Staturday: Less is more when it comes to Cody Ceci

I guess you don’t really need to see the numbers to know that the lower the playing time the better off the Leafs are when it comes to Cody Ceci. At the close of the 2019-20 season we will finally be down to the target number of zero minutes and the cruel twist of COVID is that while many of us were hoping to be done with Ceci by now, we’re going to be spending the summer with him.

Nevertheless, he’s a Leaf for now, and that’s not ideal, but it’s interesting to see how Sheldon Keefe might have cracked the code on Cody. It seems like a pretty simple one, and it’s to stop playing him like a top pairing defenseman, and put him on the third pairing as much as possible.

Under Mike Babcock, Cody Ceci’s most frequent partner in every single game played until Babcock’s dismissal was Morgan Rielly. There were two games where he tried Ceci with Muzzin in shutdown situations, but even in those games his primary partner remained Morgan Rielly. Not to throw Babcock completely under the bus for this, as the pairing seemed to put up decent numbers in half the games, but generally as you’ll see in the chart below, it wasn’t working and they were asked to play a lot.

When Keefe came in Ceci remained with Rielly as his primary partner for the first six games, but then only had two games where Rielly was his primary partner the rest of the year. Additionally Ceci never had a game where he was primarily paired with Muzzin, and one in the height of the defensive injuries where Barrie was marginally his most frequent partner for a game. Instead Ceci began playing more frequently with Dermott (14 out of 15 games over a stretch) and then when the injuries to Rielly and Muzzin hit, Ceci was the 3rd pairing anchor playing with Marincin or Sandin for the most part.

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The lesson learned, sheltered Ceci could be effective and when you don’t have to look at the cost associated with him, this isn’t something you hate to see from a bottom pairing defenseman.

With Position Team TOI With CF% With CF% Without Ceci xGF% With xGF% Without Ceci
Morgan Rielly D TOR 475.28 50.47 52.93 49.63 53.28
Travis Dermott D TOR 189.90 50 49.45 55.99 50.46
Rasmus Sandin D TOR 81.70 53.79 57.77 57.16 47.49
Jake Muzzin D TOR 78.28 45 55.72 43.02 51.96
Tyson Barrie D TOR 52.93 46.24 54.42 40.42 51.82
Martin Marincin D TOR 46.38 55.71 53.47 59.23 51.27
Justin Holl D TOR 30.03 45 52.75 52.02 51.62

(via naturalstattrick.com)

While I appreciate that WOWYs aren’t ideal, they do show that playing with Dermott and Sandin worked. And a big part of why that worked was that they were getting third pairing assignments.

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Looking at his competition it also shows a tendency to be significantly improved when playing against the bottom of the opposition’s roster, although this doesn’t differentiate on whether or not Ceci was playing with Rielly or one of his bottom pairing partners, and you’d hope that Rielly would be able to move the puck up ice easily against fourth line competition.

The short of it is that the Leafs have Cody Ceci. They are going to play Cody Ceci. They seemed to have figured out when and where to play him, and additionally he serves a purpose as penalty killer, and in the increased physical world of playoff hockey, he’ll become comfort food for your curmudgeonly uncle.