Editor's Note: Pamplemousse takes a good look at the Leafs after 15 games and wonders what we can glean from their results.
My apologies for the long title, but I couldn’t think of anything more concise.
That actually applies to most of this post...
This season, so far, has probably been the most enjoyable to watch since the end of the lockout. Almost all of that has to do with the identity that been slowly coalescing around this team since the puck dropped in Detroit.
Both new and old media alike would tell you that the Leafs, under Ron Wilson, appear to be a speedy, hard working bunch who scores by committee while playing with a "never say die" attitude.
Points relating to work ethic, speed and attitude are all accepted, at this juncture, as gospel truth.
The hard work shows itself in a relentless forecheck that generates shots (and shots and shots) each game. It also manifests in a backcheck that blocks (and blocks and blocks) shots. In fact, the Leafs are among league leaders in both categories. It's pretty clear that this hard work has paid off in the offensive end, but not quite yet in the defensive end. For instance, the Leafs are in the league's top ten in fewest shots allowed per game, but bottom ten in goals allowed per game.
Now, that forecheck I talked about wouldn't be possible without a certain fleetness of foot. Simply put, this team can fly, as it boasts a roster of speedsters that previous editions of the Blue & White could only dream about. That speed, when used properly, feeds both the dump and chase or puck possession games and is very useful in chasing the puck in either end.
What about that "never say die" attitude? Well, 8 of their 15 games have been one goal affairs, with one of those resolved in OT and three via the shootout (all losses, however), while half their wins have been of the come from behind variety. So yeah, I'd say this team doesn't know when to quit.
But, I do think we have to examine this score by committee thing a little closer.
Over 15 games the Leafs skaters have combined for 127 points over 15 games. Of those points the top two lines including Antropov, Stajan, Poni, Hagman, Grabs and Kulemin have earned 65 (27g 38a). The remaining forwards including Blake, Moore, Mitchell, Steen, Mayers, White, Hollweg and Tlusty have earned 29 (11g 18a). The defense, including Kaberle, Kubina, Van Ryn, Finger, Stralman, Schenn, Frogren and Colaiacovo, has earned 33 points (8g 25a). So, the top two lines have generated over 50% of the Leafs offense, while the defense is out-scoring the bottom eight forwards.
I'm not sure if that's scoring by committee, especially when the top three defensemen (Kubina, Kabs, Van Ryn) have 21 of the 33 points by defensemen while the top six forwards have three game winning goals, Hagman has a shootout winner, and defensemen have the other two.
Is it really a big deal they aren't scoring by committee? I wouldn't say so. The only thing that concerns me is that every bottom eight forward is a minus. Typically bottom eight players are checkers and defensive specialists, and if those guys are all minuses it says something about the players filling those rolls.
But what has this identity earned us so far?
The Leafs, after 15 games, sit in the very familiarly 9th place. Six of the teams ahead of them in the standings have games in hand, as do all the teams below them save one.
They are top ten in average Goals per Game, Goals Scored, Shots per Game and PP%. However, they are also bottom ten in Goals Against and average Goals Against per Game while owning the leagues worst PK%. All of that is in spite of being a top ten team in average Shots Allowed Against per Game.
So, for a team that was supposed to be defensively minded and struggle to score it's been exactly the opposite to. It's hard to figure out exactly what that means, but it says to me that our top six forwards and top three defenders have been well above average offensively and defensively, while the bottom eight forwards and bottom five defenders have been below average. Just looking at the points and their +/- confirms that.
In addition, Vesa Toskala hasn't been particularly sharp so far this season. He's ranked 28th in GAA and 34th in SA% despite facing a relatively low number of shots per game. So, you could blame some of the defensive problems relating to goals allowed on him and, in my mind at least, it would be fair
Where does all this number mongering actually put the team? Well, so far the Leafs have a winning percentage of .533. Of the 15 games they've played they've earned 2 points in 40% of them, 1 point in 23% of them and 0 points in 33% of them. With 67 games remaining they're on pace to earn 72 of the 134 points available. That gives them 88 for the season which will likely leave them out of the playoff picture.
If the averages play out those 88 points puts them 19th to 21st in league standings, using last year as a reference. That means a draft pick from as high as 9th to as low as 11th, an even lower position then last year.
Now, do I think they'll finish with 88 (or thereabout) points?
No, I don't. I think they'll finish with about 75 points, meaning they're going to lose around six games more than the projection above.
Why do I think this will happen? Because I don't think Cliff wants to finish with 88 points; that's not where he wants this team to be. I think he wants a shot at a top five pick without having to trade up, even if that player isn't what he would call a franchise guy.
So, I think that Cliff, at or before the trade deadline, is going to move some veterans for picks and prospects, because that's how you rebuild a team. I expect this team to be on pace to the trade deadline, but after I expect it to lurch to the finish line without the necessary veteran presence.
They'll still be playing hard, they'll still be flying, and they'll never give up. But they won't be winning; they'll be too busy rebuilding.