Who’s Driving the Marner-Tavares Line?

When the Leafs signed John Tavares in July, and Mike Babcock said that he’d be playing on a line with Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman, Leafs fans had been drooling over the potential that the Marner-Tavares duo had together before the season started.

And nearly halfway through the season, that potential may not have been high enough. With 37 games played, Marner already has 50 points, including 38 assists, and Tavares has 24 goals and 42 points, and is on pace to surpass his career highs in both areas.

Of course, with a nuclear offense that they’ve provided, the media has decided to figure out who is the better player and driving the bus, and it seems like the general consensus (at least among the mainstream media) is that it’s Marner. But is that the correct answer, or is it Tavares? Is there even an answer? It’s time to dive into who is driving this dynamic duo.

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First off, let’s look at who is driving the offense. To do so, I decided to look at both players careers, and how they’ve elevated the play of their linemates, and see if there’s anything in common with the elevated play of their current partner.

Now, the normal way to do this would be WOWY’s, but unfortunately, there are no WOWYs that track standard point totals, they only show the players differences in possession (which is something we’ll look at later). So, I decided to come up with the numbers myself, to the best of my ability without going insanely deep into it.

I did this under a few rules/assumptions:

  1. I took their linemates season totals in years where they mostly played with Tavares or Marner, and operated under the assumption that all of their points came from playing with 91 or 16.
  2. To make it a bit more accurate, I only used 5v5 points, because that’s usually when lines play with each other.
  3. Every season where they didn’t play with Tavares or Marner, I counted it towards their PPG without 91 or 16, even if some of those points may have came with them on the ice.

It’s not going to be 100% accurate, so try not to cite these numbers, but it’s the closest I could get without hyper analyzing every single shift that Marner and Tavares have ever had. Either that or coding, but that’s not something I’m capable of right now.

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Without further ado, here are the results. First, Tavares.

As you can see, Marner has seen an 88.66% jump in his 5v5 PPG since Tavares joined, by far the biggest increase out of any of Tavares linemates. While some players like Moulson, Bailey, or Okposo are in the upper-echelon of it (~50% or higher), Marner is in his own level among Tavares usual linemates. But, Marner is also the only player with a 0.5 5v5 PPG or higher without Tavares, so that says something about Marner’s individual skill. Perhaps that means that Marner is the one driving the bus.

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Tavares has also seen an increase in his 5v5 PPG from playing with Marner, although not to the same increase as Marner did with Tavares. The other notable thing here is that Tavares is the only player he has played with that has seen a drastic increase. Kadri saw an increase of 26.46%, Bozak, Hyman, and Marleau are all within the 15-20% range, and most notably, JVR actually dropped 1.58% when he played with Marner.

So, what are the takeaways from this?

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Marner and Tavares are by far the best players that they’ve each played with, and because of the fact that they are both incredibly skilled, it has created space for each other to do things they couldn’t before, hence the spike in both of their offensive totals.

But, if I were to make a bet as to who is driving the bus offensively, it’s likely Tavares. While Marner usually makes his linemates better, he never has to the degree of some of Tavares greatest accomplishments in Moulson (who is now in the AHL), Bailey (who is solid at 18 5v5 points in 35 games, but only in his first year away from 91), and Okposo (who’s making $6 million for four more years after this season to score 11 5v5 points in 38 games).

This is proven further if you look at their WOWYs this season.

via NaturalStatTrick.com

While neither player has been amazing possession-wise away from each other, it’s safe to say that Tavares has fared better away from Marner than the other way around. In fact, Marner has been nearly-replacement level without Tavares. It’s a small sample size, so it isn’t too concerning (I’m not trying to say that Marner relies on Tavares like Draisaitl relies on McDavid), but it is a thing.

So, to conclude: this has been a red hot duo, and while the eye test may make it seem like Marner is the one driving the bus, the history of Tavares’ previous wingers and the data from this season show that it’s safer to say that the bus driver is Tavares. That’s not to say that Marner isn’t making Tavares better (Tavares has never had an easier time scoring goals this season), but Marner probably wouldn’t be in the top 10 scoring without Tavares.

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  • mst

    Marner is clearly the better player of the two. Your analysis failed to take into account Marner’s natural development curve which would predict a major increase at age 21. And it failed to take into account Marner’s previous 41 games last year with Kadri, where he outscored Tavares and 98% of the league.

    Marner has 99 pts in his last 82 nhl games, 15 more than Tavares. Since joining Kadri’s line the end of last year until the end of the playoffs Marner scored at at 93 pt pace. Significantly higher than Tavares. Marner is on pace for 111pts, again significantly higher than Tavares.

    Tavares has always made his linemates better, but never has he made them score at a higher rate than himself.

    Tavares suddenly at age 28 is having a career year in all categories and yet still isn’t able to keep up with Marner’s scoring. Its very unlikely Tavares suddenly got way better at age 28 all by himself, and if he really was driving the offense then why is Marner scoring even more all situations and 5 on 5?

    • RidesVrod

      With some people you can take a 20 lbs sledge hammer and hit them over the head with FACTS, be it eye tests, stats or any other FACT that you can possibly think of & they refuse to see or listen, basically they prefer to stay blind to what facts are saying, so they want to bend them to favour their point. They are convinced that Marner is this great player & even better then a great player who has proven that he is over & over again for the past DECADE. That’s 10 straight years, if you want to go back further like your boys daddy is shouting from the roof tops for all to hear, like a bloody court jester. Then let’s look back Tavares comes into OHL as an underage special circumstances player, Marner not so much, he was drafted at 16 years of age not like Tavares at 15 years old, btw 1st player to ever get permission to play at 15 in the league, & he was drafted 1st over all, to Marner’s 19th over all, which is the 2nd last player of the 1st round, HEEEMMMMM? Interesting how that is so different & the madd buffoon Marner’s Dad still can’t stop himself. Nor can you stop aping him in this post. Marner is a better player then John Tavares LMFAO. Did you get dropped on your head as a child say a half dozen times, I certainly hope not because that would be cruel, but my God you certainly act like it. Don’t be ridiculous. Marner’s point totals had gone up by 25 points playing with Tavares & Tavares’s point totals only jumped by a tinny 4 points, and please don’t start but the goals. So what the goals, then his may goals did Marner score 26 right, it’s that 21 goals less then Tavares, but he’s a worse player then this little smuck. PLEASE.

  • Bob Canuck

    I would first like to express my appreciation for an article that attempts to provide some in-depth analysis of an aspect of the 2018-2019 Leafs.

    It should be noted that all the data included below and in the article requires some caveats. First, the 2018-2019 sample size is small. Second, the data does not account for the contributions of other teammates. For example, how much has Tavares benefited from playing with Morgan Rielly or Jake Gardiner compared to Nick Leddy or Calvin de Haan? Third, how much of Marner’s improvement can be attributed to Tavares or to his own maturation as an NHL player?

    That being said, below is some data to consider.

    Per Natural Stat Trick, the 2018-2019 5v5 SCF/60 data for the Marner (“M”) -Tavares (“T”) – Hyman (“H”) line is as follows:

    MTH (376.19) – 36.51; MT w/o H (103.04) – 34.92; T w/o MH (40.33) – 25.15; M w/o TH (57.07) – 22.05

    (The figures in brackets are TOI for the given combination; w/o means without).

    The HDCF/60 data is as follows:

    MTH – 15.47; MT w/o H – 13.97; T w/o MH – 11.84; M w/o TH – 10.5

    This data suggests that Marner benefits more from playing with Tavares than Tavares does from playing with Marner. Therefore, is Tavares the line driver?

    Natural Stat Trick also shows individual SCF and HDCF per 60. For Tavares, his iSCF/60 is 11.09, which is approximately 13% higher than his average rate over the previous two seasons. His iHDCF/60 is 6.46, which is almost 50% higher than the average over the two previous seasons.

    For Marner, his iSCF/60 is 9.87, which is nearly 19% better than his career average (2016-2018); his iHDCF/60 is 2.85, almost 4% better than his career average entering this season.

    This data shows that Tavares has seen more of a jump in his high danger scoring chances this season compared to his 2016-2018 two-season average than Marner has. This supports the contention that Marner is the driver of the Marner-Tavares pairing.

    In summary, I think it is too soon to conclude that Tavares or Marner is the driver of the line. The data leads one to different conclusions and the noted caveats should be taken into account. We do know that good players play better when they play with better players. However, as a Leafs fan, I am happier to read articles that analyse Marner versus Tavares instead of Parenteau versus Bozak.