What Should Brian Burke Do?

Editor's Note: The '67 Sound is going to publish a really long look at what moves Brian Burke should make based on the current make up of the Toronto Maple Leafs' roster. This is part one of many. He's going to publish them throughout the day so that you don't hurt yourselves reading too much at once.

We've all been speculating since the season ended (and even before) about what Brian Burke should do come July 1 ("our draft", I think he called it).  I was pretty firmly in the "don't do anything camp", but I wanted to test my preliminary instincts in that regard.  I have come to a slightly different conclusion.  I still think Burke should not do anything, unless he can acquire a premium player like Ilya Kovalchuk or Marc Savard.

I do not purport to have any skills as a scout.  I also do not have the mathematical skills to pull off the advanced statistical work being performed by people like Gabe Desjardins, Vic Ferrari, mc79 or many others.  I do, however, have Internet access, a willingness to challenge my own assumptions, and an lack of any shame to steal others' work.  What follows is my attempt to use the tools available to an average fan like myself and come up with some suggestions for what the Leafs should do next.

The analysis proceeds in three steps.  First, I looked at the Leafs' current roster of "established" NHL players-guys who are a lock for the big club next year.  This tells us what holes need to be filled. 

The second step is to look at our internal resources-both guys like Luca Caputi, Viktor Stalberg and Christian Hanson, who have seen some NHL time, and guys like Nazem Kadri who have yet to see any significant NHL time.  I looked at development paths for currently successful NHLers to come up with some recommendations for how many roster holes can and should be filled by these internal resources.

The third and final step, having determined how many roster holes remain, is to look to the UFA market for help.  I have done so by trying to determine what is an "efficient salary", and making some projections as to who might fit that description.

Below is a brief note on some of the statistics I will use.  The three parts of the analysis will be posted throughout the day.  I apologize in advance for the length of these posts.

A Note About Statistics

Feel free to skip this part.  The real analysis begins in the next part.  This is just by way of background concerning the tools I used to analyze players.  Obviously "boxscore" statistics are important, particularly for forwards.  Among traditional stats, I also find time on ice useful, particularly for defencemen.  One must be careful when using time on ice to compare players on different teams, however, given differences in team depth.  A forward who earns third line minutes on the Washington Capitals might earn first line minutes with the Leafs.

I have also gone beyond traditional statistics however, and the one I will lean on most heavily is Tom Awad's "Goals Versus Threshold" or GVT, available at Behind the Net and Puck Prospectus.  This stat is explained by Awad here, here and here, and a shorter synopsis is here, but Awad sums up the basics as follows:

  • GVT is measured in goals. This makes it a convenient unit that hockey fans are already comfortable with.
  • GVT compares hockey players of all positions and over any period of time.
  • GVT only uses statistics that lead directly to goals. You cannot incorporate goaltender wins into GVT, because they are not a measurement of goals prevented. However, if you can rationally explain what are the odds of a faceoff win (or loss) leading to a goal or goal against, it would be possible to incorporate faceoff wins and losses into GVT, though I have not done so.
  • GVT has built-in accounting. The sum of player GVTs on a team equals that team's GVT plus the replacement level. This is essential, as player statistics often come with caveats. "Kovalchuk scored 43 goals, but he doesn't play defense and his team isn't good". This makes it much easier to measure "how good would this team be replacing player A with player B?" It is also essential in that player success is correlated with team success, which after all is the entire point of the sport.
  • GVT automatically normalizes for the strength of the league. When looking at player statistics from different eras or different leagues, it is often difficult to know if a player was good or not. For example, for the last few years in the Czech Extraliga, a save percentage of 0.920 has been average or below average, while in the NHL today a save percentage of 0.920 is pretty good, and in the NHL 20 years ago it was unheard of. Similarly, a 50-goal season in 1982 was less impressive than a 40-goal season today. GVT takes all of this into account, giving you a single number that doesn't need any further interpretation.

This all sounds good, but the proof is in the pudding right?  And GVT seems to do a remarkable job of identifying the League's best players in 2009-10.  Even more impressive is its ability to identify the best defensive players, an issue that often evades analysis by traditional stats.  For example, in 2009-10, GVT gave us the following:

Closer to home, GVT said that Phil Kessel was our best player and Vesa Toskala our worst.  It said Luke Schenn was our best defensive defenceman, and Alex Ponikarovsky our best defensive forward.  It said Jamal Mayers, Jamie Lundmark, Jay Rosehill, Garnet Exelby, Christian Hanson, Mike Komisarek, Wayne Primeau, Rickard Wallin and Colton Orr all performed below replacement level players.  Perhaps the only "surprise" (not to daoust, eyebleaf or the general) on the list is Kaberle placing second, owing not only to his stellar offensive contributions, but also a defensive ranking just behind Schenn.  To me, this just goes to show you that a player can be effective defensively by getting the puck out of your end and into the other team's end, which Kaberle excels at.

This is not to say GVT is perfect.  Its offensive component is driven by goals and assists, which means it is extremely susceptible to high or low shooting percentages.  When examining players more closely one therefore needs to keep in mind not only individual shooting percentages, but also the s%ON stat at, which measures the shooting percentage of the team as a whole while the player is on the ice.  The defensive component is driven primarily by preventing shots on nets, which means that shooting percentage is not an issue, but qualcomp, qualteam and zonestarts must be considered.  Defensive defencemen who face opponents top lines will often fare relatively poorly on GVT, but by taking the "hard minutes" they make their teammates better.

In the end, I use GVT mostly as a convenient "all in one" tool.  To be sure, a deeper look is necessary and GVT is only a starting point.  As you will see, this post is long enough as it is so I will leave it to others to drill down on individual players.

Another important part of my methodology is slotting players into groupings by line (for forwards) or pairs (for defencemen).  The table below sets out minimum thresholds for three broadly applicable statistics: GVT, time on ice, and points per game.  What I have done is, for example, looked at the top 90 forwards for the NHL (because there are 30 teams and 3 "top 3" forwards per team), and then looked at the stats of whoever ranked 90th.  These numbers aren't perfect.  The "rate" stats (TOI and PPG) are thrown off by guys with few games played and will therefore exclude a few guys at the margin who should be in a given category.  Correcting this would push the thresholds down a bit.  GVT, on the other hand, is a "counting" stat and does not account for guys who missed time.  Correcting this would push the thresholds up a bit.  However, on the whole I think we can overlook these marginal concerns.  Remember, these are minimum thresholds, not averages; you want your players in these roles to be better than these thresholds.





1st line




2nd line




3rd line




1st pair




2nd pair




What about 3rd pair/4th line, you ask?  Minimum salary roster filler.  Do as well as you can without spending any significant money.

I'll be back with a look at the Leafs' existing roster in a couple hours. is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of

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