Pat Quinn’s Leafs: Sustainable Unsustainability Or The Regression that Never Came

"I love you Gary" "Ditto"

Were Pat Quinn's Leafs really carried by goaltending in the regular season? What would their PDO have looked like? And is there something behind the team's consistently strong shooting percentage?

Just when I thought the word ‘sustainability' couldn't be any more irritating [Editor's Note: BIG DADDY D DON'T LIKE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT EITHER], this season apparently marks its official entrance as a regular in the hockey lexicon. The Leafs, specifically, are benefitting from ‘unsustainable' shooting percentage, or save percentage, or both. Consistenly outshot but somehow winning games. It's a house of cards friends, ready to come crashing down at any second. Run for the hills. [Editor's Note: Try not to push down and trample the weak]

There's no denying that the Leafs are getting solid goaltending this year - a fact which I thought would be pleasing to Leafs fans but is actually a reason for concern for some. It's masking other problems apparently - as if a successful team has never relied on good goaltending to cover up other shortcomings. Interestingly, while their goaltending is good, it's not ‘ridiculous'. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens are in the top 10 for individual save percentage at the time of writing (9 and 10 respectively) but aren't way above average for goalies wit as many games played as them (about 0.914). I'm digressing though so let's get back to talking about the past.

This good goaltending has prompted more than a few observers to make comparisons to Pat Quinn's Leafs. "Getting outshot and being bailed out by goaltending? That was the hallmark of the Quinn Era!" I've seen this a few times now and it got me thinking - is this actually true? Were Quinn's Mats Sundin-led Leafs really a sloppy team that was constantly outshot and saved by Curtis Joseph and Eddie Belfour? Those were the care-free days before the online hockey community exploded - when online data wasn't readily available, when things weren't dissected for hours on end following every game. You checked the scores, maybe read an article or two, and that was it. Blissful ignorance, just cheering for your team when it won. Seems like an eternity ago. [Editor's Note: Also, you didn't have an internet full of moronic fans telling you Mats Sundin sucked despite mounds of evidence both qualitative and quantitative but now I digress]

I didn't do anything too fancy for this analysis - just took simple shots, goals and goals against data. I did adjust for empty-net goals, however, as that seemed like a prudent thing to do.

First things first, let's just do a quick review of the Leafs straight-up point totals and league rankings during this stretch:

Pts

Pts Rank

98/99

97

5

99/00

100

7

00/01

90

14

01/02

100

3

02/03

98

9

03/04

103

5

Top 5 in the league three of six years, top 7 four years, top 9 five years, only one year outside top 10, and 100 points three times. These were good, competitive teams. People telling you otherwise are Leaf haters or Leaf fans that hate themselves.

Now on to the shot data...

SF/G

SA/G

SF/G rank

SA/G rank

98/99

28.3

28.7

12

17

99/00

26.3

29.0

20

22

00/01

27.7

27.3

14

17

01/02

28.4

24.8

9

3

02/03

26.2

29.5

26

22

03/04

27.4

26.4

21

10

While the Leafs were never amongst the league's best at getting shots on net or preventing shots, they also weren't consistently outshot either. 3 of 6 years they outshot their opponent, 1 year essentially a wash, and 2 years where they were outshot. Interesting to see that in 01/02 - a year I thought for sure was ‘our year' - the Leafs really were quite strong, generating a lot of shots on goal but also outshooting their opponents by a pretty wide margin and having the 3rd best SA/G in the league. (Obligatory - FUCK ARTURS IRBE)

How did that translate into goals for and against?

G/G

GA/G

G/G rank

GA/G rank

98/99

3.23

2.75

1

21

99/00

2.94

2.65

3

15

00/01

2.77

2.45

13

11

01/02

2.98

2.46

2

14

02/03

2.79

2.49

8

12

03/04

2.82

2.45

5

16

This is what I remember clearly - Pat Quinn's Leafs scored. A lot. 4 of 6 years in the top 5, only 1 year of 6 outside the top 10. Offensive juggernauts. Watching your team score goals is fun. I loved these teams.

On the flipside - they weren't really a strong defensive team based on goals against. Never cracked the top 10, and barely inside the top 15 four of six years. Regardless, they still outscored their opponents by a wide margin regularly.

Now let's look at SH%, SV% and PDO. This is where it gets interesting.

UPDATE: AS FRIEND OF THE BLOG AND DEBBIE DOWNER JAMES MIRTLE HAS POINTED OUT BELOW, THE PDO CALCULATED IN THIS POST IS NOT 'TRUE' PDO IN THAT IT'S NOT USING ONLY 5-ON-5 DATA. FOR COMPARATIVE PURPOSES HOWEVER IT'S STILL OF SOME USE, AS IT'S CALCULATED THE SAME FOR ALL TEAMS AND ALL SEASONS.

SH%

SV%

SH% rank

SV% rank

PDO

PDO rank

98/99

11.4%

0.904

1

18

1019

2

99/00

11.2%

0.909

2

11

1020

2

00/01

10.0%

0.910

10

7

1010

7

01/02

10.5%

0.901

3

25

1006

8

02/03

10.7%

0.915

3

9

1022

3

03/04

10.3%

0.907

2

20

1010

6

Hold the phone. Top 3 or better in shooting % five of six years? And in their worst year they were still 10th? That is some crazy, crazy shit.

Before I explore that further though, look at the team SV%. Something's not right. If the Leafs were a team carried by strong goaltending, how can their team SV% never have been higher than 7th? 18th or worse three of six years? This didn't seem right to me but upon further investigation it's quite true - while Cujo and Eddie individually put up average to above average regular season numbers, the litany of horrible Leafs backups provided consistently horrendous sub-0.900 goaltending, thus dragging the overall SV% down. Also interesting - the two best years from a sv% standpoint were also their worst years from a points standpoint.

Back to the SH % though. League average those years was b/w 9.1- 9.6% - the Leafs were above 10% every year and above 11% twice. This seems very unusual. My mind immediately turned to thoughts of Mats (career average SH% of 14%) and Gary Roberts sitting in front of the net racking up 18 -20% shooting, and Alexander Mogilny and his laser beam shot. I looked these guys up and they were all true. But it was more than that - EVERYONE in their top 7 or 8 in scoring each year seemed to have a ridiculous SH%. Sergei Berezin, Yannic Perreault, Steve Thomas, Derek King, Fredrik Modin, Steve Sullivan, Igor Korolev, Jonas Hoglund, Nik Antropov, Dmitri Khristich, Mikael Renberg, Robert Reichel, Darcy Tucker, Joe Nieuwendyk, Owen Nolan. Go and look at the hockey-reference pages. Everyone I listed above at some point had 10%+ shooting, and even 15 or 20%+ shooting. Ridiculous.

The question - which I don't know the answer to - is how? How can a team have a consistently above average shooting %? Was it skill? Shot location? Both? Did Quinn actually successfully coach the team to shoot from better spots or to get in close and muck it out? Did he just bring in players that were above-average shooters or that did all their scoring from in close? The career shooting % of some of the Leafs best during that era make me think there may be something to this - Mats (14%), Mogilny (15.9%), Tucker (13.9%), Roberts (18.4%), Nieuwendyk (16.8%), Thomas (13.3%).

The PDO is also interesting, although I guess not really as it's obviously a result of the SH% I just discussed. But imagine, if you will, these teams in today's world of "regression certainty". The Leafs posting 6 years of plus-1000 PDO would be a downright preposterous idea, especially on the back of SH%, not SV%. I can see the blog posts now telling the fans to prepare for the inevitable crash, that this shooting is unsustainable! The regression never came though folks, and there may be a lesson in this for us. [Editor's Note: A few guys like Thomas Drance and Chemmy have suggested that some teams have different PDOs that they move towards already so it would eventually stop being suggested]

So this idea that the Leafs were just carried by strong goaltending, at least in the regular season, just isn't true. They were ‘carried', if that's the right word, by a consistently strong shooting %, which I think is more indicative of skill and a style of play versus 6 straight years of ‘luck'. But I guess we can discuss that further in the comments.

If the Leafs weren't consistently outshot and carried by goaltending in the regular season, where did this idea come from? Let's look at the playoffs.

SF/G

SA/G

SH%

SV%

PDO

Opp SV%

Finish

98/99

25.9

26.5

9.80%

0.908

1006

0.902

Conf Final - Buffalo

99/00

23.8

30.8

9.10%

0.932

1023

0.909

2nd Round - NJ

00/01

22.5

29.9

11.30%

0.927

1040

0.887

2nd Round - NJ

01/02

28.4

28.2

7.70%

0.915

992

0.923

Conf Final - Carolina

02/03

27.0

40.3

8.50%

0.915

1000

0.915

1st Round - Philly

03/04

23.9

30.0

8.70%

0.928

1015

0.913

2nd round - Philly

Ahhh... so there it is. No question, those numbers look pretty bad - outshot every year but one and better goaltending than our opponent every year but two. But digging into individual game logs, you can see small sample sizes at play, as well as score effects. I think we can all remember games against Ottawa where Lalime let in a couple softies early then the Leafs went into ‘defend' mode. And I'm sure we all remember the 6-shot game against New Jersey in 2000, or the 9-shot game against the Flyers in 2004. Games like that in a 12-14 game stretch can do funny things to the numbers for sure. Also interesting to see the Leafs shooting % consistently come down from their regular season #s - maybe there's something to the idea of tighter checking hockey in the playoffs, unless the Leafs shooting just 'regressed' every year in the playoffs? (And one more time... look at 01/02.... 7.7% SH%. FUCK ARTURS IRBE)

In any event, I think these numbers are likely where the ‘Leafs were bailed out by strong goaltending' idea comes from. Not completely untrue if we're talking about the playoffs, but not really a fair summary of the Quinn Era overall.

ADDENDUM, BY REQUEST. SH% / SV% DATA UPDATED TO INCLUDE LEAGUE AVERAGES

SH%

SH% Rk

Lg SH%

vs

SV%

SV% Rk

Lg SV%

vs

98/99

11.4%

1

9.2%

2.2%

0.904

19

0.908

-0.003

99/00

11.2%

2

9.6%

1.6%

0.909

11

0.905

0.004

00/01

10.0%

10

9.7%

0.3%

0.910

7

0.903

0.007

01/02

10.5%

3

9.2%

1.3%

0.901

25

0.908

-0.007

02/03

10.7%

3

9.1%

1.5%

0.915

9

0.909

0.007

03/04

10.3%

2

8.9%

1.4%

0.907

20

0.911

-0.004

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