I feel like I'm going through my own personal hockey hell. As a fan of the Leafs who pays attention to advanced statistics (probably more than most - which makes sense given what I write about) I cannot help but feel like this franchise is sliding back to the mid-70's in terms of it's understanding of how to construct a hockey team.
Within the past few days we've seen the team add a backup goaltender that it really didn't need - or if you prefer to think of Bernier as a potential starter - a starter that it didn't really need? Then yesterday the team went and bought out it's best Centre after ONE year on his (not unreasonable) contract - because that's what great franchises do right?
I think the point has been made clearly at a few neutral observer sites that Grabovski is significantly better than the Leafs top C from the past few years - Tyler Bozak. I have no more tears of rage to shed over the Grabovski buyout (actually I haven't shed any because I'm still numb to the whole idea but that's neither here nor there), so this posting isn't about that - what it's about is the joke of a Toronto Star article that was published first thing this morning.
Now to be fair to the Star it was written by a "guest writer", A.J. Warner, who is a law student at NYU and self described "aspiring player agent". Unfortunately this leads me to the conclusion that A.J. is a horribly biased man, seeking to support Bozak's case in the off chance that Tyler DOESN'T get $5 million as a UFA and instead fires his agent and hires our friendly "aspiring player agent"... but I digress.
So about that article - let's look at some of it's insanity shall we?
As the Leafs’ No. 1 centre, the diversity of the minutes Bozak has played places him in elite company. Last year, Bozak averaged 20:18 minutes a game, with 2:58 on the power play and 1:38 short-handed. The only other forwards to average 20 minutes, with over two minutes on the power play and 1.5 minutes shorthanded are:
Ilya Kovalchuk (15 years, $100 million)
Jordan Staal (10 years, $60 million)
Mikko Koivu (7 years, $47.25 million)
Jason Pominville (5 years, $26.5 million; signed as a restricted free agent)
Matt Duchene (2 years, $7 million; restricted)Derek Stepan (3 years, $2.46 million; restricted)
Ryan Callahan (3 years, $12.8 million; restricted)
Claude Giroux (3 years, $11.25 million; restricted)
While Kovalchuk has truly separated himself from the other UFAs from an offensive standpoint, can the same really be said about comparables like Staal and Koivu?
Hmm - that's a lot of Restricted Free Agents to throw out as "comparables" to a UFA. So let's review the three UFA's in comparison to Bozak - as they are apparently the ONLY guys we can compare him to (actually I'll do my own comparisons in a second but wait for it).
Kovalchuk? Easily one of the best talents in the game, former 1st overall selection, one of only 2 players to consistently show an abnormal ability to shoot for an increased sh% above expectations for a long period of time - and he's the only one of the two that actually shoots a lot. The guy is insanely skilled and I can't believe anyone is trying to compare him to Tyler Bozak.
Jared Staal? Hmm - defensive presence far superior to Bozak - far younger - played with far less offensively skilled linemates. Yeah that's TOTALLY logical as a comparison. Staal's top linemates over the past 3 years are Tyler Kennedy (Corsi superstar - but not a scorer), Pascal Dupuis (he can score a bit apparently - when playing with Crosby), and then Matt Cooke (he's not a scorer either) in Pittsburgh, and then Patrick Dwyer and Jeff Skinner in Carolina this past year. Yeah - umm... aside from Skinner, which of those has the offensive potential of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul or James van Riemsdyk again? For the record, Staal's top line mates over the past 3 years have combined for 126 goals while he's been on their team... that's 5 players who played a combined 540 man games and produced 126 goals (0.233 goals per game).
Bozak's top 3 line mates have produced a combined 152 goals over the past 3 years in a Leafs uniform - while playing a combined 370 man games over that stretch (0.41 goals per game - almost twice as good as Staal's linemates). Now DESPITE the fact that Bozak's line mates produce goals at almost twice the rate, and exceeded Staal's linemates in total by 26 goals while he played on their team - Bozak produced only 0.58 ppg while Staal produced 0.73 ppg over the last 3 years.
What is mind boggling is this bizzarro section of the analysis:
Not much separates those two from Bozak. In 238 career games, Bozak has scored 134 points for an average of 0.56 points per game. Staal scored 119 points in his first 245 career games (0.48 PPG). While it’s true that Staal began his career at a much younger age, through 479 career games he has 279 points for a career average of 0.58 PPG, essentially Bozak’s career mark.
Talk about contorting yourself through mental hoops to make an argument. Staal's first 3 seasons came between the ages of 18 and 21, Bozak's most recent 3 years were between the ages of 24 and 26. NHL players maximize their play offensively between the ages of 24 and 26. Bozak ISN'T going to improve - Staal JUST FINISHED his age 24 season. He's QUITE POSSIBLY GOING TO IMPROVE his totals - and obviously did from his early career form. This is the worst statistical analysis I've seen in a VERY long time - and it's not even close to rational. I do love the opening line of "Not much separates those two from Bozak"... except 3 years in age, almost 0.2 ppg in production, and a crap load of talent.
I won't even bother with his inane reference to Bozak vs. Staal's face off winning percentages as I've already described how Bozak's FO win percentage has a very minimal impact on the Leafs ability to win games.
Mikko Koivu? Let's look at how this comparison is fleshed out by Warner:
Koivu is another solid comparison to Bozak because they play a similar style and began their professional careers at a similar age. In Koivu’s first 203 games he had 117 career points, or 0.58 PPG. While he has since raised his career numbers, and has posted a career high of 71 points, his trajectory is similar to Bozak’s. As with Staal, Bozak is a marginally better career faceoff man than Koivu. While Koivu may have proven to be more valuable with his increase in offensive production, after his first three seasons he was comparable to Bozak.
Again with the blowing right past the age issue. Koivu was a 1st round draft pick - taken 6th overall - and he entered the NHL at 22. His 3rd season saw him finish when he was 24... and he played those seasons under amazingly defensively oriented Jacques Lemaire! Unlike Staal - we can actually compare Koivu's 24-26 age seasons, and we can again note who his linemates were.
Using the same logic as what I did above for Staal - Koivu's most common wingers in Minnesota over the past 3 years are Dany Heatley, Andrew Brunette, and Zach Parise - but unfortunately Parise has only spent one season on his wing, Brunette retired after last year (where he played in Chicago?) so he was only on Koivu's wing in 2010-11. Heatley only has the 2 most recent seasons in Minny so this will require a bit of thinking. Instead of doing what I did above, I'll just look at his most frequent 3 wingers in each of the past 3 years individually.
2010-11: Brunette, Miettinen and Kobasew - combined for 43 goals in 218 man games
2011-12: Heatley, Setoguchi and Clutterbuck - combined for 58 goals in 225 man games
2012-13: Parise, Coyle and Heatley - combined for 37 goals in 121 man games.
That gives us a total of 138 goals in 564 man games for his top 3 linemates - or 0.245 gpg - shockingly similar to the production of the linemates playing with Jordan Staal. Despite this fact, Koivu himself produced 0.82 ppg over this stretch... again compare that to Bozak's 0.58 ppg. I don't see how this is "not a lot separating" Bozak from Koivu.
Now to be fair - these were Koivu's 27-29 year old seasons - so if we compare his 24-26 year old seasons what happens? Well let's just go ahead and do that because I'm nothing if not thorough.
2007-08: Radivojevic, Gaborik and Veilleux - combined for 60 goals in 227 man games
2008-09: Brunette, Miettinen and Nolan - combined for 62 goals in 221 man games
2009-10: Brunette, Miettinen and Havlat - combined for 63 goals in 234 man games
So that's 185 goals (more than the Leafs trio - but don't forget the shortened 48 game season!) in 682 man games - or 0.27 goals per game as a group of wingers. Again - this is FAR below the production rate of the Leafs wingers that Bozak has been playing alongside. So despite the fact Koivu's line mates LOOKED good and productive - they were actually less regularly productive than Bozak's line mates - and yet Koivu managed to produce 0.83 ppg over that three year stretch.
So Koivu produces 0.83 ppg from 24-26... and he produces 0.82 ppg from 27-29... with LESS productive wingers - and we're supposed to think he's "comparable" to Bozak who produces 0.58 ppg over the his career so far (0.56 ppg over the last 3 years - apparently we're giving him the bonus of an extra year?).
I will again ignore the ridiculous assertions that Bozak's Faceoff prowess makes up for the huge gap in offensive output between him and his so-called comparables.
The weirdest section of the piece is near the bottom where Warner compares Bozak to players who recieved far lower value contracts - and then basically says those guys are UNDER-valued and deserve more money (typical player agent mentality). He mentions Antoine Vermette and Frans Nielsen - both of whom are far more effective defensively than Bozak.
Over the past 3 years, Vermette's Corsi For % while on the ice is 51.6% - that means his team gets 51.6% of all shot attempts while he is on the ice. Nielsen's Corsi For % while on the ice is 49.1%, which is less flattering but still decent given the fact that he's used as a defensive specialist by a relatively weak Islanders team. Bozak's Corsi For % over the past 3 years? 46.7%. The Leafs get run over with him on the ice - and the opposition gets far more shots than the Leafs do. They produce 18.92 shot attempts for per 60 minutes, and allow 21.58 shot attempts against per 60 minutes.
Not ONLY are Bozak's corsi (puck possession) numbers bad at first glance in comparison to his usage, they are actually dragging down his linemates as discussed in the linked postings above - but here's the stat page for you to examine yourself.
I seriously can't believe this type of analysis makes it to print in this day and age - but apparently my mind was made to be blown. Have at it in the comments.