Five Leafs thoughts to begin the week – April 15th

Five laboriously-constructed thoughts focusing on players and storylines we’ll be following this week at The Leafs Nation. This week: Phil Kessel the juggernaut, more shooting percentage junk, Randy Carlyle’s Jack Adams candidacy, Nazem Kadri’s usage and Mark Fraser’s excellent segment on Hockey Night in Canada.

No. 1 – Phil Kessel’s career season

You may not have noticed it Saturday night given the attention paid to Nazem Kadri this season, but Phillip J. Kessel has overtaken the young stud for the team lead in scoring. Not that this is a discredit to Kadri, but he’s having trouble scoring points now that 20% of the shots while he’s on the ice aren’t going in the net (although when I said this about the Maple Leafs’ losing streak last month, they went on a crazy run towards the end of the season, so…)

When Kessel was interviewed post-game, it occurs to me it was the first time I’d ever heard the man talk or seen him outside the context of a hockey game. It wasn’t too pretty, and Kessel just said “right?” every second word and couldn’t wipe that silly smile off his face.

Kessel gains the zone more often with control than any Leaf. Kessel is more involved in scoring chances on his line than any Leaf. Kessel leads the team in shots, and his linemate James van Riemsdyk is second on the team. The Leafs take more unblocked shots at the net with Kessel on the ice than with any other Leaf.

The shot stats are telling because none of Kessel’s run this season has been percentage-driven. Here are his career numbers, in goals per 82 games, shots per game and shooting percentage. I like using those three categories to showcase a player’s offensive ability:

  Goals Per 82 Shots per GP Sh%
2007 12.9 2.43 6.47%
2008 19.0 2.60 8.92%
2009 42.2 3.31 15.52%
2010 35.1 4.24 10.10%
2011 32.0 3.96 9.85%
2012 37.0 3.60 12.54%
2013 30.0 3.46 10.56%
Career 29.7 3.37 10.75%

Individually, Kessel’s shot percentage this season is actually below his career average… and he’s still on pace for 30 goals! Here are Shots For per 60 minutes, plus team on-ice Shot percentage, with Kessel on the ice over his years in the NHL:

  GF/60 SF/60 On-Ice Sh%
2008 2.50 30.6 8.17%
2009 3.52 32.5 10.82%
2010 2.92 34.0 8.58%
2011 2.31 30.1 7.67%
2012 3.14 32.5 9.65%
2013 3.20 30.6 10.46%
Career 2.89 31.8 9.11%

Kessel has an elevated on-ice shooting percentage, but it isn’t extreme. The small gap, if it were to revert to Kessel’s career norms, would result in a change of about five goals for and perhaps three points for Kessel.

Stats via Behind The Net and Hockey Reference

No. 2 – What about the other guys?

PDO is the addition of save percentage and shot percentage. Here are the Leafs numbers in that category:

NAME On-Ice Sh% On-Ice Sv% PDO
Joffrey Lupul 18.06 952 1133
Mike Komisarek 15.00 968 1118
Mark Fraser 14.92 928 1078
Nazem Kadri 15.42 920 1074
Cody Franson 13.89 915 1053
Jay McClement 12.20 929 1051
Carl Gunnarsson 12.10 928 1049
Matt Frattin 13.45 912 1047
Colton Orr 8.60 957 1043
Jake Gardiner 9.09 947 1038
Frazer McLaren 11.32 921 1034
Ryan Hamilton 8.00 952 1032
Dion Phaneuf 10.97 919 1029
Tyler Bozak 10.63 922 1028
Phil Kessel 10.45 922 1027
Nik Kulemin 13.28 894 1027
James van Riemsdyk 10.97 912 1021
Clarke MacArthur 9.45 923 1018
John-Michael Liles 9.20 916 1008
Leo Komarov 6.90 938 1006
Ryan O’Byrne 9.27 910 1003
Mikhail Grabovski 8.91 903 992
Mike Kostka 6.45 920 985
Korbinian Holzer 7.14 892 964
Joe Colborne 0.00 857 857

Now, remember that the league leader over any three-year stretch in the NHL is Daniel Sedin, who had a 1047 PDO between 2008 and 2011. During that time, him and linemate Henrik Sedin won two scoring titles. Henrik has been identified as one of the few players in the league who can affect teammate’s shot rates.

I’m not here to bury the Leafs, just to try to contain expectations for the playoffs and next season. The Leafs success this year will have me re-evaluating certain statistical concepts in the offseason, but there are currently SIX regular Leafs who put up a higher PDO than any NHL leader over a three-year period. It’s simply not a sustainable or repeatable skill for many Leafs. Matt Frattin is a useful third-or-fourth-line player because he’s got some talent, can pot the odd goal and is fast, but he’s not better than Daniel Sedin.

No. 3 – Randy Carlyle for Jack Adams?

Steve Simmons has company. Jonas Siegel is drinking the Kool-Aid.

Don’t do it Jonas… don’t do it…

When the 113-day lockout ended on January 6, expectations were low for a team that had missed the playoffs epicly for the seventh consecutive season the previous spring. But with seven games left in the 2013 campaign, the Leafs sit a surprising fifth in the Eastern Conference, well on their way to the postseason for the first time in nine years.

There may be more deserving candidates for the honour, Paul MacLean, Dan Bylsma, Joel Quenneville, Michel Therrien and Bruce Boudreau among them, but Carlyle deserves to have his name in the conversation for the Jack Adams Award. Under his direction, the Leafs have transformed into a brute, scrappy, high-scoring annoyance, one that despite inexperience – especially in goal and on defence – has managed to “earn respect back for the organization”.

Known to be meticulous in his demand for details, Carlyle has incorporated structure, order and an edgy culture to the team in Toronto, ensuring a grinding brand of hockey that most of his players have accepted as necessary for success.

My beef with the Jack Adams coronations year-to-year is that they don’t seem to focus on any tactical pursuit that leads to a team’s success. You can talk day and night about changing the “culture” of an organization, but what exactly on the ice, other than the penalty kill, is noticeably better this season than last when it comes to player positioning or deployment.

Maybe other people are seeing it, but I’m not. I’d like to challenge anybody to find tangible differences between the Carlyle squad of this season and the first-half Ron Wilson squad of last season. The only real difference is that the team fights more, but even that effect gets nullified in the wash when you set the PVR, start the game on a 2-minute delay and fast-forward through the inevitable first period fight.

The Jack Adams always gets awarded to the coach of the team that the media lowballed at the start of the season. Nobody really notices tactical innovations and without the right data it’s impossible to compare to other teams.

No. 4 – Can you at least give Carlyle some credit?

He’s brought along Nazem Kadri nicely. After Jeff posted his bit on centremen last week, Patrick Burke, son of Brian and President of You Can Play, stepped up and said that you can’t just look at a player’s goal-scoring or point-scoring rate over 15 minutes and pro-rate it to 20 minutes. That dragged into a long conversation.

He’s exactly right, of course. Jeff wasn’t necessarily doing that, but it’s an interesting point to make and one that I think should be addressed.

This is all about Nazem Kadri naturally. There’s some talk about Kadri’s ice-time and how it’s still hovering below 16 minutes most nights.

I looked at this somewhat with Cody Hodgson last season in Vancouver and found a “sweet spot” of minutes that was somewhere between his highest-deployed times and lowest-deployed times. The reality is that when you play more minutes, you run a greater risk of running into top defenders that Kadri has for the most part stayed away from this season. Splitting a 41-game sample in half isn’t going to tell us much about how much ice-time is right for young players, but I absolutely buy what Patrick is selling in that just because Kadri is putting up high point totals in 14 or 15 minutes, doesn’t mean the same rate will stretch to 19 or 20.

The way Carlyle has shown patience with Kadri is admirable.

No. 5 – Mark Fraser seems like a cool guy

You watch a feature like this and all of a sudden I feel bad for calling for the guy’s removal from the lineup:

Sort of humanizing, isn’t it? That’s what access should be used for. Players are conditioned to say real boring things in post-game scrums but reporters like to parrot lines about chip-and-chase or playing the right way and pretend it’s insider information. The best interviews are one-on-ones when there’s no microphone to be seen. It’s just two guys having a conversation. Elliotte Friedman can pull this off because Elliotte is an interesting guy who genuinely cares about the things that drive Mark Fraser.

You never really stop to think about guys who get thrown on the waiver wire monthly. There are a lot of replacement players in the NHL who never get a choice about where they play. It’s a pretty awful system compared to baseball when players have a lot more leverage coming out of the draft. Fraser signed in New Jersey, was waived once in October 2011, another time in November 2011, was traded to Anaheim, waived again, traded to Toronto…

It’s just part of the inner workings of the hockey sausage factory. It can take forever for a good, hard-working guy like Mark Fraser to get his big break, and then when he has a modicum of success, a bunch of asshole bloggers pop up and have the nerve to say he isn’t as good as Jake Gardiner.

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  • Mason from NC

    “Maybe other people are seeing it, but I’m not. I’d like to challenge anybody to find tangible differences between the Carlyle squad of this season and the first-half Ron Wilson squad of last season.”

    I don’t have tangible evidence because this isn’t a quantifiable element of the game, but I have noticed a significant difference in the way the two teams attack. Under RW, the rush seemed to be of more importance, and I feel like I remember more goals generated on breakaways or odd man rushes. Under Carlyle I think the team has operated more on a cycle offence, hinging upon work done along the half boards and effective D-to-D passes.

    I could be wrong, but I feel as though that’s the most significant change in gameplan. The penalty kill is obviously the most improved element between the two teams but I see that as testament to Reimer’s growth and the acquisition of McClement more than any system Carlyle might have employed.

  • Killawatt

    On Carlyle, I think there are more worthy Jack Adams candidates, but it won’t be surprising if Carlyle gets a few votes.

    It being the NHL Broadcasting Association that makes the call, it’s tough to tell how each man and woman will go about deciding, and based on what model. But Carlyle has undoubtedly made the Toronto Maple Leafs his team, changing their strategies and the culture and he’s done it all under immense pressure, sticking to his plan, believing in his way.

    The Leafs are a damn good hockey team. How much of an impact Carlyle has made is up for debate, but many players have commented positively on his approach and his system. Is that just PR noise from players in interviews, or do they actually believe in him as their leader? You just try and look for clues and use your gut and mine says that he’s worthy of some recognition.

  • jasken

    you asked for a real difference so

    3.12 goals for a game 2.63 goals allowed per game first time goals for has been above goals against since 2004 season last time leafs saw playoffs. The biggest differential since 2001 – 2002 and in this season the Leafs allowed 24 shots per game with 2.52 goals against. In what point in time since coaching Leafs did Wilson have such a huge differential.

    Why is quality of shots more important then amount shots taken Leafs vs Montreal

    Corsi says Montreal is far superior to Leafs. The scores and avg disagree with you. So you say Leafs are lucky lets look at it.

    Montreal averaged 1.7 goals a game against leafs scoring 5%

    Leafs average 3.75 goals against Montreal scoring 15%

    All but 1 goal for montreal goals were outside the scoring area when you shoot from outside hot scoring areas dont expect goals. 7

    All but 2 Leafs goals were inside scoring areas that’s why there is so many goals. 15

    These are fit to shots to goal ratio from each team. They shot their percentages.

    Shooting from inside high scoring areas and scoring is a high probability, shooting outside scoring zone is low. This is the way it is if Montreal cant stop players in high scoring zone they have no chance in playoffs speed or not.

    Its never been about how many shots just location of the shots Wilson’s defense allowed them to walk right in to scoring areas and shoot. Carlyle system does not when it is implemented properly they are keeping shots outside scoring area, giving goalie chances to see puck. This is a must with this system.

    It dont matter if we like it or approve of it does it work looking at the record and the G.A.A and GF I have to say it does.

    The Leafs are still in development process and perfecting it. No camp, no preseason, getting players to buy into it, and work on the new system all on fly in game and remain competitive.

  • Montreal are higher in the standings, jasken.

    I don’t care about statistics. I mean actual, tangible “they are doing such-and-such differently” evidence.

    Are they using a different forechecking scheme? Are they positioned differently in the defensive zone? Is the breakout any different?

    Like, I want evidence.

  • jasken

    old leafs had 5 leafs inside the scoring zone. Puck goes into corner you had 5 guys on whatever side of ice the puck was on. 5 leafs 3 opposing umm forgetting about people? 3 players into corner to dig out a puck what? This has not been taught since 80s a mad rush dash to man point where was the strategy, 5 men on side opposing 3 into corner to get puck why all the defending players they dont realize 5 on 3 is a bad idea. They comeout of corner collapse infront of net. It wasn’t like they had any organization. This is not a system of any sort.If your best strategy is to either collapse 5 men in scoring zone area or jam up one side you need a better system

    Now players are spread out you got wingers up near point where they should be, center covering slot where he should be, Defencemen are actually being trusted more by the players are able to play infront of net and go to corners for puck. Now it’s still in progress and will take time but their not all crowding the net all the time now. Which happened alot last season. Other then start of season I have yet to see players out of position constantly which I saw alot last season. Not do to the person it was the collapse system they were playing was garbage.

    Now that their not all around the net there are chances to intercept cross ice passes. Blocked passes along the boards. Goalie can see shots very little screening this will continue to improve. If they cant learn to take care of their areas how can they even prevent shots.

    It was an entire system problem not 1 or 2 people he had the whole entire team out of position. In other words his system sucked. This is just defensive.

  • jasken

    I find that when systems are implemented I am the most amused and laughing and wishing them luck. Leaf fans like the crash and bash systems they want Elite players even if they wouldn’t make any sense in the type of system, they want success but dont want to give up anything for it. They think for some reason its the GM’s fault that player cant be landed in a sense it is. Player’s are not stupid they know the type of system they want to be part of. Saying a system is going to be defensive and not implementing it throughout the organization your only kidding yourself. Your system has to be same in the entire organization or it wont work. The Leafs had one chance to do this perfectly if they made Dallas Eakins head coach, they didn’t and unless Carlyle has spent alot of time watching and studying the Marlies system everything he does is only good for the players on current roster. So sit back be amused for a few yrs it will either fail due to lack of consistency in organization or succeed for same reason.

  • jasken

    The only evidence I can point to is 5th in the conf and a magic number of 4 with the Peg. The rest are intangibles. Adding by subtracting, Komi out Fransson/Fraser in. Connely out, Kadri in, Lombardi, exiled to an oasis in the dessert, enter JVR. Kessel playing 200ft and still getting done on the scoresheet, Orr,Yes Orr throwing a check on Bernier in the 3rd (I think) to stop a scoring chance. The fact that Kadri says that Charyle communicates better then Wilson. Many players have said they didn’t know where they stood with wilson. See Franson.C. There are many things that happen in a game that can’t be quantified and measured. This team is better, for many reasons. Stats and advanced stats mean nothing if they are saying this team is no good when we are going to play hockey after gm. #48. Relax, I bought jinx insurance.

    • Killawatt

      Totally agree. Advanced stats have much value and I think have an increasingly important place in analysis. But for those who use them exclusively and with hard-headedness to tote the line that Carlyle is horrible, the Leafs shouldn’t be winning, and none of this success is sustainable, they look foolish right now and are not doing the advanced stat movement any favors with their unwillingness to admit there is more to hockey than math.

      If you’re going to predict that the sky is going to fall every morning for four months, and it doesn’t, people stop listening.