How Good Are The Leafs: January Edition

Photo Credit: Raj Mehta/USA TODAY SPORTS

My apologies for slacking for the delay as this “January” update has now turned into a mid-February one. Well, happy Valentine’s Day from me to you as I provide a monthly update of how good this team is.

It is now month five of the season, we’re hitting the home stretch and it seems like the Leafs are fading. They’re reeling of late winning just two of their last eight games. It hasn’t been pretty. Fortunately, though, the team is still very much in the playoff hunt, even if it’s getting much tighter lately. Fans are turning pessimistic, but the team is still in a decent spot. Much better than where I thought they’d be at the start of the season at least. 

Before the season started I projected that the Leafs would be around an 87 point team based on a model using Game Score which measures the value of each player in the league. Right now, they’re set to surpass those expectations as they’re on pace for 93 points (same as they were in the last update!) and they may even be a smidgen better than that.
Here’s how good the Leafs are, right now, according to Game Score, a look at who’s driving those results, and how their ratings have changed from month to month.

How Good Are The Leafs?

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We started at 87, and have steadily gone up from month to month, going up to 88, then 90 and then 95 last month. This is the first month all season where they’ve dropped, down a single point to a projected 94. Luckily, their playoff chances remain steady, sitting at 58.5 percent. Not bad for a team that has struggled lately.

The biggest hit comes with the forwards and it’s mostly Auston Matthews and his linemates coming back down to earth. Matthews takes a steep drop here, falling more than half a win, but he’s right back to the level I had him for the October and November editions of this. The fact he’s been slumping lately means it’s reasonable he could surge back up again. It’s his first season so his projection will be more volatile to these swings.

Connor Brown and Zach Hyman also took a hit, unsurprisingly, as their production dried up when Matthews did. As he goes, so do they, so any rise or fall he goes through will be felt by them as well.

As I mentioned in my last blog analyzing each player’s Game Score, this was a big month for Nazem Kadri who sees the biggest gain of anyone on the team. He’s a vital part of the team and is the most important piece outside The Big Three. He’s been great on a line with William Nylander who also gets a modest bump up over the month. It might surprise people to see Nylander ahead of Marner, but his shot rate stats are excellent while Marner’s are a bit lacking. That closes the gap that Marner has on scoring.

On defence, it’s mostly business as usual. All three of Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev have looked good enough to be a second fiddle, but not good enough to be a top dog. Maybe one of them gets to that point later this year, but at this point, that’s what they are – according to this model at least.

The bottom pair has improved slightly, but they’re still nothing you want to trot out on a regular basis. Martin Marincin and Alexey Marchenko are both upgrades, but to be fair to Hunlak, they’ve played well of late. Theoretically, the Mars bros provide more value, but I don’t mind the four rotating based on merit.

Aside from the Matthews line, the next biggest drop was predictably in net. Frederik Andersen has really struggled lately and his numbers have taken a big hit as a result. Curtis McElhinney at least looks above replacement now after some big games this season.

While the team hasn’t looked it’s best lately, there’s still a lot to like here. The forward group is still top 10 calibre and there’s room for improvement across the board after a huge slump. Last month, I pegged Toronto as a true talent .518 hockey club, which equates to 95 points. How good they are now depends on their defensive mix. With the Mars brothers on the bottom pair, this team is at .524 (96 point team) while Hunlak places them at .509 (94 point team). I’m not sure how much the four d-men will play going forward, but whatever the case is, this team is still an above average one. They’re a team that’s good enough for the playoffs.

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    • DCDC

      The sentence at the end of the paragraph is out, I think it is supposed to say, what closes the gap is marners actual scoring.
      Shot rates are important but the true factor would likely be that the bozak line gets hemmed in a lot and has high shots against, where nylander is constantly on the positive side