Putting The Marlies Success into an NHL Context

There isn’t just the one single foolproof method for building a successful hockey team. If there were, then everyone would follow that blueprint to a fault until it became outdated and someone ultimately came up with a new one to chase. While the NHL may be a copycat league, if everyone’s doing the exact same thing then it becomes awfully difficult to distinguish yourself from the pack. The key is to follow a couple of fundamental Do’s and Don’ts. Beyond that, it’s up to you to get creative. 

The ultimate goal is to assemble as much talent as possible, by any means necessary. Ideally in a way that makes sense in the big picture with all of the pieces fitting together, but that only really comes into the scope after a certain point once you’ve already cleared a few hurdles. Spending big money on a big name from time to time can certainly put your incumbent collection of talent over the top, but the salary cap structure makes it inherently impossible to purely buy your way into success in terms of wins and losses.

That’s why we see the savvy teams take a patient approach, accumulating as many draft picks and prospects as possible over a length period of time understanding that not every single one will wind up hitting. Beyond just the raw number of assets, you’ll also need a couple of them to be of the very high-end variety. Those players typically come as a byproduct of a lot losing. 

It’s easy to sit back and tell a team to take those lumps on a nightly basis for the greater good when you’re looking at it from afar, without a personal stake in the matter. It’s a whole other thing to be deeply entrenched in the process and still follow through with it properly while juggling a million other extenuating factors that make it difficult to stay true to the course along the way.

Fortunately for Leafs fans, the new brain trust in Toronto appears to be fully cognizant of that, and also appears to be up to the task. While the parent club hasn’t done much winning this season, you don’t have to look far to see the seeds that are being planted. It’s happening right in the Leafs’ backyard, with the Toronto Marlies. 

For anyone that’s been paying any attention, the Marlies have been the best hockey ticket in Toronto through the first two months and change of the season. That’s entirely by design, with the organization ushering in a new era as some of the guys that will one day hopefully be contributors in the Maple Leafs blue-and-white cut their teeth in pro hockey with repeated reps at the AHL level.

The AHL tracks statistics back to their 2005-06 season, providing us with 10 full seasons worth of data to work with. I went back and compiled a list of the most dominant teams not just in the standings, but maybe more importantly in terms of goal differential and offensive proficiency during that stretch of time (note: I prorated the numbers to per-80 games because the league transitioned from an 80 game schedule to the current 76 game schedule in ’11-’12). 

Team Points/80 Games Goals For/80 Games Goal Differential
15-16 Toronto Marlies 124* 314* 119*
09-10 Hershey Bears 123 342 144
11-12 Norfolk Admirals 119 287 98
09-10 Hamilton Bulldogs 115 271 89
06-07 Hershey Bears 114 305 86
13-14 Texas Stars 112 288 81
06-07 Chicago Wolves 101 331 79
10-11 WBS Penguins 117 261 78
05-06 Grand Rapids Griffins 115 323 76
14-15 Grand Rapids Griffins 105 262 76
07-08 Chicago Wolves 110 300 74
07-08 Providence Bruins 117 280 74
05-06 WBS Penguins 113 249 71
07-08 Hartford Wolfpack 110 266 68
14-15 Manchester Monarchs 115 254 68
05-06 Portland Pirates 114 306 65
08-09 WBS Penguins 104 274 62
08-09 Hamilton Bulldogs 102 263 62
06-07 Manchester Monarchs 110 242 60
13-14 Manchester Monarchs 111 257 59
08-09 Hershey Bears 106 296 56
13-14 St.John’s IceCaps 104 272 54
13-14 Grand Rapids Griffins 104 251 54
12-13 Springfield Falcons 104 247 52
05-06 Hartford Wolfpack 104 292 51
13-14 Chicago Wolves 105 252 51
08-09 Manitoba Moose 107 239 51
09-10 Chicago Wolves 105 264 50
12-13 Syracuse Crunch 102 260 48
13-14 Binghamton Senators 101 291 46
06-07 Norfolk Admirals 108 301 44
07-08 Toronto Marlies 109 246 43
10-11 Portland Pirates 103 280 42
12-13 Providence Bruins 111 234 41

*on-pace for

Teams like the Chicago Wolves (each incarnation aside from the most recent ’13-’14 squad) provide a good reminder that context is important. Those veteran-laden squads excelled in large part because of contribution from AAAA lifers like the Brett Sterlings and Darren Haydars of the world. Heck, a 47-year old Chris Chelios was putting up numbers in for the ’09-’10 Wolves. That’s of little use to the parent club. 

For the most part, though, a lot of these teams that dominated the AHL wound up shortly thereafter graduating a handful of legitimate NHLers that went on to help the parent club. 

That Hershey Bears squad at the top boasted the likes of Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and a combination of Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth in net. That Norfolk team that won 28 straight games had all three of ‘The Triplets’ on it, to go along with guys like Richard Panik, Cory Conacher, Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio to name a few. The ’09-’10 Hamilton Bulldogs were led by PK Subban, David Desharnais, Yannick Weber, and Max Pacioretty (before he was called up). The Red Wings are known for putting their young talent through an apprenticeship program in Grand Rapids, and the best single season crop that passed through there in ’05 included Hudler, Kopecky, Filppula, Quincey, and had Jimmy Howard between the pipes. Look at this absurd collection of talent Chicago’s AHL affiliate had during the ’06-’07 season, before any of them became the household names they are right now. The list goes on and on. 

Back to the Toronto Marlies who are currently sitting atop the AHL standings in points, goals scored, and goal differential with video game-like totals… Anything even remotely resembling the staggering numbers they’re currently on pace for by the end of the season would solidify them as one of the best AHL teams we’ve seen in the past decade. 

With a nice complement of young prospects like William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown and Brendan Leipsic being supplemented with veterans like MArcobello, TJ Brennan (both of whom are clearly too good for this level of competition, but haven’t been able to nail down jobs in the NHL) and reliable goaltending it’s easy to see why they’ve been lighting the world on fire at such a staggering rate. 

What’ll be fascinating to monitor is what the Leafs decide to do with those guys moving forward as even more reinforcements make themselves available over the next few seasons. For example, Dmytro Timashov and Jeremy Bracco could join the Marlies next year, while Travis Dermott will be AHL eligible the following year.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the jump here from point A to point B is a sizeable and potentially treacherous one. While the AHL is a good breeding ground for talent, success there hardly guarantees future success at the next level. And even if it does happen, it takes a couple of years

Still, there’s a professional Toronto-based team playing some tremendous hockey right now. That’s a good start. 

  • TGT23

    Great article. The more we stuff the Marlies with prospects, the better we’ll be.

    Even if we churn out a few more Arcobellos and Brennens, at the very least they can push the pace in the AHL and help the prospects along.

    • Gary Empey

      I agree it is a great article. Lack of depth in the system is a major weakness of a lot of NHL teams. One or two injuries can quickly send a team into a fatal tailspin.

      Take Montreal,(please) two injuries and they have now lost 5 of their last 6 games. (Don’t worry, Be happy).

      As for the folks who are suggesting the Leafs should tank for a few years, I say this;

      “Where have you been for the last 10 years”. We have been at the bottom of the tank.

      We made the playoffs only once in the lockout year, before we ran out of gas.

      During the ten year period only three players the Leafs drafted are on the team. Komarov(ten years ago-6th round), Kadri ( 7 years ago -1st round, and Rielly(4 years ago -1st round. Boyes was drafted 15 years ago.

      I am optimistic for the future. Building a strong AHL team has always been a great strategy.

      PS – Gordie Bombay mentioned Dermott. and Andrew Nielsen. I think we will see both of these guys on the Leaf roster a lot sooner than expected.

    • TGT23

      how? don’t they have to be 20 years old? I think they can play in the Calder playoffs this year and next year because they signed their elc but they have to be 20 to play in the ahl, go back to the ohl/whl for their draft +2 year or the nhl. timashov is a late 96 birthday so he’ll be 20 next year so that’s why he’s eligible for the ahl next year or he can go back to the q but it’s clear he’s outgrown it already.

    • magesticRAGE

      And to add to that, European drafted players can go to any level, unhindered by their age. Martins Dzierkals or Jesper Lindgren could play for the Marlies now if they so choose.

  • magesticRAGE

    Dimitri talks about how “veteran-laden squads” should be taken into context for the team’s success, I’m just wondering if the Marlies should fall under that category as well.

    Besides William Nylander who’s totally lighting it up, it looks like the older players are driving the bus. The top 5 scorers besides Nylander, is Joshua Leivo age 22, Richard Panik age 24, T.J. Brennan age 26 and Mark Arcobello age 27. At those ages, making the NHL and being a regular is so much more difficult and you really shouldn’t be too excited about their scoring.

    As for the rest of the younger prospects, their point production seems rather pedestrian with their avg points per game being: Kappanen 0.58, Gauthier 0.41, Connor Brown 0.5, and Leipsic 0.61. These all seem like fairly average numbers.

    I’m pretty sure Nylander will be an NHL star, but that’s based off his point production and age, not really the success of the team. I just feel that it’s safer to judge a prospect’s chance of success based on their individual production, rather than the success as a team.

  • magesticRAGE

    As long as they stay the course, the leafs have a much brighter looking future than they have had for many seasons. Nice crop of youngsters and a good coach/ front office combo.