Comparing the Plekanec trade to the Boyle trade

This morning, the Toronto Maple Leafs completed their third trade leading up to this year’s trade deadline. Previously they acquired draft picks for depth forward Nikita Soshnikov and veteran Eric Fehr. This trade was, as announced by the @LeafsPR Twitter account:

Not mentioned in the tweet above is that Montréal will be retaining 50% of Plekanec’s $6M cap hit.

This trade is very similar to the trade the Leafs made last year at the deadline to improve their center depth, when they traded for Brian Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning. As a reminder, that trade was:

I thought it would be interesting to break down if either of these trades was appreciably better than the other. These two transactions were borne of the exact same circumstances, so to compare them, there are only two obvious factors to look at:

  1. What the Leafs sent to acquire the player
  2. The player’s ability

Asset Management

Looking at point #1 from above, the Leafs similarly sent a 2nd round pick as a key piece of the trade. However, this time, the Leafs sent two players who are not really in contention for spots on the Leafs’ roster in Valiev and Rychel, but likely are good enough to compete on a team that lacks the same kind of depth, as the Habs are. This is in contrast to Byron Froese, who at the time of the Boyle trade was in serious contention for the 4th line center job, as Ben Smith began to fall out of favour with the Leafs.

In order to keep things even in terms of number of contracts, the Habs included minor-leaguer Kyle Baun with this trade. It would be hard to imagine Baun having any impact on the Leafs’ roster given their depth at wing. He also has scored only 16 points in 54 AHL games. He’s also a strange addition since the Habs didn’t really need to keep things even contracts-wise. Two thoughts on why he’s included would be either the Leafs wanted a body to replace Rychel, or that the Canadiens simply didn’t want to help the Leafs out by letting them shed some contracts.

Interestingly, although Froese was knocking on the door of the roster, where Valiev and Rychel are not, altogether in terms of player quality they are all very similar. This means that the Leafs technically gave up more in assets, albeit by not very much.

Boyle vs. Plekanec

Now on to point #2, which is arguably the more important of the two, which player is better?

There’s plenty of ways to look at this. The simplest: Plekanec was a #3C for the Habs, with 24 points in 60 games. Boyle, a #4C for the Lightning with 22 points in 54 games. This would make Boyle look slightly better, being more productive in a smaller role, but simple isn’t always correct.

Going a little less simplistic, but still simple by organizing many factors into a single number representing that player’s ability, we can use a statistical model. The best model I’m aware of is Dom Luszczyszyn’s Game Score model. You can read about how that is constructed here. Specifically, we’ll look at the sum of their Game Scores, expressed as a rate stat per 60 minutes of ice time. Boyle for the 2016-2018 seasons sits at 1.64 GS/60, whereas Plekanec is slightly better at 1.75 GS/60. This isn’t a difference large enough to really be determinate. They’re both pretty good players, from this angle.

Finally, we can break out each component that is deemed valuable and look at that entire smorgasbord to figure out which player is better.

Executive Summary

Want to know the answers this analysis comes up with, but don’t want to filter through all the numbers and words? Here’s the summary:

  • Plekanec has an appreciable advantage in zone entries/exits, and on shot assists;
  • Plekanec has a significant advantage in generating shot attempts;
  • Boyle has an appreciable advantage in preventing shot attempts;
  • Overall, Plekanec is a better player.

If you’d like, you can now skip the “Analysis” section below and jump right to final thoughts.


Let’s start our statistics platter with Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine)’s statistics for zone entries and shot assists. A huge thank you has to go out to CJ Turtoro for creating this viz, as well as Corey himself for spending the time to acquire these numbers.

Link to the viz here.

And here’s a link to support Corey’s work.

We can see Plekanec comes out pretty obviously ahead, though not by a lot.

The next element are the more commonly used advanced statistics, like Corsi and Expected Goals.

Player TOI CF/60 RelT CF/60 CA/60 RelT CA/60 xGF/60 RelT xGF/60 xGA/60 RelT xGA/60
BRIAN.BOYLE 2086.06 46.54 -1.23 44.16 -3.49 1.97 -0.1 1.78 -0.3
TOMAS.PLEKANEC 2891.9 53.84 1.93 47.43 -0.65 2.39 0.05 2.04 -0.1

Stats from corsica.hockey.

It’s important to keep in mind that everything mentioned above is a factor in determining Game Score, which was shown above. So it’s important not to double count, but instead to use this as a different approach to answering the same question.

Final Thoughts

The Boyle trade at the time was somewhat contentious. It was coming off a time when the Leafs valued draft picks highly, and were just starting to grow into a team that could contend in the playoffs.

This time around, the idea of giving up a second round pick has become is fine, as the majority of Leafs fans begin to become comfortable that the team they have today is really good. It could even verge on great with a little bit of tinkering on defense. At this point, both the Leafs and Lightning have managed to put together the best group of 12 forwards you could reasonably expect to have in a cap world. The Penguins are probably there too after adding Brassard.

As far as I can tell, this is a win for the Leafs’ brass. Valiev and Rychel were never going to have an impact on the Leafs, so that’s a non-issue. Giving up the 2nd rounder is unfortunate, but largely insignificant as the Leafs still have the typical 7 draft selections in the 2018 draft, and currently have an extra selection in each of the next two drafts. Plekanec perfectly rounds out this great forward group. And there’s still room to add with the LTIR room Lupul offers us, if the Leafs so choose.

Get ready for an exciting playoff run, folks. These are fun times in Leaf Land.