A note on Mark Fraser


I don’t want to beat the deadest horse in the world, but Mark Fraser is not an NHL defenceman. Another noon hour came and went without Fraser finding his way onto the waiver wire, which may not be too surprising, but I think Fraser has played well enough to earn himself at least a healthy scratch, and the opportunity for John-Michael Liles to get some games.

It’s beating the horse. With Fraser on the ice the Leafs have just 40.3% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts [Extra Skater], and have been out-scored 4-12. The numbers don’t really improve when you restrict the sample to 5-on-5 score tied or 5-on-5 score close, and he is really driving down the play of one Paul Ranger, who I think is a fine defenceman on his own, but locked into a brutal third pairing.

I uploaded a brief video of the problem with Mark Fraser.

This season, I’ve tracked zone entries for the majority of Maple Leafs games, which counts which Leafs bring the puck into the offensive zone, with control. The inverse of that is tracking how many times the opposition succeeds at gaining the blue line. Eric T of SB Nation’s Outnumbered is the curator of the zone entry project, and he suggested tracking which defenceman’s side of the ice entries came against, in case there was valuable information to find there.

I suppose I should mention that there isn’t a lot of research done into preventing entries for individual defencemen, but the last two games against Los Angeles and St. Louis, the entries have come disproportionately against Mark Fraser. 

Here’s a sample of some of the shots against Fraser against the Blues. The goal right at the start of the second period, where Fraser loses his stick, should be of particular interest:

I don’t mean to go after Fraser. He is an excellent story. He works hard at what he does, he seems like a great human being and I take no glee in his difficulties this season. But the coaching and management staff really need to take a long, hard look at what happens to the Leafs when he’s out on the ice, regardless of how physical he is or how well he fits the mould of the sixth defenceman Randy Carlyle has in mind.

The last two games, here are the zone entries coming against particular defencemen:

  Carries Vs.
Fraser 21
Gardiner 13
Rielly 11
Franson 8
Gunnarsson 8
Ranger 6

Let’s adjust that to carries against per 20 minutes of ice-time:

Fraser 13.4
Gardiner 6.7
Rielly 6.3
Franson 5.4
Gunnarsson 5.3
Ranger 3.6

Again, research isn’t complete on what defencemen can or can’t effect when it comes to entries, but it’s not like these are resulting in lazy shots from the outside. The video above shows two goals against and at least two other excellent scoring chances. Nik Kulemin’s stick lift on David Backes saved another goal against.

Is this an outlying performance? No. It’s a trend I’ve noticed all season and maybe after a few more games I’ll compile any full season data I have and see what trends we can find. This is an obvious one that you notice after only counting three or four games in a row. I’m writing the number “2” an awful lot in my little notebook.

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  • Jeremy Ian

    This is all true. What has me flummoxed is what the coach is seeing. Even the physical game has evaporated.

    Good point that MF’s play may be dragging Ranger down with him, so we may in fact be losing the promise of another potentially good story.

    It’s too bad — the clip you showed last year of Fraser watching his father was very classy.

  • Not Norm Ullman

    Good piece, Cham. Be interested in seeing the numbers for all the D sometime.

    Also glad to see someone commenting on Ranger who doesn’t talk as though they have celery up their ass. “Duh-huh-huh-huh, Ranger’s just like Fraser. Because duh-huh-huh-huh.”

    Anyway. Maybe we’ll make a deal and end up with guys better than both, or one of the AHL kids will kick into gear, or Liles will find a new kind of concussion-free helmet.

    Til then though, let’s just hope someone finds a seat for Fraser, who, all in all, sounds to be a fairly classy guy. Just… not up to it right now.

  • Corbett

    I would love to see Mark Fraser removed from the lineup for Liles, and have him up as the 7 spot. My ideal Leafs top six would be.

    Phaneuf – Ranger
    Gunnar – Franson
    Gardiner – Rielly

    I liked the Franson – Gunnar pairing a lot the other night. Gunnar is a second pairing D man. His game is quiet but he’s responsible defensively which allows Cody Franson to be Cody Franson, which is to put pucks on net. I’d like to see Ranger with Phaneuf, simply because Ranger is the teams top PK guy, but somehow is failing considerably at 5V5 play. My guess is due to being paired with Mark Fraser, which would hurt anybody at even strength. Gardiner and Rielly makes sense as a third pairing they get softer minutes(Although I believe both can be utilized on the PP.) but you let them play and develop their game. They can only get better if they play, and for some reason the Leafs seem hellbent on denying Rielly that opportunity.

    I should also note this top six is based on the fact that Carlyle seems to have no notion of what to do with the team he has. This is purely what I would like to see given what options seem to be present.

  • Not Norm Ullman

    I can see Fraser is definitely having a rough season. Just a point to make from the video that was put together, not one zone entry I saw was players targeting Fraser or going out of their way to enter the zone on his side.

    A couple of them were brought to his side due to the first forechecker forcing the play up his wall. To help make lemonade out of a lemon, the forwards should try forcing the play up the other wall and see what kind of results come from entering Rangers side more often.

  • Not Norm Ullman

    I think better analysis would also consider player usage/system fit.

    Can someone prove me Liles or whomever you prefer to slot in is better on the PK. And can some prove that whomever replaces Fraser(along with Reilly, gardiner etc) are better choice size wise against some of the bigger forward lines in the NHL.

    If you do this, then I can buy into replacing Fraser.

    I’m not against replacing or upgrading Fraser and I see it silly to think the leafs play him because of his ‘story’.

    • Sure. The PK has been great! You don’t want to mess that up.

      Seriously, I don’t know how much worse can Liles be than Fraser, besides the fact that Fraser is obviously playing with some kind of injury.

      Like Dangle said in his LFR’s, don’t give me the argument that Liles can’t play defense. Nobody is playing defense in this team, especially Mark Fraser.