Lacking an ECHL affiliate for some reason, the Toronto Maple Leafs have somewhat of a surplus of B-prospects moving in and out of the lineup at Ricoh. Sunday, it seems, Joe Colborne was held out of the lineup and his replacement, Spencer Abbott, scored three assists in just his sixth game of the season in Toronto’s 5-4 win over Lake Erie.
Colborne has passed the eye test this season, but he hasn’t put it together offensively, recording a single goal (on the powerplay) and five assists (all at even strength) in 18 games this season. Holding him out of the lineup wasn’t simply an injury precaution, but a tactic used by Dallas Eakins to presumably kickstart him the way he did with Nazem Kadri’s scoring earlier this season.
“I think both of those guys should be point-a-game guys,” said Eakins. “I’ve said it before that I’m not much of a stats guy but, I do hold firm that these guys just on their skill alone, they should be able to put up in that range of a point-a-game.”
Of course, there’s an issue with being a “stats geek” and then simply looking for the wrong stats. I’m not too sure what Colborne’s usage has been. Perhaps, recently, he’s suffered from seeing a little bit less powerplay time, or has seen a more defensive role against top players. It is worth noting that despite just five even strength points this season, Colborne is still a plus-4. While I don’t like to put too much stock into traditional +/- numbers, it’s not like Colborne is a defensive liability whose offensive upside masks his faults at one end of the ice: while he’s being held off the scoresheet, he’s also keeping the other side off of it.
This isn’t Colborne’s worth stretch since becoming a Marlie. In a 20-game stretch between February 17 and April 1 of last season, Colborne registered an NHLe goals per 82 rate of just 1.8 (currently this season he’s sitting at 2.0). After a turgid start to his career with the Toronto organization, he’s been remarkably cold, seeing his shots on goal per game clip fall to below two and his shooting percentage dip to defenceman levels, at just 3.6% this season.
Even if Colborne has been putting it together with puck possession this time and he’s in a bit of a cold snap offensively, there’s nothing wrong with Eakins holding him out of the lineup to convince him to work a little harder in practice so he can get a little better on the ice. I doubt that’s the reason he’s doing that. While Eakins says he’s open to new ways of looking at players, the above quote shows that he’s going to judge his top forward players by the number of points they get, which can sometimes depend on the unpredictable monster of second assists.
Colborne had 100 games with the Marlies coming into this season, so I broke up his time in Toronto into five 20-game segments and a sixth 18-game segment representing this year. NHLe for goals and points refers to the estimated number of goals and points at the NHL level he’d get over 82 games of producing that that level:
|Segment #||NHLe G||NHLe Pts||Shots/GP||Shooting %|
Clearly, he’s bounced around quite a bit, generally peaking towards the start of his time in Toronto. His excellent first bit to last season represents all of segment #2, where he’d have produced like a 20-goal NHLer with 40 points, just about an elite second-liner. He was shooting the puck a lot more, though it’s tough to say which begets the other. Clearly, Eakins likes to go with the hot hand, as much of a mathematical fallacy that is, so a boost to his shooting percentage increases his powerplay time which contributes to shots per game.
Here’s what the team would have been expecting, though: I included his time in Providence (61 games) with the first half of games in Toronto (60) and second half (58). It’s an even enough split with reasonable boundaries. You can tell that Colborne produced more in his first bit in Toronto than he was expected to coming over from the Bruins organization:
|Segment||NHLe G||NHLe Pts||Shots/GP||Shooting %|
It will be interesting to monitor Colborne when he’s reinserted into the lineup this week. After Kadri’s scratch, his shots per game rate exploded from 2.44 to 3.27. Unfortunately, Colborne is going to need to get it together offensively if he wants to get those prime offensive minutes. If he comes back into the lineup and the bounces continue to work against him, well, Eakins has already used the nuclear option. How many games is Eakins willing to sit Colborne out of the lineup if he keeps shooting below 5%, even if the team continues to get scoring chances with him on the ice?
The links below make reference to Colborne’s injury last season. Is 58 games enough to safely say that his injury has impacted his shot?