The Toronto Maple Leaf Rebuild Explained

Warning – if you are a know-it-all self-proclaimed hockey wonk of the jaded inner Canada variety, read no further.  It is obvious to us that the chattering class of the great white north has no room for novel ideas such as our proprietary metric.  So do us all a favor and please exit stage left with all the other naysayers (“and take up knitting or something”) as one especially bright bulb at pension plan puppets suggested we do.  I didn’t see this comment on his blog or twitter feed though…….hmmm, maybe he doesn’t have one…….surprise.

For those of us who do have these outlets, and actually wish to discuss and interpret a vast amount of data collected, on our own time on our own dime, the grown-ups with the capacity to view the world with an open mind, can drill down into what the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing, why they are doing it, and if they have succeeded (at least on paper) so far.  Funny, we haven’t seen a whole lot of THAT from the media within the Centre of the Universe.  No matter, that’s why you have us.

Since we have generated the Advanced Bracton statistic for every player in the NHL, and are in the process of updating the impact of all the signings and divestitures, one thing is clear;  Kyle Dubas and the gang are using metrics similar to those we are utilizing to tabulate the character of a hockey player.  As such, we view most of the moves made by Toronto in the last weeks from a “method to the madness” perspective.  Overall the team for next year appears to be vastly improved over last year’s horrendous debacle.  To wit, look at some of their recent signings and divestitures (in terms of AB):

  1. Removal of -8.35 Phil Kessel
  2. PA Parenteau +0.45
  3. Shawn Matthias +0.37
  4. Matt Hunwick +0.12
  5. Marc Arcobello -0.78 (on Phoenix, which will likely be positive in Toronto).
  6. Daniel Winnick (welcome back) + 2.75
  7. Nazem Kadri +0.58

With respect to Kessel, most everyone in the pension plan puppet community especially, has opined their displeasure with the trade in some form.  We disagree with these arm-chair GMs and want to surmise as to what Leaf Brass were thinking when they did this deal.  We actually have the numbers behind our opining… there’s that.

From a numerical standpoint, we believe the Leafs shopped Kessel around and found limited interest in his large contract and waning point totals.  Kessel “only” had 60 points last year down around 25% from prior years.  If you throw in his over 8 AB score, he really only had 51.  This is an underwhelming total to say the least for someone considered to be elite.  Therefore, bringing in someone like PA Parenteau produces an even swap this year (since Parenteau had a positive AB last year with Montreal) and similar scoring numbers to Kessel factoring AB.   As part of the trade, the Leafs received additional players and a draft pick; any or all of whom could end up making a positive impact on Toronto in the future.  Additionally, and not to be overlooked, Kessel and his line-mates were also over negative 30 +/-, which is almost the same in Celsius as it is in Fahrenheit – representing a ridiculous lack of back checking, hustle and muscle.   Memo from the desk of Mike Babcock – This (lack of) aggression will not stand, man.

Notably, EVERYONE the Leafs have brought in so far are expected to improve two way play mightily.  In our world, preventing goals is exactly the same thing as scoring them.   The Leafs had one of the largest negative margins in this category last year.  To stop the bleeding they had no choice but to trade GF for prevention of GA.  If they lost 10-15 goals from Kessel in the trade, they saved 25-30 by dealing him.  Moreover, the Leafs were also at the bottom of the NHL in GF/GA margin 5×4.  If Kessel and his power play prowess were that great, why did the power play give up among the most shorthanded goals in the NHL and score among the least?  Special teams stunk with Kessel.  Period.

OK, if there is room in your heart to admit that the Kessel trade for Pittsburgh, a) could actually hurt the team and be a reason why the draft pick they sent to Toronto is lottery protected, b) be a reincarnation of the James Neal experiment, c) gasp, actually demonstrate a great case study in why AB works, then you have it in you to understand that the Leafs needed to improve goals against average.  Removing Kessel from the mix was a good first step, what else have they done to advance the cause?

Depending on what depth chart one uses, almost all of the players brought in so far are improvements over at least one player currently at their respective positions.  Our AB totaled -77.65 for Toronto last year.  This basically means that Toronto gave up 77 goals of the 262 they allowed due to a lack of character, not wholly because of shots generated by the opponent (like Corsi and Fenwick measures).  As such, Leaf management recognizes that although shots are important, there is a more powerful link between grit and determination and keeping the puck out of one’s net.  So let’s look at what a reconstituted Leafs could look like in October and whether their minus -77.65 AB should decline as a result of the transactions (these lines are by no means set in stone so let’s get past arguing about line pairings in July, K?):

First, Parenteau – Bozak – JVR, second Kadri – Lupul – Booth, third, Holland – Komarov – Winnik, fourth Arcobello – Panik – Matthias

Defense – First, Phaneuf – Reilly, second, Gardiner – Polak (this pairing could be bad), third Hunwick – Brewer, fourth, Robidas – Marincin

To total the AB for the team as laid forth here, the AB would decline from -77.65 to -43.44.  This 34 goal improvement basically amounts to a Kessel (without the benefit of the salary cap space saved).  Amazingly, the Leafs could enjoy further gains from the low -40’s if the output from their top line reverts back to what it was two years ago in several of our measures, including marginal power play proficiency.  This could happen under new head coach Mike Babcock, since Detroit was among the league’s best.

So if the Leafs, in the best case scenario, actually post approximately a negative 15-20 as a team, they could be vying for the eighth playoff berth (its true).  This is because there are 7 teams in the east with positive AB scores (of which all but one made the playoffs in 2015), the 8th team as projected by us, will likely severely lag the others.   Maybe it will be the Leafs.

One way or the other, the team as constructed now will at least be WAY more FUN to watch than the snoozer dud of a product offered in the entire 2015 portion of last season.   We also suspect that the Leafs are not done yet with roster moves.  If true, we expect them to continue pursuing the strategy of procuring high quality people (as opposed to players) such as those who have above average AB scores.

Note – We are thrilled to have Nazem Kadri back in the fold, albeit for only one year.  Kadri is among the best in the NHL at drawing penalties versus taking them.  If the Leafs can get their power play back on track in a Phil is Gone world, then we expect Kadri’s output to gain steadily.  We LOVE Kadri! (and how is THAT for contrary opinion?).


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