FanPost

The NHL's New Highest-Scoring Defence. Say Hello, Toronto.

This is the 4th and final segment of our series, which has argued that the most significant changes on the Leafs this season have happened on defence, not up front or in net. It also argued that this revamped defence can be expected to dramatically improve the Leafs possession game - raising our shots for, cutting down shots against, making us start to feel all Corsi positive in our pantaloons, increasing our goals scored, and ultimately, resulting in the Leafs. WINNING. THE. CUP.

All because of a defence that nobody thinks should be any good.

Speaking of things that shouldn't work, but totally do. Take a white, East End, London rapper. Make him do R&B.

Plan B.

So, how did we get here?

Well, our 1st post was on Paul Ranger.

The 2nd post was not. It was on Jake Gardiner instead.

The 3rd post was about the 4 Brutes. And how they nearly kilt us all.

While this 4th and last post? Well. It’s magic. Way better than the previous 3. And I can promise you, this is not one of those crappy posts that promises to "bring all the threads together" or boring shit like that, that basically just rehshses shit it's already said.

On the contraire, it is full of crescent fresh newness. New ideas, facts, thoughts and concepts so POWERFUL that I had to leave them out.

Until now.

Why until now? Well, frankly, because you guys weren’t ready for it.

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Oh. Think you're ready now, eh? Handle anything, can you? Yoda this, and that?

Well. See if you can handle all these spectacular new things:

Ahem.

1. Why Phil Kessel could score 106 points this year. Even with Toxic Tyler Bauxite as his Center.

2. Why the Leafs will have the NHL's highest-scoring defence. This very year.

3. Why Nazem Kadri will score at an even faster pace this year than last. [Eat that, "Kadri's shooting % must regress" freaks.]

4. How we just [effectively] traded for another Kessel.

5. How 75% of our Corsi and Shots/game deficits are gonna disappear. ["Our" meaning "the Leafs."] [But also "us."]

6. Why you lip off too much about Orr and McLaren, and why it makes you look stupid. And yes, I mean you. The guy reading. Yup. YOU. * finger pointing out of the screen * * at you *

7. Who benefits the most from the Death of the Brute Squad. [Possibly-misleading hint: Start by guessing Dion.]

8. Why Defencemen are worth 33% more Corsi's than Forwards. 33%.

9. Why is there no 9th spectacular new thing? Because the #9 was - and is - Norm Ullman's number, and that was spectacular enough. So you young punks better start showing some goddamn respect.

10. Why "Shooting %" is a stupid stat for old folks, and should be replaced by the new hot-ness – aka The New NormUll Shooting % ™.

11. Why Dion and Grabo's Corsi fell over and died, but will be back from the dead this year.

12. Who sucked 60% of Grabo's time, EVERY TIME.

13. What is made of bits of Real Brute.

14. Plus... a fantastic interview with Not Don Cherry and his badly-fractured psyche.

Plus plus… your old pal Stinky Wizzleteats! Also, The Magic Clap [no, not that kind].... fun with Neil and numbers that add up to nuthin’... forests echoing with laughter (does anybody remember laughter?)... the other ½ of George Martin’s Brain... some young New Jersey fellows with mullets... 10 a.m. Automatic... a Dog's Eye View... the best song by stoned sharecroppers in San Francisco you’ve ever heard... all ending with a secret cut from that Creedence tape the Dude lost.

Still think you can cope?

HA! YOU SHOULD BE TREMBLING IN FEAR! I PITY YOU FOOS!

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Ok. This post is broken down into a dozen stand-aloney bits, each with their own fun/not-fun ratio. If you feel the not-fun ratio is getting a bit high, then just... skip on ahead. Lord knows, your brains are all shrunk from the Twitter, and I've tried to protect you from THE TRUTHS YOU JUST CAN'T HANDLE as long as I could, but sooner or later, truth must out. Somebody said that.

So here they are. Truths.

Get 'em down ya. They got more fibre than yer old man.

Meanwhile, I’m off for lunch-brunch-dins. Don't make me have to come back here. If you must, complain to the site operators. You know where they live.

Cause this is the last kiss Martin ever gave to Coretta.

The Coup.

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PLAYING A MAN SHORT FOR HALF THE GODDAMN SEASON.

As always, best to begin with the ugly facts.

The Leafs got out-shot last year. By a lot. About 6.3 shots per game. Which was basically worst in league. The Leafs’ Corsi also stunk. i.e. Other teams fired nearly 12 more shots at us each game than we did towards them.

Those are some appalling possession numbers.

And since a lot of us didn’t see things improving much by slotting Bolland for Grabo, or by keeping Bozak, or by making a marginal upgrade in net, the oft-heard conclusion has been that the Leafs will stink this year. And in particular, given that our very high shooting % of last year was likely to regress, we could end up completely SOL.

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Now why do I think this view is wrong?

Well, for starters, I’ve found the source of much of that possession bleeding. And ok, sure, Bozak does suck. And Lupul can’t backcheck. And Orr and McLaren are a waste of space. And maybe Bozak even sucks again.

All that stuff about the forwards can be true. But the attention being paid to the forwards is still, I believe, so much lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.

Because the big changes have been taking place below the waterline - on the Leafs D.

And those changes look to all be... positive. Really positive.

Let’s check out a few key defensive facts here.

1st Key Fact. A whopping 47% of Toronto’s season saw at least 1 of the 4 Brute Squad defencemen on ice. That’s right. While Carlyle rarely risked putting two of our beloved Skating Water Buffalo on the ice together at the same time, 47% of the season saw one of them out there, mucking about.

When you remember that Holzer, Komisarek and O’Byrne each allowed over 34 shots per game at even-strength – more than many teams allow during their penalty kill – this was pretty much the equivalent of asking the Leafs to play a man short. For 1/2 the goddamn season.

REPEAT. FOR 1/2 THE GODDAMN SEASON.

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2nd Key Fact. While the Leafs were outshot by 302 shots in total last season, 225 of this net shot deficit was run up while a Brute was on the ice.

Which is 75% of the overall shot deficit. During 47% of the ice-time.

75%.

Let's put that 75% number in a box, where we can sit and ponder it without distraction, shall we?

What it means, in plain terms, is that of the Leafs total 6.3 shots per game deficit, 75% of them - that's 4.7 - occurred while the Brutes were on the ice. So rather than being a marginal or unimportant part of our possession problem, the Brutes were total home-wreckers.

4.7 of our 6.3 shot deficit.

Now put this unhappiest of thoughts in your pocket, and carry it into the next section. Because we're gonna come to love that 75% number, just you wait and see.

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HAPPY! HAPPY! JOY! JOY!

Because the 75% problem can be turned very rapidly into a 75% solution. All we need do is swap out the Lummoxians… and swap in Jake Gardiner and Paul Ranger. Let’s quick-scan the old vs new numbers – I won’t linger because I know you’ve all read (and re-read) my three previous 138 page postings on this issue.

But first, a song, to help get us in the mood.

Sing along with Stinky, kids!

Step #1 is to visualize replacing Mike Kostka with Jake Gardiner. I know. You’re already excited! And so is Jake! Big ole happy smiling face Jake! The Kid! See him skate like the wind and shoot bullets from his SilverStick ™! Anyway, while you’re at it, try as well to visualize Jake’s brain no longer rattling around inside his helmet.

You might even want to visualize him getting plenty of ice-time from Randy this year.

Happy Happy Joy Joy Randy!

Now, in terms of offensive improvement, it’s pretty easy to imagine good things resulting from swapping out one of the 10 Lowest-scoring 5v5 D-men in the NHL, Mike Kostkaand replacing him with one of the highest-scoring rookie D-men of recent years, Jake Gardiner.

Heck, even on the defensive side, Jake gave up fewer goals/game, and fewer shots/game than Kostka. But we'll call it a wash, because we're a polite people.

See? Now that you’ve started visualizing the change, you’re feeling happier, aren’t you?

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Step #2 of our swap-out is to imagine a rocket. A big RED rocket Named Mr Rockety-Rocket! And when you look at the rockety-flamey part of Mr Rockety-Rocket, you can see that it’s already started to ignite, and now it's burning and burning and lifting off the launch-pad, rising up and breaking out of orbit, and now it’s clear that our friend Mr Rockety-Rocket is actually headed directly towards the… what the heck?

Towards the Sun? Hey Mr Rockety-Rocket! What could you possibly want to send directly into the Sun? The center of the Sun is hot!

So. Very. VERY. Hot.

Ok kids. Remember all those truths you weren't quite ready to handle? Well, come down to it, you're all likely grown up enough and tough enough on the inside to handle the truth that those're the screams of Korbinian Holzer, Mike Komisarek and Ryan O’Byrne, emanating from deep down inside Mr Rockety-Rocket as he heads toward the Sun, and likely even old enough to understand how it was entirely fair and reasonable to place them there, in chains, so they could never EVER escape and return to pollute the Leaf blueline.

After all, these 3 guys were – no exaggeration – the very worst defencemen that the NHL has seen in years. I man, it’s no mean feat to give up 34.8 shots or more per 60 minutes of 5v5 play.

Remember how they did that to you? Remember how you cried?

Anyway, let's forget the sad days. Because here comes… Paaaaaaaaauuuuul Ranger to cheer you up!!!! YAYAYAYAY RANGER! Ranger’s a thoughtful guy. He’s mellow. He’s the kind of guy who gives up millions of dollars just to coach bantam hockey. YAYAYAY RANGER!

Now… imagine him running up the most amazing Corsi and Shots Against ratings you’ve ever seen.

STOP! YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT! IMAGINE HARDER! LIKE THIS!

Imagine you’re paired with Filip Kuba… who can’t even spell his own stupid name… and you’re stuck in Tampa Bay… which is a shit town… and you’re playing for the worst team in hockey… and they put you out every night for 25 minutes… against the other teams’ #1 lines.

Now. What would you do? In your dreamy-dream happy imagining?

Why, you’d cut down your team’s shots against, of course! You’d cut them all the way down to 21.4 per 60 minutes, not let them soar to 34.8 like the Brutes did. Hell, you’d allow the 5th fewest Shots Against in the league, and all while playing for the worst team in hockey!

It’s a long way from 34.8 down to 21.4, you know? Somebody do the math for me here, 'cause I was never much for subtraction, but my guess is we’re gonna see a defensive improvement out of the Holzer/Komisarek/O’Byrne to Ranger switch.

Burtch’s SDI rating system tells us a similar story. Out of all 421 NHL defencemen to play over the last 6 years, Paul Ranger ranked 6th for those playing over 2000 minutes. Holzer finished 421st.

Oh yeah. We need to look at offense too. Ha ha ha. Or rather, as the hipsters put it -- LOL! See, Ranger’s career average is 28 points/82 games, while Holzer et al averaged 11.

So, net results of our visualization?

1. A huge double offensive win. Jake > Kostka, and Ranger > Holzer.

2. And an historic defensive win. Ranger > Holzer, and Jake = Kostka.

I think we can all see what's gonna happen to 75% of that shot deficit, right?

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RED MEANS RUN, SON. AND NUMBERS ADD UP TO NUTHIN’.

Ok, time now to turn down our imaginariums, and turn up the TotallyHardMath parts of our brains.

Got on your MathMakesMyBrainSwell ™ Helmets nice Mr. Randy gave us? Ok… take a deep breath! Cause this is math, and that’s no fun!

Just kidding, kids! Because red means run, son... and all the numbers here add up to nothing!

Even you non-math kids are gonna like this. Because you can take any defensive metric you like – Corsi, Shots Against, per 60, per game, 5v5, whatever - and then just work out an average score for the Brutes.

Now, Step 2, on the other side of the ledger, pencil in the same stats for Jake and Ranger.

And finally, bring the numbers together.

And voila! You’ve erased the problem!

I know, it should be more complex than that, but it really isn’t. Their numbers are pretty much inverse images.

For example, Paul Ranger and Jake Gardiner both tend to take as many or even more shots than they allow. So there's little or no net shot deficit. And Ranger and Gardiner also tend to run what is known as a "positive Corsi," which is a totally trippy concept most Leaf fans won’t be familiar with.

Which means the Leafs –4.7 shots per night problem which was coming from the Brutes, could potentially be dialed down to 0 by the new guys. And even... LOUD NOISES!… possibly reversed.

I know. TOTAL head rush, right?

But it’s true. 225 of our 302 net negative shots against, which is 75% of the Leaf shot deficit – i.e 4.7 of those net 6.3 shots per game – could potentially be erased. And if Jake and Ranger got so far as to run a positive Corsi, or a positive Shots situation, then the Leafs could actually start to out-shoot some teams. Even out-Corsi them.

PLAN THE PARADE, FUCKERS! THE CORSI CUP IS OURS!

That’s right. Also: "It's whispered that soon, if we all call the tune, then the piper will lead us to reason. And a new day will dawn for those who stand long, and the forests will echo with laughter."

Wanna make an old man cry? Watch Plant.

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WE JUST TRADED FOR ANOTHER KESSEL.

Now, some of you rednecky types been askin' me how many goals these here increased Corsis were gonna score. And then snickerin’ ‘mongst yerselfs. Oh, I heard you alright, assholes. Thing is, I’m redneckier than any of you. So the answer is…

39.

There. Now go pleasure yourselves with something long, blunt and not cattle-related.

For the rest of you somewhat more politier folk, an explanation. If we improve our Shots for/against count by 4.7 per game... the run that out for 82 games... we get 385 more shots in total. And then if, say, 1 in 10 shots goes in... we get a net improvement of... 39 goals.

39 goals.

Say it out loud. 39 goals. Feels good, don’t it? Well, put that in your pocket and hang onto it.

Because improving the Leaf defence just effectively added a 39 goal-scorer to our team.

That's like adding another Phil Kessel.

I think a 39 goal turn-around just by replacing our Luggards is a big deal.

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WHICH LEAFS WILL BENEFIT THE MOST FROM KILLING OFF THE BRUTE SQUAD?

So which individual players are going to see their performance improve most from the end of the Brute Squad?

Well, the #1 beneficiary is likely Dion Phaneuf, who spent a full 51% of his season with one Brute or another, and in particular, 27% of the year with Holzer. Just look at the change in Dion's his offence between the two:

  • Dion shot 0.8 times per game when paired with a Brute.
  • Dion shot 1.4 times per game playing away from them.

That's almost 50 shots over a full season. So it comes as no real surprise that Dion’s Corsi – around 50% historically – fell below 42%.

Poor post-concussion J-M Liles spent even more time 56% – with the Brutes.

  • Liles’ Corsi was above 50% playing with Dion, Gunnar or Cody.
  • Liles' Corsi dipped just below 50% when paired with Kostka.
  • Liles' Corsi collapsed altogether, to just 32%, while playing with Holzer, O’Byrne or Komisarek.

Sadly for Liles, he spent 30% of his entire season shackled to the worst 3 Brutes. So remember, when you judge Liles last year, his Corsi was over 50% when playing with normal people.

Gunnar got off a bit easier, with 39% spent in Hell, while Gardiner had just 27%. Franson and Fraser had just 5% of their time with the Brutes, so they should see relatively little direct benefit.

And now, a prescient song, about the importance of a functioning Brain.

From George Martin’s other band.

The Action.

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WHY PHIL KESSEL COULD SCORE 106 POINTS THIS YEAR.

Upfront, Kessel, JVR and Bozak spent 51% of their 5v5 lives last year tied to the Brutes. And during that 51%, Kessel only scored 11 of his 31 ES points. Which doesn't sound like that big a difference maybe. So let's rephrase it:

  • When playing with the Brutes in 5v5 play, Kessel scored at a 37 point rate for a full season.
  • When playing without the Brutes in 5v5 play Kessel scored at a 70 point rate for a full season.

Add on 36 projected PP points to both totals, and Kessel had a 73 point season when playing with a Brute on the ice.

But he scored at a 106 point rate last year when he got to play with non-Brute line-ups.

Say, was that just Phil Kessel flying by on a 106 point season?

106 points.

WooooOOOOOOOOOOOooooooOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

You're gonna hate this next part though.

Tyler Bozak was a 34 point player with the Brutes.

And a 60 point Centerman without them. Yeah. 6.0.

Still. Facts is facts. I just report 'em.

We all know how this played out, because we could see it. The Kessel line loved fast break-out passes, using their speed and playing off the rush. Yet they then had to spend 51% of their shifts with guys who couldn’t hit them with a half-decent break-out pass; guy who kept them stuck in their own end and wore them out playing extra-long shifts back in their own end; and who could never jump up and join a rush or get off a good shot from the point.

Looking ahead, however, Kessel and JVR get to play with Gardiner and his awesome offensive instincts - a guy who raised Kessel’s Corsi above 50% both of the last two years - and Paul Ranger, who has a great break-out pass.

Maybe that's not as useful as a new Center, but it sure won’t hurt.

Seriously though. The 50% of his year away from the Brutes, Kessel ran at a 106 point season pace. Holy shit.

Looking at the others, guess which Forward actually got the most Brutal time? [Come on guys, at least try to act surprised.] Yup, Grabo. 60% of his ice-time. And they’ve done studies, you know.

60% of Grabo's time, the Brutes sucked, every time.

Poor Kulie also got a 53% share, while Kadri and Lupul had 36% of their psychic year scarred by the Brutes.

But overall, the big winners will be Dion. Liles. Kessel, JVR, Bozak. And Kulie.

106 points.

And now, a song, in honour of Dion. And Phil. And difficult-looking young men everywhere.

The Parlor Mob.

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WHY KADRI WILL SCORE EVEN MORE POINTS PER GAME THIS YEAR.

Veering to the side for a moment, I'd like to tackle the view that Kadri’s very high shooting % last year (16.8%) – and that of his on-ice line-mates (14.4% at 5v5) means his point production has to fall this year.

Sure, I agree, both figures are quite likely to decline this year.

However. Shooting percentage is only ½ of Kadri's scoring equation.

But his final point production will also be a function of the number of shots taken by he and his line-mates.

A number which is quite likely to rise.

Maybe even doubling. This is the case because Kadri’s most frequent wingers last year (70% of his TOI) were Mac, Kulie, Leo and Frattin – who shoot very little (1.0-1.7 shots/game.) Kadri only spent 20% of his season with Kessel-JVR-Lupul, who shoot 2X as often (2.6-3.4 shots/game.) A final 10% of Kadri’s year was wasted on Orr, McClement and Hamilton, who don’t actually shoot enough to even deserve sticks (0.3-1.0 shots/game.)

Thus, Kadri spent 80% of his season with wingers who rarely shoot.

Want some more math, Stats-Tigers? Ok. Kadri’s main wingers last year took a combined 2.5 shots per game with him. Over a full season that’d be 205 shots. So if they shot 10%, that’d be a total of 21 goals for his wingers. Combined.

Now tell me how many assists Kadri is gonna be able to tote up with wingers who shoot like that?

Not frigging many.

This year, imagine Kadri playing between Clarkson and Lupul. Who are basically human shooting machines.

Yes, both Lupul (11.5%) and Clarkson (9.4%) have career shooting percentages that are below Kadri’s 14.44% on-ice shooting % of last year. So… that means Kadri’s point production rate will fall, right?

Right?

Ermmmm. Maybe not.

Because Clarkson and Lupul also happen to shoot all the damn time. So if Lupul takes, say 2.7 shots/game, and Clarkson takes 2.9 (roughly about their paces in recent years), that’s 5.6 shots/game coming from Kadri’s wingers.

More than double the number of shots per game Kadri got from his wingers last year.

And if you multiple those 2X shot totals next year by, say, even a 10% shooting %, you’re gonna get 46 goals between them.

Net result for Nazem? Likely, INCREASED points. Because even if Kadri’s on-ice shooting % falls, as it likely will, his wingers will be scoring 46 goals instead of 21. Which is a lot more chances for assists and points.

I’m not saying this MUST happen or WILL happen. Just that these numbers, focussed on the other half of the scoring equation, are every bit as reasonable as that of the apocalypts who bleat on daily about the Great God Regression and the Inevitable Fall of Nazem Kadri,to the point where you expect them to be on tv, carrying placards out front of the ACC, announcing the End Times.

And more widely... it might be worth the while of some fan to compare the shots per game of Clarkson + Bolland + Raymond versus Mac + Grabo + Frattin + Leo et al. There are some fine things lurking under that rock. Maybe even a few more of those 6.3 shots/game the Leafs are looking for.

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SO WHO KILLED DION AND GRABO’S CORSI?

I'm sure there are lots of reasons why Dion and Grabo’s Corsi collapsed. Carlyle's usage patterns. Their own poor health. Gunnar’s hip.

But I'm finding it hard to ignore that it was precisely these two players who were shackled to the Brute Squad the most. 51% and 60% of their seasons is a lot, and Dion’s was mostly with Holzer.

Calculate further if you like, but also just try to imagine yourself on the ice, having to face Dion or Grabo’s usual fare – Crosby, Ovie, Stamkos, Giroux, Tavares and the Bruins. Now imagine being tied to two AHL rookies. And know that Crosby and Stamkos and co. are fully aware of this weakness, and are gonna try to isolate you, draw you out of position, and wear you down.

Imagine how you’d handle effectively playing a man short, game after game after game, up against the best in the NHL, with no let up.

Now talk to me about your Corsi, and whether you can imagine it declining.

Memories don't last long as people do. Miss you, Grabo.

Angie Stone. And that great O'Jays riff.

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FANTASY HOCKEY INTERLEWD.

Not Norm: Sooooooo.... Not Don, what does all this mean?

Not Don Cherry: Well first off lookit, obviously, the Queen. And Afghanistan. We love those guys. Also, we need more Canadians.

Not Norm: More Canadians? I'm not getting it, Not, Don.

Not Don Cherry: Hey, figures you wouldn’t understand. Guy like you’d need a bayonet up the keester just to find your PATRIOTIC ORGAN, HEY! EH! EH! AMIRITE? AMIRITE? I’M RITE.

Anyway. I’m sure you kids out there have been takin’ good notes on the fact that these here Brutes, what with their criminal charges and drugs and poor puck possession play and stuff like that there, well, they’re all your FOREIGNERS. Which I’m sure has escaped none of your TRUE HOCKEY FANS notices.

Not Norm: Not Don? Your brain? Plugged in?

Not Don Cherry: Shaddup Not Ron. Just lookit. FACTS, ok? Take your average Komishark and your Brent Leper and that Finger fella. Yanks, to a man. Just you wait and SEE. Also, that Korballoonian kid? Howitzer? Even just say his name and you can tell he’s from Panzertown. HEY I SAID PANZER-TOWN NOT PANSY-TOWN! I’M NO RACIST AGAINST THEM GAY FELLAS! Or what about that Kostco, eh? That name's not right. Whaddya say? Asgard? "Asgardian." Ooooo-woooo-woo. Mr Asgardian. Well, to me he's as good as Swiss. And so on there. FOR. IN. ERS.

Not Norm: Ok Not Don, so…. we need fewer foreigners. Anything else?

Not Don Cherry: Well, thirdly, we need more Canadians.

Not Norm: Thank you not, Not Don.

Not Don Cherry: But also, how much time we got left here, Not Norm? Time enough to get some young guys on so’s I can kiss ‘em? I’d like that. Why Imma just give ‘em a little smack, maybe a little pinch under the kilt, ha ha ha, like just between two BOLD YOUNG MEN and HEY. THERE. WHAT. FOR. YOUNG. FELLA! Cause as you all know, I’m secretly pretty much flaming. Like my friends say, if that J-Edgar Hoover had played hockey in pastel suits he’d a been me. And I tell ya, if I’d a been Top Badge like him, I’d a ordered me up some strapping young fellas – CANADIAN FELLAS HEY, NO PERVY EUPROPEANS – upstanding young fellas from Kingston and Brockville and right on up deeeeeeeep into the Ottawa Valley, I’d a selected the very best, and worked ‘em up into a hot sweat in them there tight uniforms, then given ‘em the special treatment what with. THE. LUBE. AND. "YES SIR!! MR. FBI, SIR!"

Not Norm: Holy shit, Not Don.

Not Don Cherry: What I need here is some, GRIT, dammit! Any a youse young fellas back behind that there camera there got GRIT? Willing to go to the dirty areas? PROVE IT!, I say. Come on, one of ya’s gotta have at least a little grit. Awwwww hey... look. We got one. C’mere and pucker up, you cutie you. Why you’re the next Darcy Tucker, I tell ya.

LEGAL TALK: "NOT DON CHERRY" WAS IN NO WAY HARMED BY THE MANUFACTURE OF THIS FANTASY. THOUGH, I GOTTA ADMIT, WE BASICALLY WE BROKE INTO HIS PSYCHIC VAULT AND REVEALED HIS MOST TREASURED UNDIES, EH? SERIOUSLY. WE ALL KNOW THIS IS TRUE. WAIT WAIT. WHAT'S THAT? DON'S LAWYERED UP? OH SHIT. ON LINE ONE? OK, OK. I'M RETRACTING.

WHAT I MEAN HERE KIDS, HEH HEH HEH, IS... UMMMM.... IT'S ONLY TRUE IN FAAAAANTASY. FANTASY-WORLD. NOT IN OUR WORLD, NO WAY. SHEESH. JUST IN FANTASY WORLD. * WINK. *__________________________________________________________________________________________

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THE LEAFS WILL BE THE NHL’S HIGHEST-SCORING DEFENCE THIS YEAR.

Time to turn the Leafs D-men this year, and at least one way in which they’re going to be spectacular.

Scoring. And in particular, scoring at high rates. As in, 30 points or more per season.

Which requires a song of transformation. And hope. Also, young people and old, living together in harmony.

The Black Keys.

Now, for skilled NHL defencemen, 30 points is a big deal, and a bit of a milestone.

Only a couple of dozen big-shots get 40 points a year – Karlsson, Letang, Chara, Campbell, Keith, Doughty, Dion.

And since 90 or 100 guys get 20 points per season, it’s not much of a mark. e.g. Schenn, Finger and Hal Gill all hit 20.

But 30 points shows you've got some offensive chops, even if you’re not the big star with big power-play minutes.

Now, most years, only about 40 or 45 guys actually make 30 points. Take the Leafs. They’ve only had 5 guys make 30 points over the last decade – Dion, Jake, Kubina, McCabe and Kabby. All higher-end offensive players.

So the math says an average team will see 1.5 guys break 30 points in a year – maybe 2 if they stay healthy.

Looking back to 2011-12, and including guys who scored at a 30 point pace, just 7 teams had even 3 D-men playing at that pace. Chicago had 3 (Keith, Seabrook, Leddy); Ottawa (Karlsson, Gonchar, Kuba); Vancouver (Edler, Bieksa, Hamhuis); and four other teams.

Oh yeah, the Leafs actually had 4 guys on that pace. Dion and Gardiner got 44 and 30 points, while Liles’ and Franson’s 30 point paces were only cut short by injury.

And we still have those 4 guys. Plus… some others to add to the mix.

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So let's just take a slow walk and see what kind of offnsive potential this Leaf defensive corps has.

1st. Dion Phaneuf had a 48 point pace last year, even hamstrung by his 51% ice-time spent with the Brutes. He's averaged a 46 point pace across 8 seasons, including 60 and 50 point years. Now, while his 10.2% shooting might fall this year, he’s going to get more shots freed up from the Brutes - roughly 50 more, if last year's pattern holds. Plus, being paired with Gunnar, Jake, Cody or Ranger could boost his points. So Dion looks like his usual candidate for 40 points, and it would be a huge surprise if he didn’t get 30.

2nd. Cody Franson began to truly roll out his offensive weaponry last year, with a 53 point pace – although he’d been near 30 in previous seasons. He's got high-end power-play skills, but was also the league’s 3rd best 5v5 point-scorer. Will he see tougher minutes this year? Perhaps. However. If Gardiner and Ranger draw in, other teams may find it even harder to devote time to covering Franson. Based on his rising performance, 40 points looks doable - and 30 points damn near a slam-dunk.

****

3rd. Jake Gardiner's rookie season saw a 33 point pace (43 in the second half) before last year's post-concussion 27 point rate. But in the play-offs, he exploded as an elite offensive player. The main gap between Jake and a potential 40 or even 50+ point season would appear to be his PP production – solid in the AHL and against the Bruins, but weak so far during his 2 regular seasons.

These 3 D-men are widely discussed as possibilities to stretch up into the 40 or even 50 point zone this year, and 30 points looks like an extremely solid bet. Let’s look at 4 more Leaf D-men who have, perhaps surprisingly, already proven they can score at a 30 point pace, but who often aren’t perceived that way.

And I don't blame Jake. I don't wanna grow up neither.

Tom Waits.

****

4th. Paul Ranger. There are lots of questions about his return, but note that he’s already proven he can score 30, with seasons of 31 and 28 points, and each year he ranked near the top of all D-men for Even-Strength points/60. In addition, Ranger’s WOWY says he brings up every player’s performance on the ice, from all reports he has a good shot and has a top-level break-out first pass.

His ability to play tough competition plus the PK could also help to take the load off Dion and Gunnar, thus boosting their offence - and his experience could help out if he’s paired with Jake or Cody. So even if he sees little PP time, Ranger should still see north of 20 points. And paired with a higher-scoring D-man, like Gardiner or Franson or Dion, Ranger could easily adjust his game to feed them more often, and find his way to 30.

****

5th. J-M Liles has been written off by many, but it's worth noting that Liles had a 30 point pace every year in his career before his "collapse" to last year’s 28 point pace. Which involved overcoming a concussion, plus 56% of his ice-time being spent with the Brutes, plus seeing his PP and production fall to just 1 point.

And yet… Liles still scored at the 16th best rate of all NHL D-men during 5v5, better than Dion or Jake... and his RelCorsi was a strong +2.8. So if Liles is healthier this year, and doesn't get dumped to save money, injuries or trades could see him drawing back in. And once laying, any improvement from last year, or even just a touch of PP luck could make Liles our 5th D-man capable of 30 points.

****

6th. Carl Gunnarsson. Looking at his bare point totals, no way you’d think Gunnar could get 30. But check out his numbers last year – he was on a 33 point pace. He’s not a rushing machine, doesn't have a blistering shot. He generates his points the old-fashioned way – he gets the puck, then hands it over, clean and crisp, to his forwards. And as he’s gained experience, he’s even shown he can join the rush. His point totals are only low because he gets no power-play time. But go look up his 5v5 scoring rate. Rookie year, 1st on the team, ahead of Dion and Kabby. Next year, 1st again. And last year, back up, way up.

In fact, Gunnar was 6th of the league’s D-men for 5v5 scoring, just behind guys like Letang. Sure, Gunnar’s image is that he scores like Kostka. But Gunnar’s reality is that he outscored Kostka 15 to 3 at ES. So if he just scored at last year’s rate, Gunnar would break 30 this year, even if he only played 75 full games. And add in that his hip should be a bit better, he should get a few points on the PP and his insane work-load of tough Comp plus crazy Ozone starts should be dialed back, and Gunnar has a real shot at 30 too.

****

7th. T.J. Brennan. As though this wasn’t enough offense, the Leafs went out and signed T.J. Brennan. He’s a 24 year old who tore up the AHL, but also ended up with a not-bad NHL rookie season last year. He’s a hefty 6’1" and 213 pounds and, coming out of lacrosse, he likes to hit. What he’s got, however, is a howitzer of a shot - a damn cannon. With which he ripped the AHL for 14 goals and 35 points in 38 games last year, taking ~4 shots per game. Which is where most people mentally left him - as "too good for the AHL."

Thing is, Brennan actually played his rookie season in the NHL last year, and once he moved to Florida and they gave him ice-time, he took it. To the tune of 9 points in just 19 games, scoring well both at 5v5 and on the PP, and doing so with the NHL’s lowest-scoring team. That’s a pace well over 30. He also had a very strong +5.6 RelCorsi.

Now, it’s obvious he got sheltered minutes, and I have no idea if play defence. At all. But 9 points in 19 games as a rookie is better than Dougie Hamilton - so it looks like he's more than just "too good for the AHL." So if somebody gets dealt or hurt, and he slots in as a regular, don’t be surprised to see TJ chasing 30 points. And if he’s smart, Brennan will lay out some of those big hits early in training camp, preferably right in front of Carlyle, and move up that depth chart quick. Some clips of games he got points in. Check it out.

I think we gotta find you some ice-time and Turn You Loose this year, T.J.

The Chambers Brothers.

8th. Mark Fraser. We’re gonna give Fraser to paragraphs here, because he isn’t going to get a sniff of 30 points this year. Fraser came to the Leafs the same day we traded away Aulie. Nice thing was, though slow, he’d learned to play some defence in Jersey. e.g. In 2010-11, he had 26 games, a solid +7.7 RelCorsi and good PK numbers. So last year with the Leafs, yup, he was slow-footed. But he got a +3 RelCorsi, just behind Franson. I know people want to say "Fraser sucks, Franson great," but riddle me this. While Fraser and Franson spent 80% of their ice-time together last year, and Fraser faced tougher comp and zone starts in their time apart... how did Fraser manage to be on ice for 5 more goals scored, and 9 fewer goals against during harder minutes? Sometimes the eye doth deceive, and their fancy stats show a lot of good happening with Fraser.

Plus, Fraser was stellar on the PK, taking on 2 full minutes a night and only allowing 5 goals all year. Fraser was clearly one of the 10 best defencemen in the league on the PK, actually, not just allowing very few goals, but helping to keep shots against down to 33 shots per 60, the NHL's 7th best. And while he doesn’t score much, he outscored Kostka 8-3 during 5v5 play, and surprisingly, ranked 78th in the NHL on this stat. [And yes, 7 of his 8 assists were 1st assists, so he wasn't simply riding coat-tails.]

So, no, he won’t get 30 points. But he can get 15, play solid PK, hit and be tough in front of the net. Maybe his head injury will stop him from fighting, or make him shy off blocking shots. We’ll see. But I don’t mind Fraser in my top 8. Whether he starts is another question.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

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THE LEAFS’ LUCKY 7.

To sum up, the Leafs have 7 D-men who have shown with some force that they can score 30 in the NHL. Dion, Cody and Jake look capable of blasting well past that milestone. Liles used to do it annually, but needs enough games and enough PP time. Ranger has hit 30 before, he scores well in 5v5, and given a high-scoring partner, he might run 30 again. Gunnar showed off a 33 point pace last year, even with a bad hip. And TJ Brennan is a kid with a howitzer who was on a 39 point pace with Florida, and who needs ice-time.

Can all 7 guys make 30 points in the same year? Ummmm…. no. Obviously not.

But there’s no reason the Leafs can’t find enough ice-time for 5 of them to make a run at it.

****

And this wealth of high-scoring D-men is highly unusual in the NHL.

As is the wealth of high-scoring 5v5 D-men. Lots of D-men can score with enough PP time. Thing is, Leafs like Ranger and Gunnar can get points on the 5v5. So too can Gardiner and Cody. Liles was 16th in the league last year.TJ Brennan 50th, Dion 64th and even Fraser at 78th.

Which means that the new Leaf D is gonna be a threat each and every game, from every situation. Seriously, we’re looking at three pairings, one which could have Dion Phaneuf, then one with Cody Franson, and then and one with Jake Gardiner. And our subs could well be Liles and Brennan.

We’re a long way from Brute-land, and the world of Holzer, Komisarek and O’Byrne.

To me, the fact that 5 Leaf D-men look like having realistic shots at 30 points (and 2 more in the press box) makes them the clear top candidate for having the MOST OFFENSIVELY-TALENTED DEFENCE CORPS IN THE NHL.

I know! I know! When I first had that thought, I put myself in a head-lock, then the sleeper hold, then the Figure 4 Toe-hold, and finally, pile-drove myself into unconsciousness. Some thoughts are just too hopeful to be given oxygen, right?

But just try to think of another team over the last decade with a defence like that – 3 locks for 30 points, 5 possible, 7 potential.

I'll wait here.

****

As for this year:

  • The Rangers look strong for offence from the D-corps, with Del Zotto and McDonagh likely hitting 30, Staal too if he’s recovered, but Stralman and Girardi probably falling short because there’s not enough PP time for all.
  • Chicago has Keith, Seabrook and Leddy. But Oduya and Rozsival are aging and haven't hit even 20 points in years, while Kostka… No further comment.
  • The Canucks have Hamhuis, Edler, Garrison and Bieksa, so 4 possibly.
  • Boston has Chara and Dougie Hamilton, Seidenberg and Krug as longer-shots.
  • Ottawa has Karlsson, who may score 90, who knows – but the offence gets shallow after that. Unless you see Cowen running amok.
  • The Habs have PK Subban and Markov if he stays healthy, but after that it's only Diaz (who also has to remain healthy), or maybe Beaulieu as a rookie.
  • A few other teams have 3 or 4 guys who could potentially get 30 – the Pens and Flyers, Detroit and the Jets, maybe T-Bay and Florida.

But it’s tough to see a real competitor to the Leafs here. Because to turn 30 point potential into the actual, you need to be on the right side of the age curve… to not get injured for too long… and possibly, to get enough PP time. Which is why most teams never get more than 3 guys over 30. But with the Leafs, only Liles is over 28; their injured guys look better than last year; and they have 6 guys who can score 30 points just off 5v5 play. Plus they have some high-end, fast-scoring forwards, and all of Kostka’s wasted PP minutes to split up.

So. Can you think of another NHL team likely to match Dion + Franson + Gardiner + Liles + Ranger + Gunnar + TJ Brennan + Fraser points-wise?

Because like I say, sometimes things come along that appear at first to be totally not your thing. And then... you get knocked on your ass. This is L.P. Singing Halo. Seriously.

L.P.

And now… some appendages.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________

APPENDAGE #1. WHY GOOD DEFENCEMEN ARE 33% MORE IMPORTANT TO CORSI THAN GOOD FORWARDS.

I know some of you are wondering how upgrading your defence can produce such huge changes, when it should be all those high-scoring forwards who matter most. Here’s why adding a good defenceman is more important to Corsi than adding a good forward.

Basically, it's ice-time. Most teams roll 4 forward lines, but just 3 defensive pairs. So an average D-man plays 20 minutes/game but an average Forward just 15. Also, since we use them differently, even a 3rd pairing D-man will tend to play 15 minutes, while a 4th line Forward may only get 5-10 minutes.

In Toronto, 9 defencemen averaged above 17:00 per night, while only 3 forwards played that much.

To put some faces on this, Lupul, Kadri, Grabo and Kulie all saw less ice-time per game than Kostka (22:04), Holzer (18:30) or O'Byrne (17:10.)

In short, an average D-man will play 1.33 times more minutes per game than a Forward. And oddly enough, a bottom-pairing D-man will often play 1.5-2.5 times as much as a 4th line Forward. This means that an average D-man will be on-ice for 33% more Corsi events per game than an average Forward.

So if you bring in a D-man whose Corsi is +9 better than the previous lout, that's the on-ice equivalent of swapping for a Forward who is a +12 Corsi better.

Defencemen – now with 33% more Corsi.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________

APPENDAGE #2. WHY FACEPUNCHERS AREN’T AS IMPORTANT AS YOU THINK.

Which also means people are getting a bit over-excited by Orr and McLaren (both pro and con.) See, Orr and McLaren played a combined 462 minutes last year. Over 48 games, that’s just 4:49 each per game.

Compare that to our 4 Brutes on defence, who got a combined 1379 minutes. Or, if two Brutes dressed, they got in 14:22 each. You tell me which pairing is the more frightening to a hockey team:

  • 2 bad forwards at 4:49 each.
  • 2 bad defencemen at 14:22 each.

Herewith, a few more facts that might help us see the "face-punching problem" in a slightly less-freighted perspective:

1. Ryan Frigging O’Byrne, the late-season idiot acquisition, allowed more Shots Against in just 8 games than Frazer McLaren did in 35 games with us.

2. All season, Orr and McLaren were on for a grand total of 6 unique goals against. The 4 Brutes were out there for 62.

6 or 62.

Pick your poison.

3. While they may look like giraffes on skates, our goons are usually out there against other team’s worst lines. Which may explain why they were a combined +4. And gave up fewer shots/60 than Grabo or Kulie or the Kessel line. And how their Play-Off Corsis were +9 and +19 (better than Kadri, Kessel, Dion or Jake.)

4. Orr and McLaren's combined Time On Ice was 284th of NHL Forwards last year. That’s roughly the same as guys like Ryan Malone, Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, Travis Moen, Chris Kelly, Chad Larose, Jordan Tootoo, Colby Armstrong, Tanner Glass, Jeff Halpern, Drayson Bowman and Adam Burish. All of whom were outpointed by Orr + McLaren.

And also, sometimes, face-punching is just for show.

The Kills. Last Day of Magic.

So sure, I can get exercised at Orr and McLaren getting 4:49 a night – and yes, we could upgrade and maybe make a difference. But pound for pound, minute for minute, goal for goal, Corsi for Corsi, a much more important upgrade was to swap out an entire defence pairing.

Which the Leafs just did.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________

APPENDAGE #3. WHY SHOOTING % IS A STUPID STAT AND WHAT WE SHOULD USE INSTEAD.

And since you all got me ON this subject, how about we mention that – for those of us interested in possession and Corsi – the metric "Shooting %" is not even the right stat to be looking at in the first place. I mean, who gives a shit how many goals we score off the number of shots that finally get through to the net? If a guy takes 100 shots, and 99 hit the defenceman square in the nuts, but then the other 1 trickles through and scores, do we seriously want to say the guy is a brilliant 100% shooter?

To properly measure a shooter's skill or a team’s shooting ability, you want to know how many Shots Attempted turn into goals. Which would be Goals Scored divided by Corsi Events For.

Anyway. I haven’t yet found anywhere obvious where somebody has calculated this sort of thing (though I’m sure some nerd has.) So I thought I’d at least look briefly at the overall traditional Team Shooting % and then compare it to how the Leafs did in terms of Goals per Corsi event.

So, measured the old way, the overall Leafs Shooting % last year was a majestic 13.0%.

Which 13.0% is a screw you to the world, and a double dare you to regression, right? Because it’s way frigging higher than other teams. For example, the median team shot 10.0%. So we’re about 30% up above normal humanity. Where we belong.

So, I then calculated what I shall now call – and so shall you – the New NormUll Shooting % ™. Which is Goals/Corsi For. Result? The Leafs had a fabulous 6.19% rate. Which is how we’re gonna measure shit from here on out, all you old non-advanced stats people.

Then I compared the Leafs to other teams. Not all other teams, just ones that half-way interested me. In the way a really stupid enemy can be interesting.

  • The Glorious Maple Leafs 13.0% 6.19%
  • Nova Scotian Sid Crosby’s Pens 12.7% 6.55%
  • Stamkos & T-Bay 12.5% 6.50%
  • Ovie’s Caps 12.1% 5.93%
  • Toews-Town 11.1% 5.88%
  • The Tiny Li’l Habs 11.0% 5.48%
  • FLiREs!!!1 10.5% 5.35%
  • The Dethroned Kings 10.1% 4.91%
  • Fuckin' Broons 8.9% 4.53%
  • Snes 7.6% who cares

Now, here’s a thing that I noticed about the New NormUll chart –

We’re not the best shooting team in the NHL anymore.

And since the median New NormUll Shooting % ™ is likely between 4.80—5.00 (like I said, I can’t be bothered working it all out), we’re still high, above average, don’t get me wrong. So, we’ll probably regress.

But – for those of you who see shooting % as a measure of luck – we’re not "the luckiest" anymore.

And so... we don’t have "the furthest to fall." Pittsburgh and T-Bay do. In fact, the gap between our outrageous good fortune and that of lesser teams appears to shrink substantially under the New NormUll.

Which means, measured properly, sure, our shooting can still regress, but we have less far to fall.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________

APPENDAGE #4. THE TRADITIONAL LEAF DEFENCE – MADE WITH BITS OF REAL BRUTE.

Some years, everything falls apart.

Dog's Eye View.

Even with all this individual data, we’re only getting part of the full impact of individual players. Without wandering too far off in the direction of intangibles and such, it seems to me to be the case that there are broader, negative spin-off effects of having to play with bad players – impacts which don’t always show up directly in their own stats. Such as:

  • When a Brute plays poorly and their partner has to take a penalty to cover for their mistake.
  • Or when their bad play results in their partner becoming exhausted from too long a shift.
  • Or when their failures mean an offensive defenceman starts feeling forced to play over-defensively.
  • Or when forwards get frustrated at not seeing the puck or not getting good break-out passes, and begin to play more as individuals, and systems and roles begin to break down.
  • These negative effects can also make games harder at crucial junctures. If you’re down a goal and pressing, and your D-man misses a pass back to the point or gives up a bad goal, it deflates you in exactly the way Gus letting in that floater caused Lupul’s face to go sideways.
  • Or even just in practices, where the presence of not-capable players means everyone has to go back and practice the basics, even though they need to be working on higher-end combinations and skills.

To my mind, the famous Leaf defensive breakdowns, collapses and journeys into the heart of chaos have been less often caused by cloddish 4th line forwards who fail to cover the points, or by our high-scoring forwards... and more often caused by the physical immobility, bad decision-making, poor positioning, glacial response-time and/or blind slap-passes of our bottom-end Brute defenders.

The Traditional Leaf Defence: Made with bits of real Brute. So you know it’s shit.

APPENDAGE #5. ON WHY NONE OF THE ROOKIES ARE GONNA MAKE THE LINE-UP.

So. Could a surprise occur and a Leaf outside that 8 rise onto the current roster?

No.

  1. Holzer did terribly last year, he is now 25, he has no offense, he isn’t tough, nor is he a fighter. He’s closer to being waived than he is to a Leaf roster spot.
  2. Rielly might someday be great, but check the numbers – 19 year old rookie D-men don’t bring much offense, and no defence. Same with Finn and Percy.
  3. Jesse Blacker may have some chops, but he didn’t have a great year last year, and hasn’t yet even shown he’s AHL-competent.
  4. MacWilliam is already 23, can't score to save his life, and hasn't played a lick of hockey above college. He has to prove he can stop AHL’ers first. He's your call-up or a longer-term potential replacement for Fraser, but no need to rush, he's straight out of college.
  5. Granberg skates well, plays smart, shuts guys down and played in the Swedish Elite League. Great. But he’s only 20, was hurt last year and needs a year to adjust to North American ice and life.

And sure, a trade could change things. But Nonis and Carlyle want to make the play-offs, right? So now that they’re 8 NHL-experienced guys deep, why would they choose to play a teenager or some Swedish kid just in from across the fjord?

Not. Gonna. Happen.

The real issue isn't even what if Cody stays out. It's that, when Cody comes back... they've got 8 quality guys, including 7 guys who can score. There's a deal waiting to be made there.

And I'm afraid Cody and Dion are in the likeliest slots to move.

But that's for another day.

For now, seeing as this series is over, let's have some real music. From you know who.

Creedence. Born On The Bayou. London.

PensionPlanPuppets.com 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 PensionPlanPuppets.com.

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