Peter Holland, Ben Smith, Tyler Bozak, and the Leafs’ Penalty Kill

Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS

An announcement came out recently that the Leafs were going to try to trade Peter Holland due to his concerns over ice time and future with the organization. Jeff Veillette covered the announcement here, so I won’t double up on that.

A common first reaction to this move was that it was terrible and that the Leafs were continuing to make mistakes involving the selection of players for their 4th line. But after digging into the data, it seems that’s not the case. The information below should show why that is, and discuss a good plan would be going forward if the Leafs are unable to trade Peter Holland.

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Player Skill

The data I spoke of above is shown below in a table.

Player GF60 GA60 CF60 CA60 P60
Peter Holland 1.90 2.41 52.02 58.26 1.33
Ben Smith 1.47 1.66 52.82 57.50 1.16

All the above data is from 2014-2017, at 5v5, and Score-Adjusted.

The numbers from 2013-2017 tell the same story, as do the team-relative numbers and xGF numbers. I’ve checked.

As a person who has been harsh on Ben Smith’s continued presence in the lineup this year, it’s not really clear if Peter Holland is a better player. I’d be tempted to say yes, given the better production with similar possession numbers. But it’s scarily close. And a lot of people who value faceoff win% (I generally don’t) would probably conclude Smith is the better player for that reason, and they wouldn’t be terribly wrong.

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Eye-test wise, I think Peter Holland is very different from Ben Smith. Probably a fair bit more impressive. He has puck management skills that Smith would die for and seems capable in his own zone rather than the mess Ben Smith usually appears to be. But if their results are basically the same does that matter? Not really.

Penalty Killing

Here’s where we get into Tyler Bozak, who I have yet to talk about but mentioned in the title. Below is a table of PK-specific stats similar to above, but “Against” stats only. It shows the entirety of what could be considered the realistic options for the PK on the Leafs’ current roster.

Player TOI TOI (2016-2017) GA60 FA60 (All sit) FOW%
Leo Komarov 327:03 44:13 5.50 62.56 49.06
Peter Holland 139:26 6:07 6.89 77.03 45.94
Ben Smith 252:11 41:43 4.04 76.85 52.86
Matt Martin 39:03 26:04 3.07 43.01 31.58
Connor Brown 50:23 46:50 5.95 90.51
Zach Hyman 83:31 56:13 5.03 64.66 36.36
Tyler Bozak 93:26 4:31 5.14 65.50 54.56

All stats are 4v5 and from 2014-17 unless otherwise indicated.

The table shows that Ben Smith has gotten good results on the PK, but has been one of the worst above in preventing (unblocked) shot attempts against. This is not ideal, but getting the job done. Peter Holland has been even worse though, so if there was an idea of replacing Smith with Holland, you’d have to find someone for the PK duty.

Wait – who’s that at the bottom of the chart but the aforementioned Tyler Bozak! With good results and better FA60 than the above-mentioned centres, and a right shot with better faceoff numbers, it seems reasonable that he could take over the PK time Ben Smith has been playing if you want him out of the lineup.

So, say you run a system like:

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Bozak – Martin

Komarov – Hyman

Holland/Smith – Brown/Leivo

And your PK system is set. Turns out the Maple Leafs had the right-handed PK faceoff guy they wanted this whole time.


So what does the analysis generate when it is all put together? The conclusion here seems to be that neither of Peter Holland and Ben Smith deserve a spot over the other one. Certainly, though, it seems bad asset management to have both of them on your roster when neither of them are able to succeed in the role you want them to.

If it comes down to it, it appears that the Leafs prefer the faceoff ability to Smith over the points-producing ability of Holland. They wouldn’t be making an egregious mistake either way. So the solution is to trade Holland if you can, waive him if you can’t, and then you can keep playing Ben Smith as your 4th line centre until a better option comes along.

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Does anyone else hear the sound of a Goat calling?

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  • Stan Smith

    I find it interesting that you bother even mentioning unblocked shots on the penalty kill. For a penalty killer I would me more interested in Blocked shots. in this area Ben Smith has double what Peter Holland has in approximately the same number of games. 177 in 217 for Smith, and 72 in 203 for Holland.

  • Tigon

    I’m not sure why they just didn’t call up Froese and let him take the role again.

    1. It saves the contract spot, I think the Leafs are at 48/50.
    2. Free up a spot on the Marlies who are deep on forward. Timashov is basically the Marlies Holland because of this log jam.