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The Maple Leafs' And Possession Against Boston

Greg Cronin recently gave an insightful interview to Alec Brownscombe of Maple Leafs Hot Stove in which his replies give some terrifying insight into the team's thinking.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Maple Leafs' associate coach Greg Cronin recently sat down with Alec Brownscombe for an interview to discuss a range of topics of interest to the Barilkosphere. I think that the reaction to what was said among readers here probably leans heavily towards dismay and disappointment while over at MLHS I can imagine gif celebrations taking place. But remember, there's no group think over there.

But I digress, I started writing a long response as I am sure that many bloggers will because Cronin does seem to offer a window into the team's mindset. The assumption being that Cronin is telling the truth. As some learned with Brian Burke, you take the Leafs at their word at your own peril. Among the litany of thoughts that popped up while reading the interview, one immediately popped up when Cronin took control of asking the questions:

Greg Cronin: I want to ask you an innocent question. I know because, as a staff, we track this stuff. Who do you think had the puck the most against the Bruins?

Alec Brownscombe: The Leafs got better and better and adjusted as the series wore on, but I'd guess the Bruins based on the first 4 or so games?

Greg Cronin: The Bruins dominated the first game. They had the puck a lot and we didn't, we gave it away too much, we were too easy to play against. But as the series went on, we started to control the games because we had the puck more. Just to go back into this discussion - going back to shots vs. possession - what happens when you have the puck a lot? What is the other team doing? They have to defend. They are on their heels, they're changing up because they're tired. Usually when you're changing up and you're tired, you're defending. It is an interesting part of hockey that I'm sure a lot of teams visited; it's like the old expression, "what gets emphasized gets done." These are things that we prioritize. We want the puck. I am not saying we have the right answer. I didn't stopwatch the Chicago-Bruins series, but I know one thing; Chicago has the puck a lot. But they have talented players, too, and their players, their identities as hockey players, whether its Kane or Toews or Hossa, those guys keep the puck a lot.

The first thing that comes up is that Cronin contradicts himself later when he discusses what the team tracks

Alec Brownscombe: Do you use any performance metrics that aren't publicly available? Have you heard of CORSI?

Greg Cronin: No. We don't. We just do a basic thing which is the generation of scoring chances; we know who is generating scoring chances for and who is responsible for a breakdown defensively.

The emphasis is mine but there he is saying that they don't track anything extra beyond assigning individual blame/credit for scoring chances. I won't get into a long discussion of how incredible it is that the league's richest team isn't spending buckets of money trying to gather as much information as possible in order to find any advantage possible (ie applying the concepts of Moneyball to hockey). Even if it ultimately does nothing more than proves that puck possession and shot differential is meaningless then at least you have concrete proof. And maybe you identify something that is important that no one else knows about. Wouldn't that be something a smart team would look for? Well, here we are.

Oh and I won't get into a long digression about how shots and zone time and scoring more than your opponent. As always, just check out this old post by Vic Ferrari and marvel at the incredible coincidence that teams with good shot differentials had a lot of zone time on attack and then how they made the playoffs. Weird eh?

Going back to Cronin's first discussion, the beauty of having engaged fans is that you can find people that checked a lot of these ideas with regard to the Leafs' series against the Bruins. Newcomer kanke put together shot charts for each of the seven games that illustrate the Bruins' edge over the Maple Leafs in the series. And our very own JP Nikota sat down with a pencil, a pad of paper, and a stopwatch to re-watch the entire series in an effort to see just how much time each team spent on the attack in each game.

  1. Total 5v5 Attack Time for the series for Boston is 78.62 minutes, while the Leafs only had 57.88 minutes. That's a substantial difference. Put another way, attacking possession time is 57.6% for the Bruins while the Leafs had 42.4%.
  2. If we look only at 5v5 Close Attack Time (that is, +/- 1 goal) we wind up with 58.6 minutes for the Bruins and 47.2 for the Leafs. In terms of percentage that's 55.4% for the Bruins and 44.6% for the Leafs.

Those are two statistics that were compiled by people watching every second of every game. I would like to know whether Cronin was telling the truth when he said that the Leafs' track possession or when he said that they only track individual contributions to scoring chances. And it'd be great to see their data - a complete pipe dream - but here's what Leafs fans have found and it doesn't match when Cronin is selling.


Friend of the blog Cam Charron counted scoring chances for the Bruins series and the good news here is that this is a measure by which the Leafs actually did look good against the Bruins. The caveat is of course that these represent the raw scoring chances at even strength and don't take into account any score effects but this does align more closely with Cronin's belief that the Leafs were holding their own against the Bruins.