The Leafs Best Shot Blockers

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 8: John-Michael Liles #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs tries to block the shot of Tomas Fleischmann #14 of the Florida Panthers during NHL action at The Air Canada Centre November 8, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

A little while ago I was in discussion with Cam Charron about Shot Blocking metrics and the problems of normalization, and he directed me to work by Daniel Wagner over at the Score and a recent posting by Derek Zona over at Copper and Blue, which in turn prompted me to dissect the shot blocking abilities of the Leafs roster. I did the actual data analysis over a week ago, but a busy end of semester schedule has prevented me from getting things typed out for your perusal.

One of the main issues with shot blocks is the numbers generally favour players that are on the ice without control of the puck. Skaters with poor puck possession skills tend to climb the rankings of the shot blocking stat sheet - with the most noteworthy example, Ryan Johnson, making an appearance on Coaches Corner before being dumped from the NHL for his less than stellar play.

Secondarily are the issues of arena bias, score effects, and situational play as a result of zone start etc. In an effort to mitigate against all of the above, Zona proposes that we look at shot blocks as a percentage of all attempts fired by the opposition. Thus we look at which players block the largest percentage of those attempts that ARE fired their way, in other words, it allows you to determine who is actually the best at getting in the way of opposition shots.

In addition to this, I had another thought, which is that good shot blockers would also get in the way enough that the opposition is also likely to miss more shots on goal. So I decided to factor in another little wrinkle. In addition to the blocked shot percentage, I also calculated the percentage of missed shots by the opposition.

So without further ado, I give you the stats I'm discussing - all data courtesy behindthenet.ca

First up - the forwards. This info is less meaningful than the ones for the D realistically, but it gives you an idea who covers the points well and does a good job clogging shooting lanes up high for the opposition.

Player Pos ES Att A ES BS For ES BS Ratio ES MS+BS Ratio
David Steckel C 370 30 8.10% 29.95%
Tim Connolly C 443 34 7.67% 33.28%
Joe Colborne C 105 7 6.68% 32.44%
Matt Lombardi C 286 16 5.60% 26.15%
Mike Brown LW 174 7 4.02% 26.97%
Joey Crabb RW 337 12 3.56% 29.73%
Philippe Dupuis C 198 7 3.54% 32.14%
Nikolai Kulemin RW 565 19 3.36% 27.05%
Darryl Boyce C 96 3 3.11% 27.13%
Mikhail Grabovski C 517 15 2.90% 25.88%
Tyler Bozak C 558 16 2.87% 24.03%
Clarke MacArthur LW 451 11 2.44% 24.42%
Nazem Kadri C 161 3 1.87% 21.49%
Joffrey Lupul RW 746 13 1.74% 24.05%
Matt Frattin RW 402 7 1.74% 22.69%
Jay Rosehill RW 80 1 1.25% 24.93%
Phil Kessel LW 745 8 1.07% 23.33%
Colton Orr RW 35 0 0.00% 28.57%
Colby Armstrong RW 79 0 0.00% 25.30%

Frankly the majority of this ranking shouldn't surprise anyone who has watched the Leafs this year. Obviously Tim Connolly's defensive skills in this area put him well ahead of the other scoring forwards on the team. While Joe Colborne was present for a brief time with the club, it bears pointing out that his shot blocking defensive abilities may help him fill a top line role in the future, particularly as his puck protection skills on offense develop. I do strongly feel that Colborne could be a legit top line threat in the future if allowed to develop patiently.

The worrying part about the above list for me is the number of Wingers near the bottom of the rankings. This speaks volumes about how difficult the Leafs find it to get in the way of shots from the point on their way to breaking out of the zone. Either way it should be mentioned that forwards block far fewer shots against than defenders, and also are on the ice for fewer shots against. Thus these numbers can be taken with a grain of salt.

Next up we have the Leafs blue line corps. Again I have included the Blocked Shot + Missed Shot ratio with the idea that being in the lane regularly should result in either more shot blocks and missed shots. Either result will reduce the number of shots against the Leafs goalies will face, and the ratio should let us see which defenders are actually good at getting in the way.

Player POS ES Att A ES BS For ES BS Ratio ES MS + BS Ratio
Mike Komisarek RD 328 42 12.80% 32.98%
John-Michael Liles LD 539 62 11.50% 33.98%
Carl Gunnarsson LD 714 79 11.07% 34.51%
Keith Aulie LD 240 22 9.18% 37.89%
Luke Schenn RD 685 55 8.03% 32.10%
Cody Franson RD 391 30 7.66% 27.55%
Dion Phaneuf RD 786 59 7.51% 31.74%
Jake Gardiner RD 611 39 6.39% 27.61%

So I should mention that in the Daniel Wagner posting I linked to earlier, Mike Komisarek ranked 4th in the NHL in this skill amongst D men. His 12.80% would still likely rank him in the top 10 in the NHL amongst D men in shot blocking ability at even strength. Komisarek is a very good shot blocker, that's one of the main reasons the Leafs added him - though the valuation the club placed on that skill might be a bit out of whack considering his other abilities (or lack thereof).

John-Michael Liles is the surprise on this list. Recently extended with a 4 year contract with a $3.85 million cap hit per season, this statistical measure belies his abilities to get in shooting lanes defensively, at least at even strength.

That being said, the Leafs top two shot blocking D men don't seem to be on the ice for a lot of missed shots in comparison to their peers. Komisarek and Liles actually rank 7th and 5th in Missed Shot Ratio amongst the Leafs eight defenders respectively. This makes me wonder a bit about scorer bias, and perhaps a touch of random variation in the numbers. Obviously scorers are aware of Komisarek's prowess for shot blocking, so this may factor into his high number of blocks.

Carl Gunnarsson and Keith Aulie both have done an excellent job overall defensively in terms of getting in shooting lanes, though they seem to do so in different ways. Aulie's size seems to force shooters to miss the net more often, while Gunnarsson's shot blocking ability seems to help keep the puck away from the front of the net.

Worrying from a defensive standpoint are - to varying degrees - Schenn, Franson, and Phaneuf. Phaneuf's numbers are fairly easily explained away as a result of facing the most difficult competition on the team. He still isn't a great shot blocker, but he's played reasonably well this year. Schenn's not facing horribly difficult competition, and he doesn't seem that adept at getting into shooting lanes to block shots. These results should give pause to those who are hopeful that he'll continue to develop into a shut down D.

Franson's numbers go a long way to explaining why he sees hardly ANY difficult defensive assignments. Yes he's been more physical as he's gotten more playing time, and yes his puck possession numbers are solid, but he has been fairly heavily sheltered in terms of both his zone starts, and his competition. Despite the sheltering, he is basically the worst Leaf's D man at getting into the shooting lanes. If the Leafs ever hope to increase his defensive usage these numbers have to improve.

Jake Gardiner is very young, and he's mainly known as a puck mover. He isn't expected to block a lot of shots, and generally he is still adjusting to the defensive aspects of the NHL game. Hopefully he continues to grow this aspect of his game.

So with these numbers in mind I leave it to you guys to dissect and discuss further. In the future, I'm hopeful we can access data from the PK as that may be a more relevant stat to the Leafs early season woes. Hope this provides some insight into this oft debated aspect of what we're seeing on the ice.

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