We know from earlier that Ryan O’Byrne is an unspectacular, yet usable defenceman that was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs for a fourth round pick. The fourth round pick hardly matters. Few fourth round picks become National Hockey Leaguers, and after about the second round teams will go into the depth sections of consensus boards and dig 6’8″ defencemen out of Austria playing in the Swiss junior league.
As with the Korbinian Holzer contract, this trade indicates something worse, that the Maple Leafs current process for making decisions is flawed. I like the deal for O’Byrne in a vaccuum, since he can immediately jump on the ice and play with John-Michael Liles or Carl Gunnarsson in 2nd pairing minutes. That opens up Dion Phaneuf to play alongside Cody Franson, and gives room on the third pairing for a Jake Gardiner-Mike Kostka pairing in sheltered minutes.
Except it may not be that way.
Some warning signs may have showed up that the Leafs may not be all that interested in sheltering Gardiner and Kostka. This tweet shows what the Leafs could be thinking:
Expect the Leafs pairings to be Gunnarsson-Phaneuf, Fraser-Franson and Liles-O’Byrne often the rest of the way. Bad news for Gardiner-Kostka
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) April 3, 2013
Jake Gardiner has been held out of the Leafs lineup for the last two games. Toronto has won both games, but that doesn’t excuse Randy Carlyle from making an ill-informed decision. There’s some lingering distrust between Gardiner and Carlyle it seems like. I think Gardiner has had a fine season in his limited minutes, particularly since his second call-up. There isn’t enough of a sample for us to declare that any statistic we have would have any predictive value.
“I think Randy wants me to hit guys more,” Gardiner told TSN.ca on Thursday morning, “not necessarily hit them I guess, just finish my check, rub [the opposing player] out at least. I did it last year, but I didn’t really think about doing it as much as I probably should now.” …. “Guys are a lot more skilled,” he said of the difference between the two leagues, “and it’s harder to close on guys. It’s definitely something I need to work on.”
If you ask me, it’s less about hitting and being physical, but using the body to take away offensive opportunities. One such example is perfectly summarized by Gardiner’s lacklustre attempt to take out Hamilton on the boards. It is less about punishing Gardiner and more about educating the prodigy before the wheels fall off. I don’t think I need to remind anyone how kid gloves and a lack of communication worked for Luke Schenn.
That’s from a post called “the Carlyle approach”.
Obviously, good defence is good defence. One of the issues with defence is that it’s nearly impossible to quantify individual defensive plays. I’m not even sure you can.
A good defensive play is something that doesn’t exist. It’s the prevention of a scoring chance, but there’s no way to record scoring chances prevented against a player. You can record which ones come against a certain player, but those are warped by ice-time, positional responsibility and difficulty of minutes. There are a tonne of defencemen you can look at in one context and say “he makes too many giveaways” but in the other context you say “he has the puck a lot”.
The problem with judging Gardiner by giveaways or lack of hits is that he’s a defenceman who likes carrying the puck, ergo, he’ll have more giveaways. You wouldn’t judge a quarterback by the number of incompletions he throws. That is without context. You can’t judge how physical a defenceman is by the hits he throws, since the purpose of a hit is to separate a player from the puck. However you do that is successful, whether it’s with a thunderous body check, a good poke check, or if you position yourself to force your opponent into making a bad pass.
After today’s trade, the Leafs have six, count them, six National Hockey League-calibre defencemen:
Dion Phaneuf – Cody Franson
Carl Gunnarsson – Ryan O’Byrne/John-Michael Liles
Jake Gardiner – John-Michael Liles/Mike Kostka
If you’re queasy with Phaneuf going back to his natural side when he’s had so much success on the right, well, then you have the option of playing him with Jake Gardiner. It’s not that Phaneuf or Gunnarsson needs superstars to perform with them, they need warm NHL bodies and they will probably be more successful.
Mark Fraser is an AHL defenceman. Mike Kostka is an AHL defenceman. Kostka never played an NHL game before this season despite being 26, and Fraser spent one year playing more than half the season for his team’s games, averaging just 12:23 of ice-time on the 2010 New Jersey Devils.
By contrast, Ryan O’Byrne has played 74, 64, 67 and 55 games in the last four seasons, and 34 of Colorado’s 36 games this season. He’s not a spectacular NHL body, but he’s an NHL body, and he’s played on average more than 18:50 in each of the last three years, so he’s not just an NHL body because there isn’t an NHL body in reserve. He is a player that management has looked at playing one third of his team’s hockey games and said “we could be fine if he did this next year”.
But there’s this absurd half-season on the Toronto Maple Leafs defensive unit where bad decisions have been made since the start of the season. Korbinian Holzer played 12 games on the top pairing, playing some of the most difficult minutes in the National Hockey League, despite getting shelled night after night after night. Jake Gardiner wallowed in the minors, and then in the press box. Liles, signed to a four-year contract last season, was put in the press box while Holzer was playing on the top pairing.
It’s altogether too wacky, and because in the short season the Leafs have got the best goaltending since Ed Belfour was on their team, Carlyle has gotten away with it. And he will keep rolling with a defensive corps he should not be getting away with until there is a long stretch where it is clear he will not get away with it.
The Leafs still give up an awful lot of shots. The best way to prevent against giving up shots is to have the puck more. Jake Gardiner helps that, but if O’Byrne has been acquired so that the Leafs can dress a righty alongside Liles and keep Gardiner out of the lineup, something in the process is horribly, horribly wrong