Toronto Maple Leafs, 2013-2014: 6th in the Atlantic Division with 84 points. Did not qualify for the playoffs.
Team Departures: Forwards Dave Bolland (FL), Nikolai Kulemin (NYI), Jay McClement (CAR), Mason Raymond (CGY)and Jerry D'Amingo (CLB). Defensemen Carl Gunnarsson (STL) and T.J. Brennan (NYI). Goaltender Drew MacIntyre.
Team Additions: Forwards Mike Santorelli, David Booth, Matt Frattin, Leo Komarov, Petri Kontiola and Daniel Winnik. Defensemen Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak.
2014 NHL Draft: Forward William Nylander (8th overall), Defenseman Rinat Valiev (68th overall), Forward J.J. Piccinich (103rd overall), Forward Dakota Joshua (128th overall), Forward Nolan Vesey (158th overall), Forward Pierre Engvall (188th overall).
Coaching and Front Office Changes: Brendan Shanahan, President. Kyle Dubas, Assistant GM.
Caps Play The Maple Leafs Three Times
Midway through the regular season last year, the Toronto Maple Leafs were sitting pretty in an NHL playoff spot. Hockey traditionalists laughed as Toronto won while making a mockery of advanced hockey metrics. They were one of the worst possession teams in the league, with an unsustainable shooting percentage and save percentage chugging them along the way. But a collapse of epic proportions, 12 losses in 14 games in March, saw the Maple Leafs come crashing down, ultimately falling very short of a playoff spot. But few changes were made, both to the front office personnel and the players themselves. Is it going to be deja vu in Toronto all over again?
The hockey world got an interesting take on the Toronto Maple Leafs last December in the HBO series 24/7 - The Road To The NHL Series Classic. One of the more memorable relationships....actually it was more like an intense bromance, was between center Tyler Bozak and winger Phil Kessel. Bozak and Kessel are in charge of generating the offense for the Leafs, and they do a respectable job with it. Kessel led the team with 37 goals, 27 of them coming off of 5 on 5 situations. And 20 of those goals came with Bozak on his line. That's decent chemistry, considering Bozak missed 24 of the first 40 games last season due to a few injuries, including an oblique strain. Bozak and Kessel generally lineup alongside James Van Riemsdyk, a tough winger that plays great in front of the net, finding the garbage goals. Now, while the bromance works out, one thing completely stands out: Bozak wouldn't be a first line center for any other team in the NHL. Does he play great with his buddy? Yes. But does he play great without him? No. Take a look at this. Find Kessel's name on there. You can see in 5 on 5, even strength competition, Bozak is a 42.9 percent corsi player. That is awful, but, then again, ALL of the Leafs possession numbers are awful. But look at how he does with Kessel. It bumps up to a 44.6 percent corsi. Now, let's take a look at how they do without each other. Kessel played 502:40 even strength 5 on 5 minutes without Bozak, and finished with a 43.6 percent corsi, a slight hit on his number with Bozak. Bozak played 89:49 minutes of even strength 5 on 5 minutes without Kessel, and recorded an astounding 28.5 percent corsi. Now, I just said that a 44.6 corsi is pretty bad, soooo.....go ahead and guess just how bad a 28.5 percent corsi is. Bozak desperately needs Kessel in order to succeed on the ice, but Kessel doesn't necessarily need him. This is most likely the reason Bozak stays on the first line over Nazem Kadri, a 23 year old who is slowly, but surely, molding into a respectable scoring center. Bozak doesn't drop down to the second because if he leaves Kessel, he will ultimately end up hurting his team. Kadri, on the other hand, is able to maintain a consistent 45-ish corsi percentage with virtually everyone on the team.
The rest of the forward unit gets very dicey, especially David Clarkson. Clarkson was the offseason prize in 2013, and was hailed as the Toronto boy coming home. Before he signed with the Leafs, Clarkson was coming off two of his best seasons ever with the New Jersey Devils. In the 2011-2012 season, Clarkson had 30 goals and 16 assists. And in the lockout season, he finished with 15 goals and nine assists. Those are seemingly good years. But, the vast majority of those points came on power play opportunities. In fact, in 2011-2012, Clarkson averaged 1.53 points per 60 minutes of play on 5 on 5 situations. That is awful. That ranks him 143rd in the NHL. On top of that, his shooting percentage was far too high at 13.2 percent. But, the Leafs felt that earned the 30 year old a seven year, $36.75 million contract. What did he do in his first year as a Maple Leaf? He scored five goals and six assists in 60 games. If the Leafs want to see any sort of production from Clarkson, their only prayer is that he can perform if he's given more ice time. Clarkson was eighth among Toronto forwards in time on ice per game, averaging just 15:06 per game, and was 11th on the team in power play time, seeing just 60:43 minutes total. If he's given more time, we might see more out of him. But, I'd really, really, really have my doubts. And this guy will be a Leaf with a cap hit of $5.25 million until 2020.
The Leafs are going to really miss some of the guys they lost this offseason. Mason Raymond recorded 19 goals and 26 assists last season, good for fifth on the team in points. Nikolai Kulemin fled Toronto to pair up with his buddy Mikhail Grabovski in New York with the Islanders. Dave Bolland's time in Toronto was a bit disappointing, and Jay McClement isn't too severe of a loss, but at least they gave Toronto a sense of identity as third and fourth line players. The bottom half of the Maple Leafs forwards consist of quite a few new guys. Toronto will most likely end up being happy with David Booth. Booth is a relatively decent possession player, something the Maple Leafs clearly need. His days of 40 point seasons are long gone. But if he's given a respectable amount of time, he could surprise everyone. Matt Frattin returns to Toronto after being packaged alongside Ben Scrivens and a conditional second round pick for goaltender Jonathan Bernier. Frattin has the potential to step in and perform at a decent level for the Leafs. Toronto also has Leo Komarov and Mike Santorelli filling in for the missing spots. Komarov returns to the Leafs after spending last year in the KHL with Dynamo Moscow. He scored 12 goals and 22 assists in 52 games. Santorelli was only signed for $1.5 million for one year, and that has the potential to be a really high value signing. Santorelli was once a 40 point guy for the Florida Panthers in the 2010-2011 season. He hadn't come close to that number after bouncing around between the AHL and the Winnipeg Jets, but last year with the Vancouver Canucks, Santorelli was able to score 10 goals and 18 assists in just 49 games. He probably won't be a huge factor for the Leafs, but he does have the potential to make a little bit of noise.
This forward unit is just awful when it comes to possessing the puck, rating second to last in fenwick close at just 41.5 percent. The puck is in their own end far more than in the offensive end, and that's just not how you win games. There needs to be a vast improvement on virtually every aspect of their game if they want to improve off of last season.
There may be more pressure on Leafs Captain Dion Phaneuf than anyone else in the league. When the defense broke down, which happened a lot, the veteran defenseman was always the first to blame. He is one of the highest paid defensemen in the league, and his unit gave up 35.9 shots per game, a league worst. His 40.8 corsi percentage on all 5 on 5 situations begs the question....is he a top defenseman in the league?
He can be. He just has an immense amount of pressure, and the Maple Leafs defensive unit just wasn't very good this year. Fortunately for them, they got a little bit tougher and more experience when they acquired both Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak. Robidas played in just 38 games last year between the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks, but before that season he was generally healthy throughout the year. He will never score a ton of goals, but he brings lots of experience and grit. But at 37, you have to wonder how much he really has left in the tank. He won't be logging top line minutes, but if he can give the Maple Leafs 15 to 16 good minutes of ice time, he can't make the Maple Leafs any worse than they were last year. Polak is a big bodied defenseman at 6'0", 236 pounds. He's coming from one of the best defenses in the league in the St. Louis Blues, so he has a lot on his plate if he wants to reflect that unit for Toronto.
Being a goaltender in Toronto is just brutal. As stated earlier, no team allowed more shots per game than Toronto. That's why it's important to have not one, but two reliable goaltenders between the pipes. And Toronto has that in Bernier and James Reimer. Last season, Bernier was given the reins for Toronto for 55 games, something he's been waiting for for a while. Bernier could have been a consistent starter for a lot of teams a few years ago, but he was stuck behind another pretty stellar goaltender in L.A., Jonathan Quick. Bernier gave the Leafs the best chance to win. He ended his season with a .923 save percentage, ranking him 8th in the league. But he also gave up 2.68 goals per game, ranking him 34th in the league. That just goes to show you how many shot stye Leafs are actually giving up. It's making Bernier work way too hard to earn his wins. If the Leafs can show any amount of improvement defensively, no one would appreciate it more than Bernier. He is a good goaltender, but if he's given any sort of help, he will easily become a great goaltender for Toronto.
Reimer didn't have a very fun offseason. He was obviously frustrated when the Leafs traded for Bernier, as he felt he earned the premier goaltender role when he recorded a .924 save percentage, a 2.46 goals against average and 19 wins in the lockout shortened season. Those are, in fact, great numbers. But when given the chance this past season, Reimer couldn't maintain those numbers. Reimer finished the year with a losing record, a .911 save percentage (ranking him 31st) and a 3.29 goals against average (ranking him 41st). The season of frustration caused Reimer to request a trade. Leafs general manager Dave Nonis stated that if a trade was right, they would do it. But they also felt that Reimer is a good goaltender, and that they would be happy to keep him if the right offer just wasn't there. Reimer ultimately decided to sign a two year contract extension.
Reimer is not a bad goalie. He is a good goaltender in a very, very poor situation, both in a sense that he's the backup and that his team let up roughly 4 billion shots last season. If he gets any sort of defense in front of him, both he and Bernier will benefit, and they quite possibly could be the best goaltending tandem in the league.
The 2013 first round pick for the Maple Leafs, Frederik Gauthier, is starting to worry Toronto faithful. He really isn't showing offensive improvement like he should in the OHL for Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL. His 18 goals and 34 assists in 54 games was right on pace with his previous OHL season. He's a big guy 6'4", 210 lbs., and plays a really strong two way game. He won't be a superstar for Toronto, but he could be a very productive third line center one day.
One player that is improving quickly for the Leafs is defenseman Matthew Finn. Finn is the Guelph Storm's captain, and he is a tremendous offensive minded defenseman. His 14 goals and 47 assists in 66 games ranked him second in points for defensemen last season in the OHL. He will most likely play this season with the Toronto Marlies, but if he can continue to translate his game in the AHL, he will make it on the Maple Leafs in no time.
Player To Watch
All eyes should be on Nazem Kadri this year. I don't think he ends up on the first line. But if he can develop into a strong second line center and give Toronto a legitimate scoring threat on the second line, he will help out the Maple Leafs a ton. That being said, if he's given more ice time, I think he can develop into one of the top point scorers, if not the top point scorers, on this team.
You know how I've kind of bashed numerous times into your head that the Maple Leafs are a really bad possession team? Yeah? Well they've taken notice too, and they are trying to do something about it. The Maple Leafs made a big splash in the advanced hockey statistics world when they hired Kyle Dubas as their assistant general manager. Dubas is just 28 years old, and he came from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, where he was the general manager since he was 25 years old. Dubas is also very proponent advanced statistics supporter, and it may not have been a coincidence that David Booth, who is a decent possession forward available at a cheap price, was signed almost immediately after the announcement. But the Leafs went a step further. The advanced hockey community went into a mini panic when the advanced hockey statistics website Extra Skater went offline. This was due to the Leafs scooping up Darryl Metclaf, the founder of the website. The Leafs also hired Cam Charron, an advanced statistics blogger with Yahoo! Sports Canada and Rob Pettapiece, who worked with Yahoo! Sports Buzzing The Net junior hockey blog. The new age of statistics is upon us, and the Maple Leafs are running hard with it.
I see this team being a complete disaster again. They may have in fact gotten worse than they were last year. Their forward unit is just far too weak to compete in the NHL, and they really won't see much improvement on their possession numbers. Keeping Carlyle was a mistake, who will utilize the same strategies with the same guys as last season, expecting a different result. Kessel will continue to score a ton of goals, Kadri and Van Riemsdyk will stand out, and Bozak likely will too. But they really don't have talent anywhere else in their forward unit. Clarkson will more than likely be laughably bad once again, as he was predicted to do so the day he signed the contract. I don't think they will be as bad defensively as they were last year, but it won't be that much improved. Will we see an epic collapse like we did last year? Nope. Because the Leafs will never be in the hunt.