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Odd and Interesting Numbers from the Leafs’ 2016-17 Season

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Some things that stood out to us as we combed through the data.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As we review the Leafs’ last season and prepare for the next one, I’ve been poking around the Leafs’ numbers to see what shakes out. Here are some things I found.

Auston Matthews led all Leaf forwards in blocked shots. By a fair margin, too—-Matthews had 61, while Leo Komarov was second among forwards with 50. This is all the more striking given that Matthews does not kill penalties. On the one hand, you applaud Matthews’ grit and defensive dedication—on the other, the significant (maybe only) weakness of the Matthews line was getting run around its own zone, and you wonder if at times going for the block wasn’t the best play for getting the puck back. The bigger concern is injury; the last thing I want is Matthews breaking a foot standing in front of a Shea Weber slapshot. Still, one thing’s for sure: Matthews is a gamer.

Both Matthews (14th) and Marner (17th) were top 20 players in the NHL for road takeaways. My new colleague Kevin Papetti suggested this to me earlier in the year, and I was typically cautious about both real-time stats generally and scorer bias. (If you include both home and road numbers, Matthews is allegedly third in the NHL in takeaways.) But Kevin was onto something—I think the impressive performance of Matthews in road takeaways is at least a little meaningful, especially combined with Matthews’ quality possession stats and the eye test that shows him being an absolute monster of puck control. Maybe the more impressive thing is Marner, who clearly has a lot to offer as he develops towards being the kind of elite RW who can drive a line.

Martin Marincin led all Leafs’ defenders in expected goals percentage, with 54.38%...unless you adjust for zone, in which case Matt Hunwick pulls ahead of him. For two of the most maligned defenders on the team, it’s a little odd to see them zooming up in advanced stats (perhaps more expectedly, Jake Gardiner is right behind them.) Marincin, or “Marmar” as I refuse to stop calling him, has always been the shining example of a player whom advanced stats love and the eye test hates, because every now and then he wraps the puck in a gift basket and Candygrams it to the other team. Still, if these numbers for Marincin and Hunwick are reflective of their actual play—I’ve liked Marincin’s game in the past and I increasingly liked Hunwick’s by the end of this year—the Leafs can feel confident in either of them as at least a third pair defender. And given Hunwick and Marincin’s mostly-successful spot duty on the second pairing in the playoffs, they can provide some safety against injuries.

The Leafs were second in the NHL at scoring chances for at even strength, and third on the power play. This leads to something you probably already knew: the Leafs are not fluking into their superpowered offence, they’re legitimately generating chances at an incredible rate. The only more potent offensive team in the NHL, by this standard, is Pittsburgh. You probably remember that the Pens have two of the top five players in the NHL as well as first-line-third-liner Phil Kessel. That’s pretty okay, I guess.

From October 1st to January 1st, the Leafs CF% rank when trailing: 20th (48.17%). When even: 3rd (54.07%). When leading: 15th (49.55%.) Most people have heard by now that almost every team gets worse at CF% when it has the lead, because teams tend to play more defensively. It’s a universal trend. But the Leafs were oddly jumping teams with the score tied and were clearly struggling to hold leads against them.

And yet, from January 1st: when trailing: 25th (48.28%). When even: 22nd (48.34%). When leading: 4th (52.73%.) So who knows? Maybe it’s all just noise. But the noted improvement of Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak as the year went on would seem to have contributed to the Leafs playing better with leads. If you like, you might also try on a “young team matures” narrative. Oddly, the Leafs got much worse at evens, and continued their meh performance while trailing. Make of that what you will.

The Leafs were dead even in the league in faceoffs (49.9% and 15th overall). They were just ahead of Washington. Pittsburgh was 28th. Colorado was 2nd. This is your reminder that faceoffs really don’t have that much impact over time.

Toronto was, as ever, the highest-event team in the NHL. Sometimes this is described as “pace.” In terms of 5v5 events per 60 minutes, Toronto was first in the NHL by quite a bit (120.01 CF + CA per 60.) The gap between the first place team and the second (Dallas) is bigger than the gap between second and fifth (Arizona.) There are both good (Pittsburgh, who are 3rd) and terrible (the Coyotes) high-pace teams, so it’s not to say this is necessarily good or bad; it’s a combination, in that the Leafs had elite offence and porous defence. But if you’re wondering whether these Leafs were the most action-packed team you’ve seen lately, the math bears that out.

Freddie was a top-ten starter. In 5v5 goals saved above average, Frederik Andersen sits 10th (14.75). That number reflects his degree of difficulty in shots against, which ordinary save percentage does not. Jonathan Bernier, who is close to him in unadjusted save percentage (.918 for Freddie vs. .915 for Bernier), only sits at 1.74. Some of that is ice-time—Freddie had way more starts, obviously—but a lot of it is also team. Andersen was second (!) in the NHL in expected 5v5 goals against, behind only Edmonton workhorse Cam Talbot, because the team in front of him dealt out chances like playing cards. Andersen is as integral to the Leafs as the star skaters are, and with a merely ordinary starter, they do not make the playoffs.

Toronto...was actually good. Hashtag. I’ve mentioned before that a decent way of breaking up the league is into five groups of six. (Vegas is going to ruin this for me, those bastards.) As follows:

1-6: Contender

7-12: Competitive

13-18: Fringe Playoff

19-24: No Man’s Land

25-30: Rebuilder

The Leafs were a sneakily good rebuilding team, much better than most teams that finish last; I’m not sure in real talent they deserved to be in the 25-30 range in 2015-16. But the evidence seems pretty clear that they belong in the 7-12 bracket now. Adjusted CF%: 9th. Expected goals: 9th (tied with Nashville.) Scoring chances were even as high as 5th. Their powerplay was a legitimate 2nd, but their penalty kill was probably lucky to be 10th (Freddie stood on his head.) Still, if the Leafs can upgrade defensively, and that’s clearly a big if, they will rise into the top tier of the league. Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello may say the plan hasn’t changed, and certainly this isn’t a time for rash mistakes. But the Leafs have most of the core of a team that can win the Stanley Cup.