals and 60 points.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 74   23   28   51
VUKOTA    71.3 21.4 26.1 47.5
Best      82   39.8 31.0 70.7
Worst     82   14.7 23.2 37.9
Average   82   25.5 28.3 53.8

Check out Grabovski’s scoring totals over his four full seasons, and then compare them with the era-adjusted totals from his three closest historical matches Don Lever, Bill Goldsworthy and Danny Grant.  While his assists will almost doubtlessly finish between 23-31, his goal-scoring will either be highly disappointing (four of his ten closest matches were at Lever’s 20-goal level or below) or threaten 40 like Goldsworthy and Grant.

Grabovski   G  A PTS
2008-09 78 20 28 48
2009-10 59 10 25 35
2010-11 81 29 29 58
2011-12 74 23 28 51

Lever   GP  G  A PTS
1977-78 75 14 27 41
1978-79 71 17 17 34
1979-80 79 27 26 53
1980-81 62 18 23 41
Next    82 20 27 47
Goldsworthy G  A PTS
1969-70 75 33 28 61
1970-71 77 29 28 57
1971-72 78 27 29 56
1972-73 75 22 28 50
Next    74 40 23 63

Grant   GP  G  A PTS
1970-71 78 29 21 50
1971-72 78 16 23 39
1972-73 78 26 30 56
1973-74 78 24 31 55
Next    80 39 30 69

Grabovski has absolutely sensational possession-based numbers for the past three seasons, meaning that the Leafs have the puck and take more shots than their opponents when he’s on the ice, and by quite a large margin – and that’s while generally facing top-six competition (albeit while starting in the offensive zone).

His even-strength scoring rate has been a consistent 2.1-2.2 points per 60 minutes in each of the past three seasons and though not as strong as Kessel and Lupul he is still quite usable with the man advantage. 

Defensively his personal goals-against average has been a consistent 2.70 in three of his four seasons, though he isn’t used to kill penalties (except for a brief time as a depth option in 2010-11).  Last year’s 51.5% faceoff percentage was his first time over 50%.

Clarke MacArthur

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The move to Toronto has worked out well for Clarke MacArthur so far, jumping from his previously established scoring level in the 30s to 62 in his first season as a Leaf before settling back down to 43 last season. 

His possession numbers have been strong since coming to town, he’s been decent on the power play, his even-strength scoring rate has topped two points per 60 minutes both seasons and he’s finally had the opportunity to take enough shots for his high shooting percentage to result in 20 goal seasons.

Though seven of MacArthur’s closest historical matches finished on pace for 45-52 points, only four of them suggest he’ll manage a third consecutive 20-goal campaign.

          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 73   20   23   45
VUKOTA    68.7 18.3 25.6 44.0
Best      82   21.3 41.3 62.5
Worst     82    9.5 24.5 34.0
Average   82   18.0 31.2 49.3

Defensively MacArthur doesn’t kill penalties, but he does throw a few hits.  Historically he’s been used in fairly balanced fashion against average competition, but last year his offensive zone start percentage was boosted over 50% for the first time, and he was trusted with the second highest level of competition among Leafs forwards last year.

James van Riemsdyk

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In one of the off-season’s best trades, the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up young top-six winger James van Riemsdyk from the defenseman-starved Philadelphia Flyers for third-pairing blue liner Luke Schenn.

Thanks to a considerable offensive zone tilt, van Riemsdyk has enjoyed good possession numbers and maintained a consistent even-strength scoring rate hovering at or above two points per 60 minutes, but his power play performance remains poor despite the big boost in playing time he got last season.

          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 43   11   13   24
VUKOTA    59.0 16.6 17.1 33.7
Best      82   37.2 32.7 69.8
Worst     82   11.7 19.5 31.2
Average   82   23.0 25.0 48.0

Six of his ten historical matches scored 20 goals, half of which even managed 30 – and the same story for assists.  You might normally expect his scoring to cool, having left one of the league’s best offensive teams, but age 23 is when players generally break out offensively.  A lot of his scoring potential depends on whether he gets top line duty, and whether he can figure out how to contribute with the man advantage.

Here are how his four closest matches compare these past two seasons, and how they did the following year.  As you can see, there’s a wide variance of results between the low-30s and 50+plus.

Van Riemsdyk  A PTS
2010-11 75 21 19 40
2011-12 43 11 13 24

Seiling GP G  A PTS
1980-81 74 21 20 41
1981-82 57 15 17 32
Next    75 13 16 29
Huselius   G  A PTS
2001-02 79 23 23 46
2002-03 78 20 23 43
Next    76 10 22 32

C. Lemieux G  A PTS
1986-87 76 20 19 39
1987-88 78 22 22 44
Next    69 21 16 37
Duguay  GP G  A PTS
1979-80 73 21 18 39
1980-81 50 12 15 27
Next    72 26 25 51

Defensively van Riemsyk doesn’t kill penalties, but has been trusted with a steadily increasing level of competition, which was clearly top-line last season.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Tyler Bozak

Tyler Bozak sits on the bubble of Toronto’s top six, but in a situation that is slowly declining.  Though his shooting percentage remains strong, and he’s an underused 4 for 8 in the shoot-out, he’s losing his power play time, losing the big offensive zone tilt at even-strength, and his possession numbers are therefore sliding as well.

          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 73   18   29   47
VUKOTA    68.4 14.7 22.5 37.2
Best      82   15.5 36.5 52.0
Worst     82    5.9 18.9 24.8
Average   82   12.6 24.0 36.6

Bozak is yet to score 20 goals, and there were no 20-goal scorers among his ten closest historical matches either.  Four of them were in a tight pack from 31-33 points, and only one topped Bozak’s 47 points last year (though two more were close).

The closest historical match is probably big, much-traveled winger Dainius Zubrus, who was a good-shooting, lightly penalized top-six bubble player at the same point of his career, and unfortunately one who points more towards the lower end of expectations.

Bozak   GP G  A PTS
2010-11 82 15 17 32
2011-12 73 18 29 47

Zubrus  GP G  A PTS
2000-01 61 12 13 25
2001-02 71 17 27 44
Next    63 13 22 35

Defensively Bozak is a fantastic faceoff man, can throw a few hits, has gradually been facing tougher competition, which is basically top-six at this point, has been a depth option on the penalty kill.  On the flip side, Bozak has been a terrible -41 in his 192 career games, and his personal goals-against average of 3.24 in 2010-11 was actually his career best, as was the .904 save percentage the goalies posted behind him.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Tim Connolly

A fifth overall pick, Tim Connolly began his career at age 18 with the first of four straight seasons playing at least 80 games, but has struggled with injuries ever since.  Though he has shown true flashes of scoring brilliance over his career, over-all he’s been a second line centre at best.

Last year Connolly managed just 104 shots in 70 games, but got his even-strength scoring rate back up over two points per 60 minutes.  Despite it normally being his specialty, Connolly was terrible with the man advantage last year, finally justifying the mysterious steady decrease in power play opportunities he’s been going through for years.  Without more shots and a bounceback season on the power play, Connolly is destined for another 30-point season.

          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 70   13   23   36
VUKOTA    60.1 11.2 19.5 30.8
Best      82   17.0 29.5 46.5
Worst     82    7.5 12.2 19.7
Average   82   12.3 21.0 33.3

Though the average was in the 30s, only one of the ten closest matches finished in that range – his closest historical match Steve Reinprecht.  Four of the ten results were in the 40s, the rest were in the 20s, so it is mostly likely a hit-or-miss season for Connolly.

As for Reinprecht, Connolly’s fellow injury-prone centre, he wrapped up his career with Florida two years ago, after a 16 goal, 38 point season when he was Connolly’s age.

Connolly GP  G   A  PTS
2010-11  68  13  29  42
2011-12  70  13  23  36
Career  697 131 300 431

Reinprecht   G   A  PTS
2007-08  81  16  30  46
2008-09  73  14  27  41
Career  489 120 214 334

Defensively Connolly has contributed as a secondary penalty killer most of his career and though the degree of his offensive zone usage varies from one year to the next, he consistently faces a second line level of competition.  On the flip side he’s had negative possession numbers in three of the past four seasons (meaning the team is slightly outshot when he’s on the ice), and he’s terrible at faceoffs – last year’s 48.7% was actually his best.

Next Time

That’s it for Toronto’s top-six forwards.  Next time we’ll take the same sort of look at their defensemen before wrapping up in a final piece that features their remaining secondary forwards.  Thanks for reading and I hope you found it interesting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • atleastwehavethekhl

    I’m not sure these historical examples are entirely good samples to use. The NHL has changed over the past 6 years much less 15-30 years.

    Also you missed some pretty big things regarding lupul and kessel. First last season was the first time kessel had a capable linemate playing with him on the leafs and outside his breakout season in Boston. It’s not too much to think that playing with a player that draws defensive coverage from him would allow him to not only score more but have him more to work with. His assist totals shooing up suggests that. So give him that same player again and while stats might suggest a regression, stats wouldn’t be able to explain context. Hence kessel staying around 80 points again. And even stats predict a high totally when playing with lupul.from the time lupul joined the leafs two season ago, kessel played as a 90 point player (almost 100 games between the two seasons). When lupul was injured last season kessel reverted to a 60 point pace. This suggests that te theory that giving kessel a top 6 winger to work with gives him higher offensive opportunity.

    Now moving to lupul. When he gets more ice time, he historically produces better. Every point in his career that he’s averaged more than 16 minutes of ice time a game, he’s produced at higher levels. He’s never produced at last years level but he’s played at a 65 poit level. If he gets similar ice time to last year, it’s entirely feasible to suggest he wouldn’t fall below a 65 point pace over the year.

    So I believe you’re wrong on both their predictions

  • Thanks for your comments Josh.

    And yes, hockey has changed over the years. So has the economy, but people still rely on historical stock market data as part of their analysis.

    This is also why I emphasized in the introduction that this type of analysis is meant to supplement what you know, and not replace it.

    And it’s also why we don’t just publish the average projection, but the full range. That way you’re free to set your expectations of Kessel in the upper end of the range instead, closer to 98 points.

    And that’s also why we show comparisons to other players, like Eric Staal in Kessel’s case.

    The primary intention of this article was to entertain so even if you don’t like the results, hopefully you enjoyed seeing what kind of numbers this approach came up with, and what kinds of players were found to be similar.