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Maple Leafs odd couple: Brad Boyes and Byron Froese

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One is less than beloved of the fans, and the other hasn't caught on fully with Mike Babcock. What's really going on with this pair of fourth line bargain players?

Byron Froese congratulates Brad Boyes for scoring a goal.
Byron Froese congratulates Brad Boyes for scoring a goal.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone, please come in and sit down on the left, I want to talk to you about the man you love to hate: Byron Froese. And our special guest today, Mike Babcock, if you will sit on the right, we're going to discuss Brad Boyes with you.

You all seem to dislike at least one of this pair of players, and today I want to look at what they've done on the ice, and see if we can figure out why they aren't universally loved.

Brad Boyes, 33 and signed in the summer on a $700,000 contract was expected by many to be more than a fourth line wing and frequent healthy scratch. Byron Froese, 24 and acquired part way through last season and paid $575,000 on a two-way contract was not really expected by anyone to be the first guy to graduate off the Marlies this year.

Boyes clearly isn't impressing Babcock much, and Froese is struggling to find fans who say much other than 'ugh' when he's on the ice. Is this a failure to live up to expectations or a perception issue? Is it them or is it you?

What is a fourth liner?

First, let's ask what the expectations are. What is a fourth line for? Everyone just knows, right, but are we all expecting the same thing? In the old days, which weren't actually very long ago, the fourth line was the garage you parked your enforcer in, and the other two guys were usually PK artists or big bodies who could check and not do much else.

Hockey has changed. The enforcers have fallen off the depth chart and ice time for top lines has decreased. The inevitable result is that your "bottom six" plays more, and is expected to actually play hockey.

So what is the general expectation of a fourth line in this brave new world? That they don't give up goals, that they don't give up shots, that they score sometimes, that they are hard to play against. That's mine, weighted from most to least important. Mike Babcock over there may have different ideas, as may all of you.

Shots

I'm going to skip the goals thing for a bit, and start with shots for and against. This chart is score adjusted and shows the whole team, so you can get a feel for our odd couple and how they fit in with the rest of the guys. This examination will focus on 5-on-5 play.

The team itself is mildly negative in shot differential, but Froese is much better at shots against than the team average, but isn't in on a lot of offence. Boyes is a little better in both categories, particularly showing up more in offensive situations.

I'm sorry, fans, but Froese's shot differential, particularly relative to the team, just does not say, 'ugh' to me. And I'm sorry, Mike, but Brad Boyes looks very good from this measure. Why the lack of trust?

Goals

Let's add goals to their shot metrics and look at that.

Boyes is obviously better than Froese at goals for percentage, but not outstanding either. GF% is the meaningful result of what happened while you were on the ice, but it is just a slightly more sophisticated +/-, so let's understand we're looking at the results of teamwork here.

Teamwork

Who do these guys play with, aside from largely each other?

Froese has played extraordinarily poorly with Joffrey Lupul, Nick Spaling and Matt Hunwick. He's been great to good with Roman Polak, Boyes, Shawn Matthias and Peter Holland. Bear in mind that Froese played some of his first few games with Spaling and Lupul and they were collectively horrible; that's weighting his overall numbers and slightly skewing the picture.

Boyes, who plays fairly consistently with all forwards, improves in shots against when with Froese. He's had some not so great outings with Hunwick too.

Froese has had a hand in 4 goals, Boyes 12, neither of which is superb. What are they actually doing as individuals offensively?

Individual performance

Among all forwards on the team, they sit sixth and seventh in total individual shots per 60 minutes (iCF not SOG). They're ahead of Komarov, Matthias, Spaling, Bozak, Grabner. They're behind Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk, as expected—those two are the elite shooters on the team. But they are shooting the puck more than fourth liners usually do. Both of them. They are shooting the puck more than most of the second and third lines. Both of them.

Head to head

Boyes is doing much better overall, obviously. But that chart says Froese is a very acceptable fourth line guy who is way, way better at shots against than is usual for that position. He's also good at goals for. Are you sure he's terrible, fans? And you, Mike, are you sure Boyes should be missing games and playing mostly on the fourth line? Isn't he better than some of the third liners?

Now we need to discuss what a third line is. For a long time, the Leafs third line was a checking line, but that's undergoing a transition as the top line takes up some of that work. Some of the recent forward lineup changes lately have reflected these transitions. Is it possible that Brad Boyes is the wrong fit right now? I won't be surprised if we see a lot more of him after the deadline because I will be very surprised if he's traded.

There's a lot more to hockey than Corsi. Gasp. And there's a lot to be said about style of play. Froese is very physical, Boyes is very not. Froese is not as good a shooter as Boyes is, but he's fearless and aggressive. Boyes is more of a lay back and wait for it man, while Froese plays like a centre who happens to be on the fourth line. Boyes is very much a winger.

Froese is harder to play against. Boyes makes the opposition have to play harder when he's on the ice. I think they both have value, and how good do you expect the fourth line C to be anyway?

Comparables

The most famous practitioner of the roll four lines system is the Los Angeles Kings. For most of this year they've had Andy Andreoff as their fourth line C. Meanwhile that powerhouse in the East, the stacked Washington Capitals, has had Michael Latta. Here's how they look:

Are you still sure Froese is no good? (To be fair both of these teams have gone looking for upgrades, and interestingly both of the hoary old veterans they acquired have already moved up to the 3C spot because of injuries.)

Goals against

I said my first priority for a fourth liner was not to get scored on. And the GF% is poor for both guys at less than 50%. Which brings me to this:

Fans, Mike: is this colouring your judgement? Our odd couple is seeing really dramatically different goaltending than every other guy on the team. I mean, you can't blame them individually for that result, unless you think they both keep shots way, way down but go fart in front of the goalie or something causing goals to go in. Are you sure that when you say 'ugh' or stick Boyes in the pressbox, you aren't reacting to that?

So, you tell me: does your perception match reality? Are your expectations reasonable? Have you changed your mind about either guy?

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