TLN Monday Mailbag: October 24th

article_f3d852d5-c735-4908-907c-2f3e251763b2

I had a lead paragraph to open this mailbag with, but I lost it.

@bourney20 asked: Why don’t you believe that faceoffs matter while being shorthanded in the defensive zone?

I won’t nerd out too hard here; to be honest, figuring out the true value of a defensive zone faceoff on the penalty kill would be above my skillset and brain power. But let’s talk about the concept a little bit, at least.

The average NHL team look approximately 187 defensive zone faceoffs last year at 4-on-5 with an average of 441.83 minutes down that one man. This gives you about a defensive zone draw every two minutes, or… one per penalty kill. Let’s say an elite faceoff person is a 55% player on the draw, compared to a 50% player. That extra 5% of ability means that he’s going to win you approximately one extra defensive zone faceoff every twenty penalty kills.

Seem low? Yes, but not in the “bad estimate” way; you’re just not getting that much out of the average-to-elite jump. Does that win prevent many goals? Probably not: the team on the kill will likely dump a clean defensive zone faceoff win into the other end. Let’s say that buys you 24 seconds: 12 to retrieve and skate it back, and another 12 to set it up. That’s 20% of a penalty kill; over the course of an average season, that saves you about four goals. That’s with overestimating the reset time, and assuming that every single faceoff win includes a successful stretch of time wasting. You could probably get those four (likely fewer) goals back by playing your fastest centre who can get into a shooting lane and/or skate the puck out.

Look at the Leafs/Jets equalizer the other night; people point to that as the reason why a faceoff specialist is needed, but Zach Hyman actually won that draw; Connor Carrick failed to clear the zone.

A look at the top faceoff teams on the penalty kill last year shows no absolute correlation with preventing shots. Arizona led the league in 4v5 FO% (53.2) and were middle of the pack in preventing shots on the PK. Nashville and New Jersey were 3rd and 4th in fewest attempts against but were both at just 43%. Vancouver had the sixth best 4v5 defence while winning just 39% of their draws!

Only two teams last year had a 50%+ faceoff percentage on the penalty kill, Arizona and Anaheim. The truth is, any team on the powerplay will use the extra man to win most tie-up situations; trying to cheat the rules and get ahead is hard enough as it is, but once you’re there, it doesn’t give you enough meaningful possession to be worth it.

@Jsports_47: Should Connor Brown get a shot in a bigger role than his current one? Over say, Michalek or Komarov?

It looks like the Leafs decided that today by waiving Michalek, and the answer is absolutely yes. Brown has proven himself to be a capable offensive player since his later years in junior, and there’s no reason to think that skill won’t translate. Whether Kadri and Komarov will be the perfect fits for him remain to be seen, but getting onto a line more focused on scoring will do him a world of good.

@StephenSwales17 asked: Kerby Rychel has been getting some good looks for the Marlies. Ignoring the Leafs’ logjam up front, how close is he to the NHL?

It’s a bit early to say based entirely off of his Marlies resume, though he did impress on Sunday night. His prior play with Lake Erie does suggest that he’d be capable of contributing in an offensive role, though the Blue Jackets never gave him much of a chance to do it. A team without depth could probably be experimenting him on a winger-short second line or meaningful third line, but it might take some time for him to leapfrog others here.

@JamesMGoodman asked: With so many contracts coming off the books in 2017, is the team far enough along to sign a big name defenceman along the lines of Brent Burns or Kevin Shattenkirk?

Adding a player of that caliber is certainly what the Leafs would like to do, though I imagine they’d like to look younger if they could. A veteran free agent would certainly take away the need to give up an asset, but if you’re looking at this team as a sustainable eventual contender with a huge prospect pool, then perhaps it makes more sense to move prospects for a better young player than it does to over commit to a late 20’s, early 30’s piece.

With that said, if a player like the above two decides that they want to hop onto the hype train for a year or two, I’d be all ears.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    Regarding defensive zone faceoffs on the penalty kill.In today’s game, faceoffs are extremely important anytime, anywhere, any zone. With 40 seconds shifts the faceoff dictates the whole shift. When you lose the faceoff you are immediately right behind the eight-ball, chasing the puck, trying to regain possession, so you can get off the ice and check if Babcock has his black book out Think back to the first game with Ottawa. Leafs lost two defensive zone faceoffs when Karlsson was on the ice..Both quickly led to two great goals from his point shot. When an elite D is on the ice you must win or scramble those draws.

    “Never give the dog a look at the rabbit”

    • Jeff Veillette

      Faceoffs are always important on an individual scale. You never want to lose one.

      The point is that even the difference between the best and worst regular faceoff takers in the game isn’t enough to make a meaningful long-term difference on results.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        Re – “The point is that even the difference between the best and worst regular
        faceoff takers in the game isn’t enough to make a meaningful long-term
        difference on results”

        Jeff I seriously doubt you could find one NHL coach that would agree with that statement, You need that top faceoff guy to give you a 50/50 chance of controlling the flow of the game. The only reason the stats don’t show a meaningful difference is because everyone has a top faceoff guy on their team who can win half or better of the draws.

        It is in the critical faceoffs you see each teams best faceoff guys go head to head. The fact they they often end up spilting the draws makes no difference. If you don’t have a top guy you are in big trouble.Lost defensive zone faceoffs account for 50% of the goals scored. Bozak is our best faceoff guy. A lot of people here are anxious to get him off the team, with no plan of who to replace him with. When there is extended pressure on us Bozak can not take all the draws. Kadri really picked up last year but this year he is having trouble again. Matthews is still learning the tricks of the trade at the NHL level. Faceoffs are so important that if your top three centers are not all the good at it, some teams have a guy who is good, take the draw and get straight off the ice.

        PS… When the game is on the line it is not unusual to see a coach put two centers on the ice in case one gets tossed.

  • Tigon

    I think what is more important than getting a better defensive forward, Ben Smith, would be not playing Hunwick and Polak over their heads. No way they should be 2 and 3 behind Rielly in minutes a night (Chicago game), sometimes (often) playing more.

    How many times do we have to see these 2 playing within the top 3 for minutes!

    • LukeDaDrifter

      Until we can find or develop someone better they are here. I imagine the Leafs would like to get Nielsen up as soon as they can. The cost of a good D is a Taylor Hall or #1 center that got traded for Seth Jones last year. Are you prepared to trade Marner or Nylander to get one? Moving in the 7th/8th ranked defenceman( (Corrado/Marincin) is not the answer. Lou must be working on it. The holdup is, to obtain a Trouba, Lindholm, Fowler one has to over pay. There are too many teams looking for the same piece.

        • LukeDaDrifter

          I think they already get cap credit for Cowen as if they have won the arbitration hearing. Now if they lose it then we will be a few million over the cap. I think when they looked at the free agent defencemen that were available, they felt it was not really much of an improvement from what they already have. It seems we are playing a run and gun sort of game at the moment. I am not really sure if that is how Babcock wants them to play. I wish we knew what the real asking price is on those two RFA’s who are sitting out. If it is as big as is rumoured then us fans may not be quite as anxious to pull the trigger. From what I have seen of Lamariello, when a reasonable deal is on the table, he doesn’t hesitate to close the deal.

  • Greg Fenton

    Young players are not in short supply with this team, and the defense certainly needs to be shored up. Adding 1 or 2 good (sorry Polak) D-men in their late 20’s or early 30’s is exactly what they need.

    Shattenkirk, for example, will be 28 years old at the start of next season, if the Leafs can get him for 5 years, that’d be great for the team.