It's only three games!
Yeah, okay, true, and yet no one the Leafs signed this summer is a rookie. So how many games do they need before they start playing the way they usually do? (More than three, but I feel like venting.)
Before I get all judgemental, I want to set the stage with how the players are being used. You can only do what you have opportunities to do, after all.
In all situations, you will be shocked to hear Mitch Marner leads in ice time with 23.76 minutes per game. Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and John Klingberg are all hovering around 23 minutes as well. So that sets the opportunity level Klingberg is getting.
The next clump of players at near 19 - 20 minutes per game is William Nylander, Jake McCabe, TJ Brodie and John Tavares.
Timothy Liljegren exists in his own tier at 18.24, not quite where Brodie and McCabe are and not down with Mark Giordano who leads the next lowest group at 16.28. Along with Giordano is Tyler Bertuzzi at 16.03, significantly less than his linemates. Calle Järnkrok is at 14.11, floating in his own tier as well.
The 12 minutes group is large, and is Fraser Minten, Max Domi, Matthew Knies and David Kämpf. Noah Gregor is at 10.13 and Ryan Reaves is in a class by himself at 8.11.
That's all situations, so a quick look at five-on-five has the defence at Rielly, McCabe, Klingberg, Brodie – and ahead of all forwards. Bertuzzi is right up with Marner and Matthews at 15 minutes a game and Domi is still playing less than Minten.
As of now the first unit PP has 3.4 minutes of time, and the second averages at less than one minute. So it seems pretty clear that second unit, for all it looks better, isn't giving players like Domi and Bertuzzi any time to get the counting stats up to impressive numbers.
To grade these new signings, it's only fair to measure them against what role they were signed to fill. Context-free player evaluation that helps you decide the fairly useless question of who is better is not helpful. Better at what? Is always my counter to that.
In the order in which they were signed:
Reaves was signed to be, well, Ryan Reaves, and so far he's managed that with aplomb. He barely plays, has no special teams utility, and his major weakness is skating speed. He used to be a good defensive player, so he understands how to play well positionally, and he's had a couple of good offensive shifts against very weak competition.
His skating speed will cost the Leafs scoring chances against, but he plays so little, it won't scale up to much. The downside of him playing barely at all is that since he's a winger, the trick of doubling up Auston Matthews' shifts and sneaking him onto the fourth line won't work. Besides, Matthews is too busy doing PK for no good reason. The players who have had extra time with David Kämpf are Järnkrok, Knies and Nylander so far.
If you rate Reaves against his cap hit, he gets a Z- because no player whose job description is so limited should ever be paid over the buriable amount. Just based on how he fulfills his job description, he's a B+. He gets an A when he scores Roman Polak style.
Klingberg is meant to be so good on the PP and the Leafs so in need of a right shot on the PP that it's worth bouncing Morgan Rielly off a unit that was the second best in the NHL last year by some measures.
As a team, the Leafs are 15th in Expected Goals per 60 minutes on the power play. This is, by definition, mediocre. They are tops in Goals for per 60 minutes, though, so either you make up a story that the things they do well don't show up in Expected Goals, or you admit that it's 12 minutes and anything at all could be true.
Klingberg himself has shot the puck three times on the PP, and has 0 xG. But he sure can pass. Anyone, no matter how much they don't like him, can see that. He's unlikely to make the PP worse, but is it markedly better than its former excellence? Maybe when you factor in the potential for a second unit that's useful it is.
At five-on-five, Klingberg has shot the puck 8 times and has an xG so small (the lowest on the team), you need the second decimal place to see it isn't zero. His on-ice Corsi % is abysmal, as is McCabe's. Their rate of Corsi Against is amazingly high, and you can't make it better by looking at it relative to teammates, either. Klingberg has a slightly positive rate of Corsi For relative to the team, so slight one might be happy to call him team average on that score.
Their Expected Goals Against per 60 is five, which means, given the minutes they play, they're currently playing at a pace that will cost the Leafs 1.3 goals per game on average over the season, and that's just at five-on-five.
You gotta really narrativize those power play goals hard to say Klingberg has succeeded at anything he was signed to do. His grade is F across the board, and relative to his cap hit, some letter well down the alphabet from that.
He's been given all the opportunities you can imagine. He plays with top players, and he gets some power play time as well. He's got some good on-ice numbers to show for it, a team-leading 79% Goals For, and a team-leading 68% Expected Goals.
He shoots less than Matthews (everyone does) and Nylander, and lands at about what Tavares produces. His quality of shooting is a little lower, and he's scoring right about at what his expected rate is, unlike the unsustainable rates of Matthews and Nylander.
His on-ice Corsi and Expected Goals Against are excellent, and I can't find anything bad to say about him. He's annoying in the number of penalties he takes, which is not a small thing, but may be a fleeting thing. His PP minutes are very small, but very effective.
He's doing everything he was hired to do, which was to be Michael Bunting, but good at hockey, and he is adding value to the top line, not just riding along. B+ and he gets an A when he stops visiting the glass cage of emotion. Relative to his cap hit, he's a bargain player, maybe the best non-ELC value on the team.
Well, one thing's for sure, people will stop thinking of Domi and Bertuzzi as some linked pair of similar players now.
Domi was signed to add secondary offence and some feistiness. What he's doing is shooting at the same rate as the shootier defenders and other complementary wingers like Knies and Järnkrok. The only forward worse than him in individual Expected Goal rate is David Kämpf. And that's all-situations, so his power play time isn't helping his results any. He hasn't shot the puck yet on the PP.
His on-ice Corsi is the same as Klingberg's but his Expected Goals % is much better, and the main reason for that is his on-ice Expected Goals For rate, which I'm happy to lay at the feet of Nylander, not Domi. This is Domi's main glimmer of hope in his results, however.
His on-ice Expected Goals Against rate is the worst of any forward not on the fourth line.
So, to sum up: he's not shooting the puck much (except into shinpads), he's got a marked degradation in his defensive results relative to all his linemates, and there's only the barest glimmer that he's creating offensive opportunities for others. He has drawn more penalties than he's taken, however.
Two very weak indicators of any value, no sign of any feistiness, and a lot of bad offensive decisions with the puck add up to a D-. Relative to his cap hit, he has to get something more than a glimmer of offensive value going on and get to a C or C+ before he's worth what he's paid.
Gregor was signed for his speed and gently positive personal shooting skills. He has shot the puck at a very high rate – not hard on a line where no one else wants to – and his Expected Goals rate is okay. He's getting there on volume, not quality.
His on-ice Corsi % is terrible, but the best on his line, and the same goes for his Expected Goals. The fourth line is getting buried, and he's not really helping much.
He plays a little PK, not enough to mean anything, and that's about it. He's doing what he was signed for, and the getting buried part isn't going to change if you swapped him for, say Bobby McMann or Nick Robertson. He gets a C+, because his shot quality has been below his own historical standard. Relative to his cap hit, he's giving you what you get for minimum salary.
It is only three games, so what has to change for some of these players?
Reaves needs to be played less, and then he's even more ideal.
Klingberg can't be buried in the d-zone. He likely needs to be played much less at five-on-five, and the PP needs a higher shot rate to make that goal rate look plausible. Some real evidence that his playmaking improves the overall goal differential would be the minimum standard for considering him to be anything but a net negative player and a big mistake. He can't have personal shooting worse than Brodie's, but some of his issues might be injury related.
Bertuzzi is never going to be a PP god, so if he can just make the second unit better, that's enough. He has to get that penalty differential in the positive, though. He's so unlikeable, surely he can draw some cross-checking calls. Otherwise, and recognizing his advantage in a full training camp with the line he will stay on for the foreseeable future, he's been excellent out of the gate.
Domi has to maintain a penalty differential that's heavily in the Leafs' favour. He also has to create offence on the third line. As the worst player on the second line, he's taking away and not adding. If he can make the third line cook offensively – where Minten and Knies have been very blah so far – that's all that can be expected. By "cook", I'm thinking KD and hotdogs, not a gourmet meal. I don't have high hopes, to be honest. His decision making with the puck has been terrible, but then so has Mitch Marner's at this point.
Gregor is fine. He can shoot a little less and a little smarter and he'd be gently better than expected.
Bertuzzi was the only person who looked better than he eye-tests from a dig through his results, but the genuinely difficult issue to solve is the untradeable Klingberg. I see signs that Sheldon Keefe, who has no fondness for Liljegren, is wrestling with the idea of playing him as the second pair D at five-on-five. I think he has to.
We'll see how this all looks after a few more games. Numbers are from Evolving Hockey with a key assist from Natural Stat Trick.