Open Response To Steve Simmons


If you open up a Toronto Sun (okay, none of you buy the Toronto Sun… if you open up their website) this morning, Steve Simmons has his usual Sunday article up. Today, it’s titled “Re-signing Bolland should be Leafs’ top off-season priority“. Let’s break this piece down.

“The top priority for Maple Leafs management should not be to determine who will coach the club next season — it should be to get David Bolland signed.”

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are about to finish this season at no better than the 4th most shots against in the history of the National Hockey League (the team that could stay in third, the 1994 St. Louis Blues, played two more games). This, despite a team that is sold to everyone as defensively talented on paper, coached by a defensive wizard. The “eyeball test” shows a team that’s constantly out of basic position and leaves star talent frequently exposed. After a calendar year of sky-high shooting percentages, the team has run dry and hasn’t scored more than three regulation goals in a game since February. At some point you have to look behind the bench.

“Replacing or maintaining Randy Carlyle is significant either way, but if a coaching change is determined to be necessary, there are replacements available. Try finding another Bolland”

It’s going to be very hard to find sub-0.50pts/GP player with minimum terrible possession stats on the market. Or is it? UFA centres with a higher pts/60 than Bolland in the past 3 years include Paul Stastny, David Legwand, Olli Jokinen, Derek Roy, Mikhail Grabovski, Saku Koivu, and Marcel Goc.

Players who produce slightly less but would come a lot cheaper include Vernon Fiddler, Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle, and Michal Handzus (who made Bolland expendable in Chicago). Hell, there’s even Steve Ott if you want to overpay a third line centre, but still not break the bank as much. Not to mention the trade market, where a guy like Bolland (named Dave Bolland) was traded for a 2nd and a 4th round pick at the draft last season.

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Try finding a three-zone centreman, comfortable on offence, determined on defence, positionally sound, reasonable on faceoffs, who plays the clock and does almost all the things too many of the Leaf forwards either can’t do or won’t do.

“Comfortable on offence” Every skater in the history of professional hockey has been “comfortable” on offence. Don’t give me useless rhetoric like that. What matters is how he performs, and prior to coming to Toronto, Bolland had 1.63 even strength points per 60 minutes in Chicago. That’s lower than Nikolai Kulemin in the same time frame, and just barely ahead of what Boyd “Hat Trick in Game 82” Devereaux did in Toronto. Later on in this article, you call Nazem Kadri’s season a disappointment, and he has 1.83 per 60 on the year, and is still over 2 in his career.

Staying in Chicago for a second, it’s also worth noting that he put up 14 points in 35 games last season, with 1.27 points per 60 minutes at 5 on 5. I bring this up because he spent 92.2% of his even strength minutes with Patrick Kane. The Hawks eventually realized this was a bad idea and acquired Michal Handzus for the sake of demoting Bolland to the third line and eventually replaced him entirely.

Back to Toronto. After scoring 10 points in his first 15 games, Bolland has only contributed 2 in 8 since returning. His point production has leveled out to 1.33 per 60 on the season, which is below such offensive stalwarts as Troy Bodie and Trevor Smith.

Keep in mind that this is all with a 24.2% shooting percentage, close to triple the league average and significantly above his career high.

“Determined on defence” another vapid, rhetorical statement. But how does he perform? Good defence implies that you keep the puck away from your net. After all, the goalie having to attempt to make a save means that the rest of your team made mistakes and they have to bail you out. How does Bolland compare there?

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Well, that’s also starting to fall after returning, being below the team curve in six of the past eight games. Small sample, but it’s fighting against another small sample. You know what isn’t a small sample, though? His time with Chicago. How are his possession numbers there?

(Using Team-Relative Shot Attempts, Minimum 30 GP Regular Season, 10 GP Playoffs)

  • 2007/08: -2.4, 8th of 13 Chicago Forwards
  • 2008/09: -0.3, 8th of 12 Chicago Forwards
  • 2008/09 Playoffs: -12.8, 11th of 11 Chicago Forwards
  • 2009/10: -12.8, 13th of 13 Chicago Forwards
  • 2009/10 Playoffs: -21.9, 12th of 13 Chicago Forwards
  • 2010/11: -13.0, 11th of 13 Chicago Forwards
  • 2011/12: -9.7, 12th of 14 Chicago Forwards
  • 2012/13: -23.3, 11th of 11 Chicago Forwards
  • 2012/13 Playoffs: -22.8, 12th of 12 Chicago Forwards

Dave Bolland was a below average defensive forward for the Blackhawks at his best, and at his worst, was probably their worst defensive player of their modern dynasty. The only thing that makes him a “two way forward” is the excuses necessary for his lack of point production.

Oh, and if we still want to do “what have you done for me lately”, he’s been on the ice for the past five third period goals against.

“Reasonable on Faceoffs” is the best of them all. I think they’re a horribly overrated stat (not many goals occur because of interactions over the draw, and for even a top line player, a 10% variance in percentage is about a draw per game), but Bolland is far from reasonable. Terrible is a better word.

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Bolland is 45.1% on the draw this year. This is worse than Nazem Kadri, who is constantly ripped to shreds for his “inability” at the draw, including by Simmons. Bolland, at no point in his career, has ever crossed 50% in a regular season or playoffs. In the two Chicago cup runs, his percentages were 39.3 and 42.5. That isn’t reasonable.

The rest of the statement is jargon that can’t be argued with. They’re just nothing words designed to level out a sentence. But the only thing that makes Dave Bolland a “three-zone player” is the fact that he’s played in three zones. He’s not particularly good at any of them. In fact, he’s quite below average.

“On a Blackhawks championship team that had a little of everything, Bolland was an important piece. But on a Leafs team lacking on-ice leadership, without a Jonathan Toews, without a Duncan Keith, he’s even more important.”

As shown above, Bolland was a poor point producer, terrible defensive player, and weak faceoff man on the Blackhawks. He was such an important piece that they replaced him with a near-retirement Michal Handzus, who wasn’t even all that amazing in his prime. That’s without the reminder that prior to the Stanley Cup Finals, Bolland had one point in twelve games. He caught fire and happened to be the guy who put in the “17 seconds” goal. That doesn’t discount the fact that for most of that run, he was a non-factor.

As well, the Toronto Maple Leafs will never have a Jonathan Toews if they keep giving too much money or, even worse, giving too much term to “not quite” centres. He gets in the way, he doesn’t fill a gap.

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“Overpaying for David Clarkson and Dion Phaneuf was deemed necessary by Leafs management, badly as the Clarkson signing has gone thus far. But if it takes overpaying to keep Bolland, they have to do it. His value cannot be statistically quantified. But his value should be unquestioned.”

The former is looking like one of the worst contracts in the history of the National Hockey League before the first year is even over, and the latter was less than market value compared to his peers. Besides that, the entire concept of “overpaying” somebody is that you’re getting less out of their performance than you could be for the same amount of money. You should never overpay or over commit to any player, no matter how desperate you are. Especially not middle of the pack talent and below.

Bolland’s value can absolutely be statistically quantified. The above is just the tip of the iceberg, I’ve also compared him to players in his requested contract range previously. You can argue about the value of “intangibles” all you want, but the reality is, things like “good in the room” and “tries his best”, if they have any value, are the things you use as tiebreakers between similar players. If you’re absolutely desperate and need one of those guys independently, you devote your fourth line money to them. That’s a Troy Bodie. That’s a Trevor Smith. That’s not a long term, multi-million dollar commitment.


On the subject of Bolland, we’ve reached a tipping point with him. Many people can’t shake off that his early season hot streak was parallel with the Leafs’ hot start, not the cause of it. It’s unlike anything that he’s ever done in his career, and since coming back, neither he or the team has had the success people were hoping for. 

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If you still think they’re connected, and his absence followed by back-to-normal play is why they’re losing? That’s silly, but consider this; if you’re only going to get awesome David Bolland for a fortnight once every couple of years, is the magic effect he might have on this team worth waiting that long for?

He’s a servicable hockey player and if you cloned him, gave him a different name, and changed his life story, I wouldn’t be against giving him fair value. But the idea of him has become larger than life, which just might lead to a massive error in commitment.

Management has picked up on the casual fan’s obsession with role players, hearts on sleeves, and birthplaces. This is all well and good, as long as the players have the talent to match. They’re complimentary traits. They’re the icing on the cake. The Leafs are trying to make cakes out of icing. That’s exciting until everybody just gets really sick and has a bad time.

On the subject of Simmons, I understand his place in the Toronto Media. He’s not the fool that he’s made out to be; he’s very good at stirring the pot and creating conversation, even if it’s people screaming ‘YOU’RE STUPID AND I HATE YOU’. I mean, I just wrote a long response post to the first chunk of his weekly column. But you can be controversial without being deceptive. Today, Steve’s opinion was a mixture of jargon and straight up, quantifiable lies. That’s a shame.

And hey.. what ever happened to Boyd Devereaux?

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    I wish we wouldn’t even give Simmons hits and media publicity. The guys is owning you and baiting you analytic folks hook line and sinker. You are being played and the worse thing is you don’t even get it.

  • Simmons’ column runs Sunday morning, is probably due Saturday during the afternoon, and the narrative is thus contingent on what happens Saturday night.

    The best was in the “Where are the critics of Nonis’ offseason moves now?” piece, which was published a day after the Leafs escaped by the skin of their teeth against Edmonton. Simmons’ thesis was pretty pro-Jonathan Bernier, and Bernier got lit up like a Christmas tree that night against the Oilers.

    Part of the business, I guess, and a good reason why I don’t really pay attention to things guys write on deadline. Most times it’s space-filler using incomplete information.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Stock pieces sit on the shelf and can be pulled down or held back. The Sun was not locked into the layout before the game. They also have other stock pieces. So, this one is a choice. I just don’t think the Sun cares all that much about being right or wrong. Come on: since Bolland’s return he’s been on the ice for seven goals against and one for. To run a piece like is more than just unfortunately timing.

      Look — it fulfilled its purpose, to draw attention.

  • Jeremy Ian

    “Management has picked up on the casual fan’s obsession with role players, hearts on sleeves, and birthplaces. This is all well and good, as long as the players have the talent to match. They’re complimentary traits. They’re the icing on the cake. The Leafs are trying to make cakes out of icing. That’s exciting until everybody just gets really sick and has a bad time.”

    ^this this this! So much this. Worded so perfectly and I wish everyone could see it this way, because.. THIS.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Holy crap. How bad can sports journalism get? Talk about bad timing after Bolland’s give away. I’d think it was funny if I thought the Sun understood the virtues of irony.

    (Also, to single a Bolland-decision like this, BTW, is to make a strategic decision without having a strategy — what’s wrong with Simmons is what’s wrong with the Leafs).

  • Jeremy Ian

    Beautifully written. I loved the “making cakes out of icing” analogy. Steve Simmons has a garbage brain. I’m getting worried leafs management does too


    “”The top priority for Maple Leafs management should not be to determine who will coach the club next season — it should be to get David Bolland signed.”

    The Leafs also had a good streak with Peter Holland in the line up.

    The priority should be to find a replacement for Carlyle, tighten up the defensive systems and integrate some of the Marlies…Holland, D’Amgio, Ashton, Leivo and others.

    Ideally you want a coach who is good with young players and can teach.

    I think the Leaf’s best chances to win might be when Kessel, JVR, Lupul Phaneuf and Gunarrson, are still in their prime; Kadri Gardiner, and Reilly are firing on all cylinders and we have about 5 more of the current Marlies up with the big team.

    In my mind that’s about two years from now.

    Training camp should be very telling. I wonder if Orr gets waived and Holland, D’Amgio, Ashton, Granberg and Leivo make the team.

    Spencer Abbott should get very good look or at least get some games against the softer teams during the season. I think he could score from the third line.

  • I’d argue that it was actually the development of Marcus Kruger as a shutdown center that made Bolland expendable in Chicago. The second line center experiment was a total bust, but prior to last year Bolland had always been counted as a shutdown guy. Once Kruger assumed that role and succeeded especially given age/health/cost factors, that was the real nail in Bolland’s coffin.

  • He writes for the Sun so it’s safe to say it’s tabloid reporting. Doesn’t matter if it’s the truth or not. The people that may buy into his ideas are probably the same poor souls that spend 500+ on the Leafs every year hoping something will fall from the sky. Enter Clarkson and Bolland. Although, I think Clarkson was the biggest lie sold in Toronto. In all fairness though your quote about Bolland —> “the idea of him has become larger than life” Every leaf player on this team is just that, sadly. Larger than life and nothing to show for except for great stats (for some some at the end of the season). I want a real team dammit.

    p.s. I hope they let Bolland walk but if I had to pick between two bad contracts, I’d rather Bolland over Clarkson.

  • “Management has picked up on the casual fan’s obsession with role players, hearts on sleeves, and birthplaces. This is all well and good, as long as the players have the talent to match. They’re complimentary traits. They’re the icing on the cake. The Leafs are trying to make cakes out of icing. That’s exciting until everybody just gets really sick and has a bad time.”

    Mwah, this paragraph was beautiful. Was a nice read Jeff, thanks for letting ‘x’ amount of people know what kind of idiocy Simmons is up to now without giving his articles any hits.

  • Quasijr

    I have no problem signing Bolland to a contract but only at a realistic 2.5M max for 3 years & cast as a #3 centre. If not then I want guys from Marlies.
    As for Clarkson he is miscast in the Leafs, he’s a deep cycle guy on a rush team. With Kadri line he was 2 steps to slow to get into the offensive zone & 2 steps behind in the defensive zone. The Only time he looked good was when he had Holland as a centre & Kulimen as his winger they are true cycle players & it lasted only 2-3 games before Clarkson was hurt, again.