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Photo Credit: © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing the Leafs special teams to see if it can be the key to playoff success

After getting absolutely destroyed by Buffalo on Tuesday night, it wouldn’t hurt to feel a little good about something, so it’s time to talk about special teams. Or at least comparing them to the rest of the league to feel better about the Leafs.

Heading into Tuesday night the Leafs were pretty close to 30%, at 29.4% success rate on the powerplay. This is 3% higher than the next closest team. For all our complaints about the powerplay, it’s absolutely been a bright spot for the Leafs, and if there isn’t an erosion of penalties come playoff time (gulp) it’s a great advantage for Toronto to have in the postseason.

As for the penalty kill, it’s a little worse, and comes in at 6th in the league, but you’ll see, it’s actually better than when you factor in a few extra details in a little bit. The Leafs are the best of the Atlantic teams when it comes to the penalty kill, and perhaps this is an argument for Toronto to want a penalty laden first round.

One of the measures for success used around the NHL as a predictor of how good a team really is in the combination of PP+PK to give an overall score, so I thought I’d share that special teams score here:

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Team Special Teams Combined
Toronto Maple Leafs 112.9
Carolina Hurricanes 111.3
St. Louis Blues 109.3
New York Rangers 108
Pittsburgh Penguins 107.2
Calgary Flames 107
Boston Bruins 105.1
San Jose Sharks 104.8
Nashville Predators 104.5
New York Islanders 104.3
Colorado Avalanche 104
Edmonton Oilers 103.2
Anaheim Ducks 103
Florida Panthers 103
Tampa Bay Lightning 102.9
Washington Capitals 101.3
Dallas Stars 100.8
Ottawa Senators 99.6
New Jersey Devils 97.3
Winnipeg Jets 96.3
Vancouver Canucks 96.1
Chicago Blackhawks 96
Columbus Blue Jackets 95.9
Vegas Golden Knights 95.9
Minnesota Wild 95.8
Buffalo Sabres 95.4
Los Angeles Kings 93.4
Detroit Red Wings 90.8
Seattle Kraken 89.2
Philadelphia Flyers 88.4
Montréal Canadiens 88.2
Arizona Coyotes 86.7

So heading into Tuesday night the Leafs were in fact the best special teams team in the league, using the raw numbers. And other than the Minnesota Wild, the only teams outside the top 16 are the bubble teams Dallas, Vegas, and Los Angeles.

The interesting thing that NHL.com does is track the “net” powerplay and penalty kill results, counting goals against on the powerplay and goals for on the penalty kill as -1 on the overall numbers. The goals against on the powerplay cost the Leafs 2%, but their shorthanded scoring success moves them up to having the second best penalty kill in the league behind Carolina. When you look at the net results you can see a much more sizable advantage for the Leafs over the rest of the league.

Team Net Special Teams Combined
Toronto Maple Leafs 117.2
Carolina Hurricanes 111.4
St. Louis Blues 111.4
New York Rangers 109.9
Calgary Flames 108.7
Pittsburgh Penguins 105.7
Florida Panthers 104.8
Colorado Avalanche 104.8
Boston Bruins 104.4
Edmonton Oilers 104.3
Anaheim Ducks 103.9
Nashville Predators 103.6
Tampa Bay Lightning 103.4
New York Islanders 102.2
Washington Capitals 101.6
Dallas Stars 101.5
San Jose Sharks 101.2
Ottawa Senators 101.1
Vegas Golden Knights 98
Winnipeg Jets 97
Columbus Blue Jackets 96.1
Vancouver Canucks 95.8
New Jersey Devils 95
Los Angeles Kings 94.9
Buffalo Sabres 94.6
Minnesota Wild 94.4
Chicago Blackhawks 94.2
Seattle Kraken 89.7
Detroit Red Wings 88.9
Philadelphia Flyers 86.7
Montréal Canadiens 86.1
Arizona Coyotes 85.7

That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t really consider the fact that teams aren’t equally on powerplays or being shorthanded. It also doesn’t really account for the number of times that some teams are involved in fewer special teams situations than others, in fact at this point there’s a range of the Predators and Canadiens being on special teams 470 times down to the Islanders who have only found themselves in 359 special team situations. There’s also quite a range when it comes to powerplay-penalty kill differential, with the Leafs falling 22nd in the league being shorthanded nine more times than they’ve had the powerplay.

Team PP Opp TSH Total Special Team Events PP Op-TSH
Pittsburgh Penguins 227 186 413 41
Colorado Avalanche 244 209 453 35
Los Angeles Kings 226 201 427 25
Vancouver Canucks 224 206 430 18
Washington Capitals 217 200 417 17
Dallas Stars 216 201 417 15
Winnipeg Jets 227 213 440 14
Chicago Blackhawks 213 199 412 14
New Jersey Devils 200 188 388 12
Buffalo Sabres 197 185 382 12
St. Louis Blues 209 200 409 9
Philadelphia Flyers 209 200 409 9
Florida Panthers 233 228 461 5
San Jose Sharks 196 191 387 5
Detroit Red Wings 204 201 405 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 224 222 446 2
New York Islanders 180 179 359 1
Anaheim Ducks 204 204 408 0
Ottawa Senators 214 215 429 -1
Vegas Golden Knights 191 192 383 -1
Seattle Kraken 191 197 388 -6
Toronto Maple Leafs 197 206 403 -9
Minnesota Wild 215 227 442 -12
Edmonton Oilers 212 224 436 -12
Calgary Flames 203 216 419 -13
New York Rangers 193 207 400 -14
Columbus Blue Jackets 192 211 403 -19
Boston Bruins 209 230 439 -21
Montréal Canadiens 224 246 470 -22
Nashville Predators 222 248 470 -26
Carolina Hurricanes 210 249 459 -39
Arizona Coyotes 177 219 396 -42

So while we might feel the league is out to get the Leafs, I guess we can take comfort in the fact that the Bruins and Hurricanes still get more calls against them, even if they may deserve it more.

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The frequency in which teams get penalties called for or against them created the below weighted net numbers, and sadly, thanks to the refs being out to get the Hurricanes, the Leafs actually only have the second best special teams in comparison to the rest of the league.

Team Weighted Net Special Teams
Carolina Hurricanes 124.76
Toronto Maple Leafs 120.11
New York Rangers 114.31
Calgary Flames 112.97
Boston Bruins 111.13
Nashville Predators 110.74
St. Louis Blues 108.66
Edmonton Oilers 107.71
Anaheim Ducks 103.90
Florida Panthers 103.46
Columbus Blue Jackets 102.94
Tampa Bay Lightning 102.82
New York Islanders 101.81
Ottawa Senators 101.41
Arizona Coyotes 101.19
San Jose Sharks 99.33
Vegas Golden Knights 98.36
Minnesota Wild 97.65
Dallas Stars 97.39
Colorado Avalanche 96.92
Washington Capitals 96.27
Pittsburgh Penguins 93.87
Winnipeg Jets 93.32
Montréal Canadiens 92.89
Seattle Kraken 91.87
Vancouver Canucks 91.39
Buffalo Sabres 91.01
New Jersey Devils 90.72
Chicago Blackhawks 90.50
Detroit Red Wings 87.97
Los Angeles Kings 87.41
Philadelphia Flyers 83.64

So what does any of this mean, well, it means it’s in the Leafs best interest to steer into games that are more heavily called and not so game managed. The Leafs have had 9th fewest number of calls for or against in a game, but can hopefully seek comfort in the fact that Florida, Tampa, and Boston are all in the top 10 of special teams instances. Even if the refs are seemingly putting their whistles away by the standards of those games, that could be upswing in special teams for the Leafs, and that’s not a bad thing, except for the fact that calls tend to favour Florida and Tampa, and no matter how good the Leafs penalty kill is, there’s no advantage to being on the penalty kill.

Data sourced from NHL.com

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