A Tale Of Three Coaches


I was going to go on a big long rant about how extending Randy Carlyle is awful yesterday, but I was busy playing my own blend of defensively lacking, systematically horrid, and utterly confusing hockey. To my defence, it was drop in with a bunch of people who just started learning how to play on ice, like myself. I still have the opportunity to go on this rant today, but instead, let me show you some numbers. We won’t even use “advanced” stats. We’ll keep it basic.

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I’ve taken the results of Toronto’s last three coaches into consideration. I wanted to keep things post-lockout, and include full tenures (aka, no Pat Quinn). For the Wilson/Carlyle transition year, and the lockout shortened year, I pro-rated some stuff to 82 games.

Shots, Shots, Shots

shots per game

The more I look at this chart, the more I wonder how the 06/07 Leafs missed the playoffs and weren’t Stanley Cup Competitors. In fact, both of Maurice’s teams and the first couple of Wilson rosters did a good job in controlling the play. Wilson’s in particular are impressive, when you consider the tire fire those rosters consisted of. Once Carlyle comes in and introduces his “defensive system”, the team takes a near immediate nose dive in offensive contributions, yet still creeps up in shots against.

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shot differential

There are the same numbers, turned into a full season differential. It seems to be getting progressively worse over time, and the fact that Carlyle has never been above a -400 pace in Toronto is terrifying.

sf percentage

Here’s how it looks like in terms of percentage of shots for, all situations. It’s not as great of a sample as using, say, 5 on 5 Corsi or Fenwick, but I wanted to keep things non-advanced, plus there’s the issue of none of those numbers being around for the 06/07 season. In any event, you see the same dip as above.

shooting percentage

Curiously, shooting percentage is sporadic, but makes some sense. The Leafs shoot around average for the first two years on the merits of a steadily talented forward core, the 08/09 team didn’t have as much raw skill but made up for it in quickness that lead to odd man rushes, and in 09/10, the Brian Burke fire sale was under way. Remember that over the course of the season, the Leafs traded five of their top eight goal scoring forwards, and their sharpshooter on the point, Ian White (man this team was awful). 

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It only gets progressively worse as you look down the depth chart. John Mitchell was temporarily Phil Kessel’s #1 Centre! John Mitchell! But even still, it was much below league average, to the point where lack of skill couldn’t be entirely blamed and luck had to come into play to an extent.

The offensive cupboards were soon restocked and shooting percentage began to climb back up, but even beyond expectations. By 2012/13, the team as a whole were averaging Sidney Crosby numbers, at which point it was clear that something was wrong. This continued into this year, and then suddenly brick walled. The Leafs closed out their season without scoring four regulation goals in a game after February 27th.

Shooting percentage isn’t something you can pinpoint on the coach, but is something that can bail out or bury one. This year, it looked like it was going to do both, but didn’t.


save percentage

“You show me a great coach, and I’ll show you a great goalie”. It’s one of the great hockey phrases of our time, and my god, you can see how it applies to the Leafs here. I’m half surprised that Maurice and Wilson haven’t found a way to take Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala, and Jonas Gustavsson for the lost wages they’ve probably cost the two. 

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If Maurice’s goaltenders put up the save percentages of Bernier and Reimer in 06/07, their goal differential would have shot up from -11 to +54. That’s ahead of Carlyle’s Ducks, which happened to have the deepest, most star-studded lineup of the Salary Cap era and won him his championship. I don’t think they would have missed the playoffs by a single point in that case. The team that followed would have shot up from -29 to +19 with those numbers.

Even worse? Wilson’s first team! Even with Martin Gerber playing the (still below average) saviour late in the year, Bernier/Reimer numbers give that team a mind boggling 78 fewer goals against. That’s a jump from -43 (26th) to +35 (5th). Yes, you read that correctly! The Leafs, who parted ways with Mats Sundin, Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker, and Pavel Kubina and replaced them with a rookie Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Van Ryn, Jamal Mayers was one of the best teams in the league if they had this year’s Leafs goaltending!

A team where Jason Blake was their star forward lacked only goaltending to become competitive. The team brought in Jeff Finger, Luke Schenn, and Jonas Frogren but managed to survive offensively. A team that gave up Alex Steen and Carlo Colaicovo for the worst stretch of Lee Stempniak’s career was good.

On the flip side, Randy Carlyle was handed Phil Kessel in his prime, James van Riemsdyk at his upswing, Joffrey Lupul in his renaissance, Dion Phaneuf as he figured out the defensive zone, and two years of elite goaltending. What happened? Goaltending and hot sticks prevented a system that encourages giving up the puck once you cross centre ice, burying skilled players for a lack of toughness, dressing multiple enforcers, and putting “grit” in the offensive zone consistently from missing the playoffs last year. This year? They tried their best, but there was too much time to kill.

In 148 games, Randy Carlyle’s Leafs have earned 156 points. That’s an 86 point pace. Maurice’s teams pulled out a pace of 88 with a cardboard cutout of a goaltender. Ron Wilson kept the cardboard cutout for years, was given a rosters that were a handful of pretty good but not great players away from being AHL teams, and still managed a pace of 80

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The Leafs aren’t perfect. They still need a second paring defenceman, and while this season was a nice improvement, Tyler Bozak still isn’t a top line centre. There are other ways to improve the team as well. But in terms of the roster, the Leafs are in a better position to succeed than they have been at any point of the Salary Cap Era. Last year, Carlyle oversaw one of the worst defensive teams in NHL history, and oversaw a collapse that saw the offence dry up to something that matched the Buffalo Sabres. The same Buffalo Sabres that had the lowest goals per game average of any team in seventy eight years. Yet, it wasn’t much different from the other years when you look at the big picture.

Yet, rather than being held accountable, he’s been given a verbal, financial, and philosophical vote of confidence, carrying a shiny two year extension with him. 

“It’s just money! The Leafs have tons of it!”. That’s fine, but Tim Leiweke has stressed that this whole “blow money to win championships” thing is new to MLSE, and with that considered, pouring millions of dollars into a negative asset might scare off the board of directors. 

“They’re just waiting for ________!” Cool, but what happens if their dream coach never hits the market? At that point, you’re stuck looking at a bunch of bridesmaids once again. Not just that, but you’ve blown a year of time on a player core that’s gone from “youngest group ever” to “reaching prime age”. That is, of course, unless you continue to ship out your talent for over valued, rhetoric driven “character”. At which point, you may as well just blow it up and try again, again, and again.

I guess this did turn into a long rant after all. Whatever. I’m going to go play street hockey with my dog before the Marlies game starts. At least they seem to be doing pretty good.

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  • Leaf Fan in Mexico

    I’d like to see those charts compared to the same charts measuring only Carlyle’s career. It’d be fun to see how Wilson’s/Maurice’s teams compared to Carlyle’s playoff contending, stanley cup winning teams at the same time.

  • jasken

    Carlyle has been found to be the coach of Leafs by Shanny and Nonis whine complain get over it. Moving on and trying to pry assistant coaches Mike Kitchen and John Madden out of their organizations should be their next top priority.

    Kitchen was pro fancy stats before they existed he was part of the coaching staff of the most explosive offensive output by a Leafs team in their history 89/90 they had no defence or goalie but they would shoot and score a lot.

    To balance out you bring a young guy as per coaches like Madden short coaching history so far but he sure could help the Leafs to move to better defensive structure and help players buy into systems.

    I would lay money on Shanny asking about Madden in Florida, Kitchen in Chicago would be hard to get him to comeback to Toronto from cup contender.

  • Leaf Fan in Mexico

    The various GMs through player selection and coaches through player usage have resulted in a leaf team with
    – worse puck possession
    – better shooters
    – better goaltending

    Basically, PDO improved and puck possession dropped though compared to Maurice’s teams the net overall effect to winning is nil.

  • Leaf Fan in Mexico

    Also the earlier teams (Maurice) had more “compete” given their ability to win and dominate puck battles which shows in their better puck possession. It almost looks like JFJ knows how to build a good puck possession team and the later GMs are better at improving SH% and goaltending.

    But the real message is from this larger sample size, as it appears that Burke and the various GMs tinkering with the team resulted in weakening the puck possession skill of the core [rather then this being simply Carlyle’s coaching who is pretty bad].

    • Quite a few of the Leafs players have been solid puck possession forwards on other teams (JVR, Raymond, Clarkson, Phaneuf) and other players have the tools to be good possession players (Gardiner, Reilly, Kadri, Kessel).

      With a different coach, I doubt the Leafs would all of a sudden be a top-5 possession team, but they’ve got the talent to at least be a ~50% team if they weren’t playing such stupid systems.

    • nonikhanna

      The GMs have “tinkered” with the team in an effort to give Carlyle the type of players he wants… and those players aren’t very good. However, those players are more successful under different coaches… so, in defense of Carlyle, he seems to always acquire players at the exact wrong time pretty much every single time, so…