Here’s five Leaf thoughts to get you through your Friday, with five links at the bottom.
I was taking a look at the faceoff numbers, and I noticed some altogether startling numbers from Steckel and McClement. Both were once kings of the faceoff circle, with McClement averaging 51.6% of his 1152 draws in 2010-2011 and 51.3% of his 873 draws in 2011-2012, whereas Steckel won 62.3% of his 820 draws in 2010-2011, and 58.0% of his 1108 draws in 2011-2012.
This season, McClement has won only 45.3% of his 139 draws, while Steckel has only won 46.9% of his 81 draws. Both players are suffering from career-low winning percentages, and are taking significantly fewer draws than before.
McClement is on pace to take 422 faceoffs, while Steckel is on pace for 511 over an 82 game schedule, with Randy Carlyle using them about half as frequently in the circle as they were last season. I suspect that is part of why their winning percentages are so low.
And it’s not as if the Leafs couldn’t benefit from their services. As it stands, the Leafs rely on Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski to take 81.3% of the team’s faceoffs (1373 of 1689 heading into play Thursday) and have won only 50.9% of them (699 of 1373). Surely two centres with a faceoff pedigree such as Steckel and McClement’s could provide more options for the team, especially in the defensive zone.
And yet McClement is on Grabovski’s wing most nights, and Steckel is in the pressbox as often as not (having played only 14 of 28 games this season).
Ineffectiveness of the Fourth Liners
The Leafs have trotted out Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren as often as possible this season, in Carlyle’s attempt to bully the league to Leaf success. He does this much to the chagrin of 2/3 of Leaf fans, and at cost to the team’s success and player usage.
According to www.behindthenet.ca, McLaren and Orr – along with David Steckel – are bottom of the team in a statistical metric called Relative Corsi Quality of Competition. I’ve mentioned this stat before, but as a brief primer to help guide your reading, Corsi Rel QoC measures the quality of opposition players weighted by head-to-head ice time. The higher the positive number, the better the opposition lining up against a guy is. If the number is negative, it means they are facing softer minutes against lesser competition.
Steckel, Orr and McLaren are at the bottom of the Leafs forwards’ pile, with scores of -1.716, -1.690 and -1.606, meaning they play head-to-head against some of the weakest opposition (other teams’ fourth lines, or replacement-level players) most of the time. Carlyle is using these guys for their pugilistic value, not take assignments against hockey players with even a modicum of talent. They simply can’t be trusted to neutralize opposition with anything other than their fists, as witnessed by their equally bad On-ice Corsi score (which measures shot differential).
This extends to deployment, too. Steckel and McLaren are being particularly sheltered, getting around 60% Offensive Zone starts, and yet the numbers suggest they are giving up possession, allowing shots and yielding the zone even against some of the weakest competition league-wide. Because they aren’t really that good at hockey.
Contrast this to Nikolai Kulemin (at 2.222) and Mikhail Grabovski (at 2.031), who with Corsi Rel QoC are first and fifth in the entire league for players with 20+ games played (with Phoenix defenders, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zbynek Michalek, and Dion Phaneuf in spots 2-4). They also have rotten On-ice Corsi scores, but that’s due to their defensive zone deployments and they play against all-world talents.
These guys are – frankly – playing over themselves in a defensive role because Carlyle chooses to bring his heavies (and Steckel) to lean on opposition players. And while the Leafs lead the league in fighting majors, they’re quickly slipping down the playoff pecking order.
With Joffrey Lupul nearing a return, it will be increasingly unlikely to see both of the ‘Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ in the lineup, and that should be all for the better as the Leafs enter the stretch drive.
The Pointlessness of Kadri
Nazem Kadri has had a rough start to the second half of the second, having gone pointless in his last three games, recording only three shots. Its new territory for the former seventh overall selection in the 2009 draft: it’s the longest drought of Kadri’s season. In last Friday’s Mashup, I mentioned that both Kadri and Cody Franson could see their production dip in the second half, so I’m not entirely shocked, but it’s still meaningful.
I don’t think anyone expected Kadri to lead the team in scoring for 20-odd games, but results breed expectations. Right or wrong (read: wrong), if the season goes sour, a lot of blame will be laid on a slumping Kadri’s shoulders.
Kessel Heating Up
A resurgent Phil Kessel has supplanted Kadri as top Leaf scorer, with seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in past 13 games. He now has nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points in 28 games on the season, after going goalless in his first 10 games.
I don’t want to oversell this, but fans should be excited about Kessel’s maturation as an offensive player. He was brought in in 2009 to score goals, coming off a 36-goal season with the Boston Bruins. Since arriving in Toronto, he’s been true to form, recording three 30-goal seasons. He’s just off that pace this season, even with that major slump at the top of the year.
But what’s really shocking is that Kessel once again leads the team in assists (he had 45 last season to lead the club). He showed much promise as a playmaker in the USNDP and college ranks, but has been a gunner since arriving in the NHL. Giving Kessel an actual winger of some talent (formerly Lupul and now van Riemsdyk) has allowed his point totals to soar, and has turned Kessel into a multidimensional offensive threat. Now if only they could give him a real centre…
Don’t Hold Your Breath
The Montreal Canadiens announced today the signing of David Desharnais to a four-year, $14 Million contract, with an annual cap hit of $3.5 Million. The undrafted centreman was signed to that deal based off the strength of last season’s 60-point performance, and his chemistry with Max Pacioretty.
The Leafs have both Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur as pending unrestricted free agents this July, but don’t expect them to get signed to that number. Reports seem to suggest that the Leafs brass won’t sign either before the trade deadline. While either of them asking for Grabovski-type money ($5.5 million cap hit) is patently absurd, it’s not out of the question for either player to hit $4 million on the open market (or against its’ backdrop). For MacArthur, a talented offensive cog who’s missed a few paydays, that’s just about a certainty.
Joffrey Lupul is nearing a return, and was in practice today on a line with Nazem Kadri and Nazem Kadri Nikolai Kulemin. That could be a quick way to spell an end to Kadri’s short scoring drought.
SkinnyFish at PPP looks further in depth at ex-Soviet defensive turrets Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin’s usage, and why Randy Carlyle is a bit off chastising the two for their middling offensive output.