After nearly 10 years of missing the postseason, the 2012-2013 shortened season was a memorable one. The Maple Leafs qualified for the playoffs and brought the mighty Boston Bruins to Game 7 in overtime. It was a very successful season for the Blue and White, but not one without its fair share of statistical aberrations.
The Maple Leafs were widely regarded by many as a team with a strong, opportunistic offense, as well as one that had superb goaltending. They were regularly outshot, but found ways to win games, often due to fantastic performances by James Reimer. But what does this mean for next season? Let's take a look.
Statistically speaking, the Maple Leafs outscored their opponents last season. Their goals for per 60 minutes was at a high rate of 2.72 (3rd in the NHL), and their goals against per 60 was at 2.51 (23rd in the NHL). Looking at these stats, one could draw the conclusion that the Leafs outscore their opponents by possessing the puck in the attacking zone, taking a large amount of quality shots, and have decent defence and goaltending. However, there is much more to the puzzle.
Although it seemed, just by looking at goals for and against, that the Leafs were a primarily dominant offensive team, the shots for and shots against statistics provide more detail into what was actually going on last season. The Leafs shot the puck at an average of 25.7 times per game (28th in the NHL). This number is ridiculously low for any playoff team. In fact they are the only team in the bottom 5 of the league that is a playoff team. There are many playoff teams who shoot the puck 26, 27 or 28 times per game that are playoff teams; however, these squads don't allow very many shots against. The Leafs allowed 33 shots against per game last season, dead last in the NHL. This is number is extremely high for a playoff team. It demonstrates how weak the Leafs defense was and how strong their goaltending had to be. Of all the shots directed on net during Leaf games, only a mere 43% of them were shot by Maple Leaf players (30th in the NHL).
Corsi For %
Looking at the past three Stanley Cup winners (Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston), they all out-possess and out chance opposing teams. Teams may have trouble scoring on them because of solid defense, but the major reason is that the opposing teams simply do not have the puck enough. These teams don't chase the puck often, because they have it for the majority of the game. And in the odd event that they do lose it, they have strong forechecks that create turnovers, and allow them to regain the puck. Toronto was not even close to out possessing or out chancing their opponents last season. Their Corsi For % last season was dead last in the NHL, at a staggeringly low 44.1%. So 56% of the chances directed towards the net in Leaf games were from the opponent's side. Teams cannot sustain winning with numbers as lopsided as that. There is further proof that the Leafs did not out possess teams. They were first in the NHL in blocked shots, and first in hits. That's all swell and good, but truly what that means is that the Leafs didn't have the puck. When you hit someone you don't have the puck, and when you block a shot you didn't have the puck either. What statistic is left to backup this team? Is it goaltending? Is it luck?
Luck would definitely be one way to phrase it. Shot Percentage and PDO would be another way. Last season the Leafs' offense was far more than opportunistic. Looking at their team shooting percentage, it's astronomically high, at 10.56% (1st in the NHL). That is the only shooting percentage in the league in double digits. Now, it's not bad to shoot at a high rate, but when the percentage is this high, it's alarming. Further backing up the previous argument of good goaltending, is the team save percentage. Considering the amount of shots directed towards the net, one would not expect the Leafs to have the best goaltending, until they see the stats. The Leafs had .920% goaltending last season. Their goaltenders faced the most shots in the NHL and yet they were able to crack the top fifteen in save percentage. Finally PDO (a combination of on ice SH% and SV%) caps it all off. The Leafs are first in the NHL in PDO, with 1030. This is a very high number, and really demonstrates the kind of absurdly high percentages the Leafs had this season.
The Leafs only started 26.8% of their time in the offensive zone. They started a whopping 35.6% in the defensive zone. These, once again, are numbers that are so out of place when looking at simpler stats such as goals for and goals against. The statistics do not back the Maple Leafs up. Regression to the mean has to be expected. To put it simply, what goes up must come down.
What should they do, and why are some of their statistics so poor?
Looking at the depth chart of the top possession team in the NHL last season, the Los Angeles Kings, you can notice many differences compared to the Leafs lineup. First of all, they have possession driving players. For example, normally the player that drives a team's possession is the number one centre. Well, Los Angeles has three centres that could all play on top lines of many strong teams in the NHL. Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter. Meanwhile who do the Leafs have in that slot? Well, Tyler Bozak. To put that into perspective, Bozak's individual corsi per 60 minutes is at a lowly 6.9, which among forwards who played more than 400 minutes last season, is 275th out of 277 spots. Jeff Carter's individual corsi per 60, is 13th with 18.5. There is one of the roots of the problem.
The Leafs have possession driving players, but they don't have enough and they have a black hole at the number one centre spot. In fact three players on the Leafs crack the top 55 in iCorsi/60, with Kessel at 12th, Kadri at 40th, and JVR at 52nd.
Also, rolling three lines instead of four every single night, does not help. Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren may punch things well, but they don't touch the puck often in games, if ever. They play 4-5 minutes a night and allow the staff to play three lines instead of four, increasing fatigue.
Finally, to quote Dave Tippett, "you can never have enough puck moving defensemen." And that is exactly right. If you have 6 puck moving defensemen, you won't spend time hemmed into your own zone, your powerplay will be dynamite, and you'll possess the puck far more, allowing cross ice passes, breakaway passes, and stretch passes to the forwards. The Leafs' best puck moving defenseman is, hands down, Jake Gardiner. In his rookie year we saw what he could do with the puck, and in last year's playoffs we saw what he could do. He skates effortlessly, has great hands, and elite vision. Well, when the head coach of a team plays slow defensemen who don't play well with the puck, such as Ryan O'Byrne and Mark Fraser over guys like Gardiner, there is another problem. A full season of Jake Gardiner on the back-end would do wonders for getting the puck out of the defensive zone.
So there you go, the full in-depth analysis of the Leafs 2012-13 season, advanced stats style. If the Leafs want to make the playoffs again, the goaltending is going to have to be just as good, and the defense might just have to be better in what seems to be a tougher division. It should be an interesting season, but if the Leafs are going to make it, their advanced stats are going to have to be in their favour.