Fixing offensive woes

Jerred Smithson has played 12 games with Toronto, averaged 10:19 and recorded exactly one shot on goal.

One month into the season, and the Leafs’ biggest struggle is offence. Anybody who saw that happening, raise your hand high into the air. No you didn’t. Put it down, you liar.

Toronto was 5th in the NHL in goals last season and their biggest strength is the amount of speed and skill they have on the wings. Another strength is the sheer number of quality puck-moving defenceman they employ, so it should be a little surprising that the team is tied for 14th in the NHL with 2.67 goals per game. Michael Traikos notes that the Leafs scored 1.92 goals per game in November. When you break it down further, the reason becomes a little more apparent.

Last night I looked at every team in the NHL and the number of goals they had from their six highest-scoring forwards. The data confirmed my hypothesis. The Leafs have 56 goals from Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Mason Raymond, Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and David Bolland, and just 16 from the rest of the lineup combined.

The Leafs are one of four teams in the NHL getting more than two goals from the top forward half of the lineup:

  GPG from six highest-scoring Fs
1. Chicago 2.29
2. St. Louis 2.28
3. San Jose 2.27
4. Toronto 2.07
4 others tied at 2.00

On the flip side, if you look at depth players and the defence, the Leafs are dead last:

  GPG from rest of lineup
1. Phoenix 1.35
2. Boston 1.33
3. Chicago 1.21
4. St. Louis 1.16
5. San Jose 1.15
30. Toronto 0.59

Now, I’m going to worry less about the “3” goals put up by the defence because they’re, as a whole, shooting 1.6% and that’s pretty low. Last year a similar group shot 5.4%, which seems like a much more reasonable percentage. The problem has been the other forwards. There’s been a sudden decrease of shots among the depth players. At 0.86 shots per game last year, the average bottom sixer is getting 0.68 shots this season. That doesn’t look like much, but it’s about 38 shots of difference over 27 games.

The Leafs are one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL if you only looked at the best players, and they are dead last if you looked at everybody else. I often have my complaints about the Colt Knorr’s and Jerred Smithson’s of the world derided in the comments because “they only play five minutes a game! They’re just energy guys! They aren’t supposed to score!” but the problem is when you set a lineup full of players that don’t shoot and score, you can’t act surprised when you don’t shoot and score goals.

Just by scanning a list of shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, I don’t see how the team can justify keeping Knorr and Smithson in the lineup in favour of Peter Holland or Trevor Smith and Carter Ashton. I think Nik Kulemin and Jay McClement are also past the point where they should be guaranteed an every day roster spot.

Right now, with the team struggling to score and the coaching staff whining every day about how few shots the team is getting, maybe it’s a good idea to mix up the fourth line and put hockey players on it? Realistically, you can’t have a fourth line full of 15-to-20-goal players, but you should expect about five, be happy on the rare occasions you’ll get 10, and you certainly shouldn’t plan for “zero”. That’s what the Leafs have resigned themselves to do by tossing Knorr out there every night instead of Smith or Holland.

The top six is doing fine. They don’t need the added spark. They just need support.

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    • STAN

      Yup tough to see injuries coming. With Bolland and full top 6 in the lineup the scoring deapth would be fine. Very tough luck and some bad calls against have cost the Leafs a few wins, but they’ll be okay. Just a little slump.

  • Back in Black

    Sitting Orr/Smithson/McLaren over Holland/Smith/Ashton would do wonders for this team. The fact that Carlyle doesn’t understand this is mind boggling.

    I sure hope Nonis catches on and gives his two cents, cause I think Carlyle is just doing it for fun/spite now.

  • Here is what I’d like to see (though it seems unlikely because Carlyle seems to have a thing for Fraser and some others.

    Note: this assume Franson and Lupul are healthy…and I’m not checking the spelling of names :p


    1st: JVR -Bozak -Kessel (this was a tough choice)
    2nd: Lupul -Kadri -Clarkson
    3rd: Raymond -Holland -Kule

    4th: hmmm…Smith can be center here with 2 McWingers (Mclement and Mclaren) or replace Mclaren with Bodie or Ashton… w/e

    I’d like to see a more offensively gifted center on the third line (plus i kinda want to see what Holland can do) and this way we can rest assured that Mclement will be rested for his 30 minutes of PK time each game :s


    Phanuef – Gunnerson
    Gardiner – Franson
    Reilly – Liles?

    Fraser and Ranger need to sit. Even though I have no wish to keep Liles on the team long term, i don’t think it would hurt to give Reilly a veteran presence (NOT RANGER!)to play with. Besides, he’s done pretty well with the Marlies this season (or so I’ve hear).


    i don’t know, flip a coin.
    Heads: Bernier
    Tails: Reimer


  • Bertly83

    Ideal Leafs healthy lineup:

    JVR Kadri Kessel
    Lupul Bolland Raymond
    Kulemin Bozak Clarkson
    Ashton McClement Smith

    Gardiner Phaneuf
    Gunnarsson Franson
    Rielly Liles

    no more Orr, no more FML, no more Fraser, no more Ranger.

    Wait, to ice that lineup would mean no more Carlyle… hmmm…

  • SkinnyFish

    What’s also disconcerting is that the Top6 comparison shows that the Leafs really aren’t going to be getting any more offense out of their Top6 Fs; they’re pretty much tapped out.

  • Back in Black

    Four weeks from now, we’ll know everything we need to about the Leafs. By the end of December, with this month’s schedule, the Leafs will be in the hunt for the playoffs or they will be planning for the 2014-15 season. The December schedule may be one reason why the Leafs have not extended Dion Phaneuf’s contract. They may see January as decision-time on the captain. He may bring some solid prospects leading up to the trade deadline.
    Buyers or sellers? – we’ll know on New Years Day.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Good analysis. It’s painful to watch a story unfold when the plot-line is predictable. Totally agree that the Marlies deserve a crack at 3rd and 4th line duties. Would not write Kulemin or McClement off yet. But Orr, Smithson/McLaren can go and it would make no difference.

    I am not into fighting, but I think Dangle’s right about Orr; something wrong there. The Habs whacked away at Bernier; let’s not go into Malkin (the push, the clip against Bernier’s blocker…). Isn’t this why you want enforcers?

    Make a virtue out of necessity and shake up that 4th line with some young, hungry, guys. I liked what I saw of Holland and it would be nice to see more of him.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Your logic is backwards. The leafs don’t have a problem scoring and they have sufficient offence as a whole.

    The leafs need better defensive players for the checking roles then what Smithson and Orr offer and ideally but not necessarily with more scoring upside.

    You know who would be really good- Bolland as the third liner and Mclement at the fourth line. That pushes Orr to about 3 minutes if he is played and Smithson to the AHL.

    You are totally reaching here by presenting problem while forgetting the reason. Repeat after me – Defence is the problem.

  • STAN

    Great piece Cam. Love the irreverence. It is much needed with this bunch of Leaves.

    Checking is fine, but when you check and get the puck, it’s knowing what to do next. Knorr, Smithson and McLaren have no clue.

    At least last year teh ‘grinders’, Frattin and Komarov, had a bit of an inkling and could play some offence.

    Best defensive player I ever saw? Gretzky. He could steal pucks, then keep them and create offence.

  • STAN

    I think missing Bolland is really hurting this club right now. Also goaltending is becoming fatigued and therefore has levelled off to some degree. Randy can try and rattle his team but at the end of the day Nonnis will be responsible for shaking up this lineup in order to try and get ’em going. If your interested on more in this regard and thoughts on the last gm check out this blog;

  • Dakoda

    I would suggest that Nik Kulemin doesn’t have his point totals benefit from playing with McClement almost every shift. I’d like to see him with Clarkson minutes.