I don’t want to beat the deadest horse in the world, but Mark Fraser is not an NHL defenceman. Another noon hour came and went without Fraser finding his way onto the waiver wire, which may not be too surprising, but I think Fraser has played well enough to earn himself at least a healthy scratch, and the opportunity for John-Michael Liles to get some games.
It’s beating the horse. With Fraser on the ice the Leafs have just 40.3% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts [Extra Skater], and have been out-scored 4-12. The numbers don’t really improve when you restrict the sample to 5-on-5 score tied or 5-on-5 score close, and he is really driving down the play of one Paul Ranger, who I think is a fine defenceman on his own, but locked into a brutal third pairing.
I uploaded a brief video of the problem with Mark Fraser.
This season, I’ve tracked zone entries for the majority of Maple Leafs games, which counts which Leafs bring the puck into the offensive zone, with control. The inverse of that is tracking how many times the opposition succeeds at gaining the blue line. Eric T of SB Nation’s Outnumbered is the curator of the zone entry project, and he suggested tracking which defenceman’s side of the ice entries came against, in case there was valuable information to find there.
I suppose I should mention that there isn’t a lot of research done into preventing entries for individual defencemen, but the last two games against Los Angeles and St. Louis, the entries have come disproportionately against Mark Fraser.
Here’s a sample of some of the shots against Fraser against the Blues. The goal right at the start of the second period, where Fraser loses his stick, should be of particular interest:
I don’t mean to go after Fraser. He is an excellent story. He works hard at what he does, he seems like a great human being and I take no glee in his difficulties this season. But the coaching and management staff really need to take a long, hard look at what happens to the Leafs when he’s out on the ice, regardless of how physical he is or how well he fits the mould of the sixth defenceman Randy Carlyle has in mind.
The last two games, here are the zone entries coming against particular defencemen:
Let’s adjust that to carries against per 20 minutes of ice-time:
Again, research isn’t complete on what defencemen can or can’t effect when it comes to entries, but it’s not like these are resulting in lazy shots from the outside. The video above shows two goals against and at least two other excellent scoring chances. Nik Kulemin’s stick lift on David Backes saved another goal against.
Is this an outlying performance? No. It’s a trend I’ve noticed all season and maybe after a few more games I’ll compile any full season data I have and see what trends we can find. This is an obvious one that you notice after only counting three or four games in a row. I’m writing the number “2” an awful lot in my little notebook.