Getting “O” from the “D”

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    The Maple Leafs finished as the league’s worst defensive team last season, giving up an astounding 286 goals, which works out to about 3.5 goals against a game. As such, much of the team’s summer remodeling took place on the blueline, which saw the departure of Kubina and the additions of shutdown defensemen  Beauchemin and Komisarek. With nearly $20M dollars committed per season through 2011 to the group of Kaberle, Komisarek, Beauchemin, Schenn and Finger, and Tomas being the only player above the age of 30, it appears on paper at least, that this will be the core of the defense for the foreseeable future. If that’s the case, how do they stack up against the rest of the league?

    The first inclination one gets from that collection of names is the relative lack of offensive ability, as 4 of those 5 players come with the reputation of being defensive defensemen. Considering the fact that the Leafs relied on him for 25 minutes a night (a number that would have put him league’s top 10 for ice-time) during the second half of the season, is likely a sign that Burke and Wilson view 25 year old Ian White as a fixture in the team’s long-term plans. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at how a top six defense corps of Kaberle, Komisarek, Beauchemin, Schenn, White, and Finger stacks up against the best of the best.

    In order to do that, we’re gonna first have to make a few reasonable assumptions. The first one is how to estimtae ice-time. These are the ’08-’09 averages for that top six group:

    1. Kaberle – 22 minutes
    2. Komisarek – 20 minutes
    3. Beauchemin – 22 minutes
    4. Schenn – 22 minutes
    5. Finger – 17 minutes
    6. White – 17 minutes

    Beautiful. Now onto the projections. To avoid the inclusion of some tedious math, you’re going to have to trust me on this one. To project their offensive point totals, I can simply take their points per minute averages from last season and multiply them out to fit the appropriate ice-time allotments. Granted, I understand that White’s point totals include the games he played as a forward, we can also assume an increase to compensate for that overestimation due to the fact that he’d likely get more powerplay time moving forward. For Kaberle, I’m going to use his ’07-’08 numbers and assume that last year’s disappointing totals were an anomaly. For Beauchemin, it’s likely he’s going to take over Kubina’s role as the point shot on the top powerplay, so we’re going to use his ’06-’07 stats, the last time he earned top PP minutes. Here are the results:

    1. Kaberle – 47 points
    2. Komisarek – 14 points
    3. Beauchemin – 28 points
    4. Schenn – 17 points
    5. White – 20 points
    6. Finger – 24 points
    7. Total – 150 points

    Last season, Toronto’s defense corps scored 160 points, so the decline is not too surprising considering the replacement of offensive defensemen Kubina and Van Ryn with Beauchemin and Komisarek. Well, is that enough offense from the blueline for a contending team? Let’s find out:

    The top ten regular season teams from last season and the amount of points scored from the back end:

    1. San Jose – 203 points
    2. Boston – 184 points
    3. Detroit – 224 points
    4. Washington – 151 points
    5. New Jersey – 128 points
    6. Chicago – 202 points
    7. Vancouver – 167 points
    8. Pittsburgh -147 points
    9. Philadelphia – 141 points
    10. Calgary – 153 points

    So basically, the average top 10 NHL team received 170 points from their backend last season. Two of the teams under this mark are the Capitals and Penguins, who are both blessed with the league’s top two young scorers to compensate up front. The Flyers went out and traded for 50+ points from Chris Pronger, while Calgary added 40+ points from Jay Bouwmeester. Not surprisingly, the Devils continue to be the exception to virtually any offense vs. success correlation. In case you were wondering, the lone Conference finalist not to appear on that list is the Carolina Hurricanes, who benefited from 173 points from their blueliners. The ’07-’08 champion Red Wings received 202 points, while the ’06-’07 champion Ducks received 209 points. Whatever the case, it seems that at least cracking the 170 point plateau is a good start in assessing a championship calibre defense corps.

    Considering the fact that the Leafs can reasonably project themselves to about 150 points from the defense corps this year, it’s certainly not a bad start to say the least. The issues of a lack of offense or puck-moving ability from the back end have been exaggerated as previous argued by Gus as well. So what next? Well, as it stands there are a few ways the Leafs can reach that magical “170” mark with the current group of defensemen, but they do need a few of the following to happen over the next few years:

    • Hope Kaberle regains his previous form, scoring more effectively, and starts cracking the 55 point plateau once again
    • Hope White’s breakout ’08-’09 campaign was not a fluke, and that he’s got it in him to become a 30 point power play specialist
    • Hope Schenn’s confidence with the puck and good point shot start translating into a few more points

    All in all, there’s a lot to like about the makeup of the Leafs’ current group of defensemen. There is a strong emphasis on youth, with much of the group either in or about to enter the prime years of their careers. There is an underestimated amount of offensive potential collectively, particularly from Ian White and Jeff Finger. And lastly, it shouldn’t be understated that the meat and potatoes of this defense corps will be the physicality and shutdown ability each and every night. What do you guys think? Will this collection of defensemen develop into a championship calibre blueline someday?

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