1. STATS SAY THE LEAGUE’S BEST DEFENSIVE FORWARD IS NOT VERY BIG. AND THAT HE IS NOT WHO YOU THINK HE IS...
There’s a thing about stats. Sometimes they tell you interesting things. And sometimes they don’t. As a man once said, you got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, and know when to tell ‘em to fuck right off.
Now, I would argue the most useful stat for identifying the NHL’s best defensive forwards is not one that looks at goals against [because your goalie can suck], or at shots against [because a shot from the perimeter is not a shot from the slot.]
Instead, it’s gonna be in-between - a stat that looks at how well a forward reduces scoring chances against, and in particular, cuts down on high danger scoring chances against his team.
Now when I ask who are the NHL’s best forwards at preventing scoring chances [and high danger scoring chances] against, some obvious names will surface:
Like Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews. Or, if you watch Western teams [and frankly, who can be bothered to watch that late night lunkhead conference?], maybe you’d say Anze Kopitar or Mikko Koivu or a Backlund or a Granlund or some other fucking Lund that none of us give a shit about.
And as of late 2017, who is the NHL leader in these categories? That is, who is the NHL’s best defensive forward? [Category: 5v5 play, >200 minutes TOI]
Well, obviously, it’s Li’l Mitch.
That’s right. Li’l Mitch Marner.
That’s right. Not Nazem Kadri. Or Zach Hyman. Or even the Big Mutt, Matt Martin.
Instead, it’s Mitch. Li’l Ole Mitch.
I know, I’m in shock too. But facts is facts.
Hell, Mitch leads all regular Leaf forwards in:
Lowest Corsi Against per 60
And Fenwick Against
And Shots Against
And Scoring Chances Against
And High Danger Scoring Chances Against.
And the stats say that in fact, Marner is MILES better defensively than Kadri, Leo, Dominic - even better than his big pal Matt.
Li’l Mitch 6.71 per 60
Matt Martin 7.53
Nazem Kadri 11.45
Leo Komarov 11.87
Zach Hyman 11.96
Now, I’ll leave the nuts and guts of this argument up to you all, about whether the stats are crap [because L’il Mitch hasn’t played against tough competition, or has had good linemates, or whatever] - cause I’m too tired to stoop to that level of stat-stuff tonight.
But it's worth considering... that this great defensive play may just be one of the by-products of LI'L MITCH HAVING THE PUCK ALL THE GODDAMN TIME, AND EVERYONE HAVING TO CHASE HIM AROUND ALL NIGHT, so the other team just never really gets much of a chance at the Leaf net when he’s on the ice.
People gotta notice that sooner or later, right?
I donno. Maybe the kid just needs some better shoes.
2. ALEX BURROWS. AND HIS ENTRY INTO ETERNAL DAMNATION.
Remember when Burrows used to score 25, 30 even 35 goals for the Canucks? And then how the Sens took a gamble at playoff time and got him from the 'Nucks for Jonathan Dahlen? And then signed Burrows to a 2 year deal at $2.5 Million per?
And we need to admit that it took courage for the Sens to do that, what with Burrows being 35 years old and all.
But - jeez, ouch - then he went out and sucked in the playoffs, and only got 5 points in 15 games? Ooof. Gotta hurt.
And following that painful experience, I knew that you - like all good Leaf fans - were concerned. Concerned, and wishing Mr Burrows only the best. Concerned, and hoping that our plucky li’l Ottawa friends would get full value for their money this season.
And then… gosh DRAT it… IF Mr Burrows hasn’t gone out and sucked again.
In fact, BURROWS SUCKS EVEN HARDER NOW than he did when we last tuned in:
19 games, and just 5 points. Only 3 points in 5v5 play. Ouch.
We all know how Sens fans have long harboured hopes that they’d get that chance at promotion up to the NHL, and would get a chance to watch some real hockey sooner or later, and FAR BE IT FROM ME to kick a city of dreamers when they're down, but I think we all gotta just face the hard truth.
The Burrows deal is just not working out.
And wow…. that Dahlen kid is leading the Swedish Allsvenkan league, and basically he’s Point per Game already. And at that age.
That’s gotta be darn hurtful to our friends in Ottawa.
Sorry about that, friends.
3. TO THE LINE... AND OUT.
You know that veteran confidence thing that Ron Hainsey has?
Well, Rielly doesn’t have it.
Nor does Jake.
And the Borgman is young.
But you see a puck go to Hainsey, and he’s under pressure, and then he… does a calm thing.
It’s not that it always works out for him. It doesn’t.
But… it’s almost always a reasonable thing that he does.
A percentage thing.
A thing that his team-mates can work with.
Not a disastrous, "WTF are you doing on my side of the ice?" thing.
Or a "Here’s a bounce pass up the middle of the fucking ice" thing.
Or a "Let’s go for a long languid skate deep into that mysterious corner of the other team's end while we're holding a 2-1 lead late in the 3rd period" kindof a thing.
It’s little differences like that that make watching Hainsey educational for all us Leaf fans. In fact, I think we’re all beginning to… like it.
A Veteran D-man.
Being calm, very calm, in our own end.
Able to settle. shit. down.
And get the puck to the blueline.
And then out.
So. I think unless Rielly or Zaitsev take a real step up in the next month or so, I'd lay a pretty serious bet that Lou’s gonna be looking for another trade.
For another Hainsey.
Someone who can settle the kids. Raise 'em up proper.
4. AND OH BY THE WAY, HAS ANYONE ELSE NOTICED THAT ZACH HYMAN STILL HAS NOT CONVERTED A SINGLE PASS FROM AUSTON MATTHEWS INTO A GOAL THIS YEAR? I HOPE WE HAVEN'T OVER-TALKED THIS, BUT SEEING AS IT COMES ON TOP OF ZACH NOT CONVERTING ANY ALL LAST YEAR? HAVE I RAISED THIS ISSUE YET? BECAUSE NOW WE’RE NOW AT 100 FUCKING GAMES TOGETHER WITH 0 FUCKING GOALS CONVERTED?
And yes, I know. Hyman has scored 4 goals in 22 games this year and one was a genuinely glorious deke and another was a fabulous backhand, and both of them, MY HOW I LOVED THEM.
But look. Zach Hyman has scored NO FUCKING GOALS from Auston this year. Again.
AND WORSE, ZACH DOESN’T EVEN SET AUSTON UP FOR GOALS THIS YEAR.
Zach has 3 first assists in 5v5 play this year.
But ZERO are passes to Auston Matthews.
No wait. I lie. There was one. A pass that technically fits.
There it is.
That pass from Hyman to Matthews - outside the frigging blueline - that Auston then lugs in and scores an amazing goal off.
So I’m gonna say something now, and it’s gonna hurt you, and hurt your feelings, and hurt your family’s feelings, but it’s gotta be said.
Look, hear me out. Remember how people used to talk about David Clarkson? A guy who somehow got this big rep down in Jersey for working the corners and grabbing rebounds and tough defensive play and shit like that?
WHEN ACTUALLY HE JUST FELL DOWN A LOT, AND HAD A VERY BAD SHOT, AND TURNED OUT TO BE A FUCKING BALROG WHO COULD NOT PASS?
*** pause to attempt return to inner peace ***
*** watches old videos of Dave Keon and Norm Ullman forechecking Habs 'til they fell over exhausted ***
*** returns to usual levels of deep inner peace ***
Ok. Look, I know. Hyman is no Clarkson.
[But there are echoes.]
5. LEO ON THE BUBBLE.
I’ve been a big Leo booster over the years, and believe he's contributed a lot toward helping the team learn to play within a structure, helped fill some big defensive holes, and played the PK or the PP role in front of the net whenever asked.
Plus, for years now, he's taken on the rats on their own terms - hitting, instigating, irritating.
Basically, he's been our Pickle Rick.
But Leo looks slower this year. Stiffer. Could be an injury. Could be.
But 2 goals and 4 assists do not a solid offensive contribution make. In fact, Leo has just 1 goal and 0 primary assists at 5v5.
That’s 1 primary point at 5v5 after 22 games.
And yes, he’s had bad shooting luck (6.3%.) But still, the output after 22 games has been worse than Zach, worse than Dominic Moore, worse than Matt Martin.
In fact, Leo actually LOOKS worse on offense than Matt Martin.
So that’s not good.
And yes, Leo's been doing great on the PK this year. Both he and Zach are, to give them credit, Top 10 in the NHL for forwards on the PK.
But. I’m just not sure that with Kapanen and Soshnikov bucking for time - and Sosh is good on the PK - and with Johnsson and Leivo and the others kicking around, that the Leafs can afford such a clear loss of scoring, and as of today…. for no clear defensive advantage.
So either Leo finds a way to re-ignite his defensive play… Or gets lucky scoring… Or I think Lou’s gonna be considering a move by the deadline.
And when he does go, I’m gonna feel it.
Do you feel it? I know I do.