A couple months back, when the shots against situation looked dire for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I wrote an article on here titled “How Bad Is The Bleeding?“. Well, the season is over, and we don’t have to pace the Leafs out anymore. They’ve given up 2945 shots this season. Here’s how that stacks up compared to the last 26 years (earliest full season data available) of the National Hockey League.
Raw Shots Against
The Leafs needed to allow just two shots against to take sole possession of third place on the list. It’s a mind blowing stat, really. Of course, the NHL has had 80, 82, and 84 game seasons in this era, so some teams need to be adjusted to per game totals. When you do this, the Leafs stay 4th of all time, but only because the 91/92 Sharks come up in St. Louis’ place, at 36.25 shots against per.
Against The Grain
Next, I wanted to see if there were any variables to adjust for. For example, I noticed that the top 20 is dominated by the 1992/93 and 1993/94 seasons, with eight teams on the list. A bit of that comes from the 84 game seasons, but the gap between 1st and 20th is 244, which can’t be caught up in such a short span. Sure enough, those two years had pretty high league averages for shots per game.
So I took all the team’s per game averages and compared them to the league’s average for their respective years to make a percentage. Of the top 20, the 2001/02 Atlanta Thrashers are the worst, giving up 128.7% of the league’s average shots against. The Leafs are in 4th with 119.6%, just 0.1% behind the 93/94 Kings.
I also tried giving the Leafs the benefit of the doubt in one more way; differential. Maybe they were taking enough shots to not make things so lopsided? They fared slightly better, but are still the 5th highest in the top 20, a hair away from trailing by 8 shots per game (7.988).
Game By Game
My last thought was to compare the Leafs to other teams in terms of frequency of being outshot. After all, even with the collapse, they still won 38 games (3rd highest in the top 10), and if the team actually fell off a cliff, they’d have the bulk of the season to help them here, right?
I didn’t do the entire top 20, because it wasn’t worth the effort (you have to check all 80whatever games individually). I did check the three teams ahead of them in the raw totals and the Thrashers team that’s dominating these results.
What I found was that the Leafs outshot their opponents in 15 games an absolutely pathetic result. They were outshot 65 times, and equaled twice. The Sharks, who were atop this list and finished the season 11-71-2, had a 17-64-3 shot record. The Kings were surprisingly close given the circumstances (36-47-1), but this implies that they were a run and gun team that chose to play high event hockey in a period where goalies weren’t exactly bailing teams out (league average 0.895, team average 0.898). The Blues were similar, getting outshot in 52 games, but had Curtis Joseph playing obscene hockey in a year where he probably deserved the Vezina.
Thankfully for the Leafs, the Thrashers once again made them look less bad. having a shots against record of 12-68-2, worse than their already bad 19-47-5 actual record.
Were this year’s Toronto Maple Leafs the worst defensive team in recent NHL history? It’s definitely possible. They gave up an obscene amount of shots, and struggled against the league’s curve. They weren’t shooting back, and this happened on a night in, night out basis.
With all factors considered, the only team that I would consider definitively worse is the Atlanta Thrashers of 2001/02. But go look at that roster; they had Heatley and Kovalchuk as rookies, Ray Ferraro at the end of his career, and an obscene pile of “WHO?”. They were an expansion team in their third year, still struggling to establish a core. The Leafs had a competitive team on paper, both up front and at the blue line. They had players advertised as defensively sound. They had a coach that was supposed to be a defensive guru. Yet this was the result.
Some people don’t believe that giving up shots makes you defensively poor. This is a crazy thought. A goaltender’s only purpose is to bail your team out when you’ve made enough mistakes for the opposition to believe that they can score on your net. Whether your goaltender is late 90’s Dominik Hasek or Vesa Toskala from 200 feet away, you can’t rely on them to stop the puck. It’s a benefit when they do, but you never, ever plan around it.
At best, the Leafs disregarded common sense and built a system around hoping that Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer stop the puck a lot. For months, it lead to wins, despite being consistently outplayed. Then the goals stopped going in on one end, and the goalies started cooling down. The system didn’t change, and they fell off the map.
The Leafs didn’t have a collapse. They had a slow bleed. This is the result, and its a disaster.