Maple Leafs’ Bottom Six Forwards

Maple Leafs’ Bottom Six Forwards

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A mess, but an opportunity for improvement

When a team bottoms out the way the Maple Leafs did, naturally there is going to be a lot of anger directed towards the team and its players. Next, factor in the manner in which the team failed to make the playoffs — giving up the most shots ever over an 82-game season and plummeting during to an eight-game losing streak in March, prior to which they were ninth place in the entire league. Then, have it all take place in the tempestuous Toronto hockey market. It goes without saying there is going to be a lot of noise and irrational things said. 

It has been my contention over the last few weeks that there are more than a few good pieces in place and that this team isn’t as bad as it seems on the whole. They still sorely lack a real horse at center and their defense needs work, to which I am not oblivious, but if we look at the rest of the Leafs roster and the pieces in place there are quite a few quality players here and even some nice tradable assets. Knowing that,  there are some low-fruit-hanging options for management to pick that, if done correctly, will get them back to the playoffs for next season. 

Over the next few weeks (because these pieces take a lot of time), I plan on exploring a few of them with the hope of: 

  1. Highlighting what should be relatively easy weaknesses to correct.
  2. Show that this team isn’t nearly as far off as many appear to believe.
  3. Provide an offseason view/perspective on this team to keep in mind throughout the summer.

First up is the Leafs’ depth problem. 

When the Leafs made the playoffs in the shortened season, their 7-8-9 forwards according to total raw ice time alone (and excluding Lupul because he didn’t play enough) were Jay McClement, Clarke MacArthur and Leo Komarov, with Matt Frattin just on the outside looking in (he, too, missed a lot of time).

The production the Leafs got from these players was, in retrospect, very underrated. Prorating what they posted over 82 games, this is the kind of production the Leafs received from their 7-8-9 forwards during the truncated 2012-13 season:

ForwardsGoalsAssistsPoints
Jay McClement141529
Clarke MacArthur162541
Leo Komarov81018

Compare that to the 82-game prorated totals of the Leafs’ 7-8-9 forwards in 2013-14:

ForwardsGoalsAssistsPoints
Jay McClement4610
David Clarkson7815
Nikolai Kulemin111223

Having felt they lost depth last summer, I asked Scott Gordon about these issues in our summer interview series: 

AP: Upfront you added Bolland Clarkson, and subtracted Grabovski, MacArthur, Frattin and Komarov. Are you concerned about losing depth?

SG: Well I think with adding Bolland and Clarkson those two players are probably guys that are going to fit our style of play more consistently, with the exception of Komarov. Komarov was a guy we would have loved to have back but obviously he got a good deal in Russia and has to do what’s best for him. But the style of play of Bolland and Clarkson play fits our team identity and we’re excited about them.

Of course, points don’t tell the whole story. Originally, Raymond was supposed to be a third liner on the Leafs but Raymond stepped up and played well when Clarkson was suspended for the first 10 games. There was a legitimate hope that when Clarkson returned it would create the kind of depth good teams possess; Clarkson was supposed to be a top six forward and that would have pushed the productive Raymond down the line-up.

Alas, Clarkson was an unmitigated disaster. There’s no other way to put it. He was leapfrogged by Raymond and in turn became a third liner on the team. 

Beyond that, Dave Bolland got injured. Without question, he would have helped the Leafs if he was healthy all season, but depth isn’t depth if it relies on one player.

Bozak was the top six forward that missed the most amount of hockey last season for the Leafs and he only missed 29% of the schedule. The season prior, by comparison, the Leafs top six forward that missed the most time was Joffrey Lupul, who was out for 67% of the year. If Lupul was healthy in 2013 that would have pushed Grabovski out of the top six for the season; he put up a 27 point pace in 2012-13, which would have made the Leafs depth scoring look even better on the whole. That’s the kind of depth the Leafs had a season ago.

Beyond goals-assists-points, the Leafs’ received depth contributions in other areas last season. Jay McClement was a big part of a successful PK, which this season got run over. When McClement was scoring at a good clip and killing penalties, it was justifiable to play him as much as they did; this past season, he did not help the PK nor score much and that significant drop off should have bumped him down the line-up. And yet, he remained a top 9 staple and it hurt their bottom line.

Leo Komarov was able to play a regular shift up and down the line-up, contribute a little offensively, and provide a physical spark. He was also a key contributor on the penalty kill and was able to draw penalties. Komarov was second on the team in penalties drawn in 2013 and drew six more penalties than he took that season. Comparably, Clarkson was fourth on the team in penalties drawn in 2013-14, but he took so many that he was actually a -10 in that category. Add that to the fact that Clarkson didn’t contribute at all on any special team units and the Leafs clearly downgraded here last season, too.  

To give you a look at how the Leafs 7-8-9 forwards compared league wide this past season, and without prorating point totals, I charted below the 7-8-9 forwards of every team in the league. 

**Note: Raw total ice time was my main indicator of ranking forwards. Ultimately, line combinations and roles dictate how a player does in their ice time, but the total number of ice time is ultimately indicative of a player’s contribution to a game and rank in their forward group. I generally tried to use at least a 40-game cut off to indicate a 7-8-9 forward. I didn’t include deadline pick-ups who played 20 some odd games with a team, but would include them on their original team as a general indicator of what a team was using over the course of the majority of their season (Tuomo Ruutu is with Carolina, for example). I’m sure someone will argue me about one or two of these players, but some of these decisions were tough and I tried to use my best judgement at the end of the day.

TeamsPlayersTOIGamesGoalsAssistsPointsTotal PPG
AnaheimSilfverberg14:15521013230.5
Selanne14:076491827
Perrault13:5269182543
BostonSmith14:42822031510.55
Kelly14:41579918
Soderberg14:1573163248
BuffaloGirgensons15:1870814220.28
Foligno15:037471219
Leino14:265801515
CalgaryJones15:274898170.33
Galiardi14:366241317
Colborne14:1680101828
CarolinaDwyer14:3975814220.31
Lindholm14:315891221
Ruutu14:145751116
ChicagoVersteeg14:06631019290.36
Kruger13:528182028
Handzus13:385941216
ColoradoTalbot16:1970718250.42
Mitchell16:1675112132
McGinn15:4679191938
ColumbusAtkinson15:47792119400.44
Letestu14:4182122234
Jenner14:0472161329
DallasNichushkin14:58791420340.41
Whitney13:576992332
Roussel13:1981141529
DetroitBertuzzi14:395997160.45
Sheahan14:264291524
Tatar14:2173192039
EdmontonGordon14:2174813210.35
Yakupov14:1863111324
Arcobello15:044141418
FloridaKopecky15:534948120.31
Huberdeau15:396991928
Gomez13:074621012
LAKing15:02771515300.28
Lewis13:15736511
Toffoli12:5762121729
MinnesotaCooke15:24:00821018280.38
Heatley14:49:0076121628
Neiderreiter14:05:0081142236
MontrealGalchenyuk14:23:00651318310.33
Bourque14:11:00639716
Prust12:49:00526713
NashvilleNystrom14:51:0079156210.3
Bourque13:50:007491726
Gaustad13:48:0075101121
New JerseyRyder15:46:00821816340.34
Brunner13:32:0060111425
Gionta12:27:00664711
NYIGrabner14:11:00641214260.28
Cizikas13:22:008061016
McDonald12:23:007081018
NYRHagelin15:31:00721617330.37
Pouliot13:26:0080152136
Boyle12:45:008261218
OttawaZibanejad14:19:00691617330.29
Greening13:44:007661117
Neil11:48:00768614
PhiladelphiaSchenn15:44:00822021410.47
Lecalvier15:11:0069201737
Downie13:32:005131417
PhoenixKorpikoski16:04:0064916250.31
Moss14:39:007981422
Klinkhammer11:22:007211920
PittsburghAdams12:27:008256110.22
Gibbons11:56:004151217
Glass11:47:00674913
San JoseNieto14:04:00661014240.35
Havlat14:43:0048121022
Kennedy12:43:006741317
St. LouisTarasenko15:10:00642122430.5
Roy13:37:007592837
Morrow11:54:0071131225
TampaKucherov13:06:005299180.27
Brown13:02:006341519
Thompson12:51:00819716
TorontoKulemin16:1270911200.19
McClement14:45814610
Clarkson15:06605611
VancouverHansen15:39:0071119200.3
Richardson14:54:0073111223
Booth13:28:006691019
WashingtonGrabovski15:45:00581322350.51
Chimera15:25:0082152742
Fehr14:44:0073131831
WinnipegScheifele16:21:00631321340.39
Setogouchi15:03:0075111627
Halischuk11:20:00465510

By my calculations, the Leafs had the lowest PPG in the league between their 7-8-9 forwards. The combined 41 points they contributed was beat by single individuals on good teams and, by this study, the Leafs had depth worse than that of the lottery teams they ultimately finished in the standings surrounded by.

To put it into perspective, the Sabres had a combined 202 games from their regular 7-8-9 forwards and they combined for 15 goals. The Leafs had a combined 211 games and netted 18 goals. One of those Sabres three forwards, Ville Leino, didn’t score a goal all season. 

Circling back to the Scott Gordon interview from the summer, Gordon also stated:

SG: Yeah. The makeup of the team is a little bit different. Last year we had what would probably be considered three lines of scoring, maybe not as much depth on each line as far as scoring numbers. Whereas this year our top six is all guys who have had pretty good track records of scoring goals so hopefully that has the same effect as it did last year.

In the summer, the Leafs sacrificed offense in an attempt to get better defensively. The problem was, with Bolland out, they not only didn’t get better defensively, they got worse offensively, too. 

I highlighted how the Leafs roster construction is flawed in an end-of-year Notebook. Their top two lines can’t play defense, and their 7-8-9 forwards aren’t nearly good enough defensively to handle the tough minutes. As much as this is an indictment on the 7-8-9 forwards, it should also serve notice of how a team badly needs to receive good two-way play out of at least one of their top two lines to make life easier on the depth forwards when trying to work the match-up game.

This, of course, speaks nothing of what the Leafs were doing with their fourth line.

Three players played over 15 games in a fourth line role and did not contribute a single point (54 games for Orr, 27 for McLaren, 18 for Smithson). D’Amigo and Ashton combined for 54 games and 4 points. Holland (11 in 43), Bodie (10 in 47) and Smith (9 in 27) were at least reasonable contributors. To say nothing of the 12 in 23 Bolland gave the Leafs in his limited time here. 

Looking at the Leafs through this prism really confirms what was pretty evident all season: They lived and died by their top forwards, and if they didn’t score the Leafs weren’t going to win. By that token, some of the criticism the top players are receiving is unfair when they definitely played too many minutes and had pretty well the worst support cast in the entire league (no depth scoring, no help on the PK, weren’t good defensively). 

With the entire bottom six open for change and new additions, the Leafs have a big opportunity to remake the bottom of their line-up with players that either contribute offensively, defensively, or hopefully even both. Last year, they weren’t getting that from pretty well anyone in the bottom of their line-up and as the season wore on the top players were continuously gassed before they finally crumbled with nothing left to give.

The Leafs aren’t a bottom six away from contending –- still a need a top six 6 C and a top 4  D — but when we look at the scope of what they got from their bottom lines compared to the rest of the league it really paints a picture of how bad their bottom six was in 2013-14, and how making some smart, cheap signings to properly fill out their roster could really elevate this team. 

In fact, this will be a nice segue into the second piece of low-hanging fruit on the tree of improvement: The Marlies

943 comments
DylanJ
DylanJ

If Shanny decides a roster overhaul is in order, hope he does something like this


KEEP/BUILD AROUND: Bernier, Reilly, JVR, Kessel (possibly Kadri, Gardiner, but they can be had if the price is right)


TRADE: anyone else on this roster, quantity for quality type of trades for top line C and D and/or high picks. Players coming in should be young - youngish


Might be stuck with some players due to contracts (Phaneuf, Clarkson) but not all of them. Many can be traded. Let our youngsters fill in whatever blanks are left from the quality for quantity trades

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

Vanek heading to Wild this summer? From a St. Paul newspaper:

It’s pretty much the worst kept secret in hockey that this match will be made, and Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press furthers the point in a column on Tuesday:

This summer, look for [Craig] Leipold, the Wild owner, to spend whatever it takes -- probably another $40 million or so -- to add free agent Thomas Vanek to the roster. Simple math shows what impact Vanek could have on the Wild. This season, in 78 games for three NHL teams -- Buffalo, the Islanders and Montreal -- the former Gophers winger scored 27 goals. Vanek, 30, presumably will replace Dany Heatley, 33, in the Wild offense and salary slot. In 76 regular-season games this season, Heatley scored 12 goals.

(Walters previously was the guy who reported the Wild lost $30 million in 2012-13, and appears to have a “little birdie” in ownership or management.)

RandomScrub
RandomScrub

"The refs are human. They know that if they make some bad calls one way, they'll even them out later. It's just the nature of humans." 


Quote from the Clippers/Thunder game. You have got to be kidding me. If they make a bad call let it go and don't try to "even" out the calls. Try not to make more bad calls.

hometeem
hometeem

still think our best course is to get a smany picks as possible dump salary, wait for JT and stammwer to become ufas and surround them w ELCs fill in the holes after that.reilly gards should be ready by that point to take over the back end w finn/percy not far behind

loomx
loomx

Looks like everybody lost the St.Louis trade. Rangers especially. yikes. At least Tampa gets a pick out of it.

loomx
loomx

Anybody hearing explosions in Brampton right now? Apparently the Air Liquide building is on fire. 

deedrag
deedrag

I'm left with confusion after this season. Why did RC not punish his players this year like the season before when they were not getting it? The one thing that would've made me take his side would be making players pay for their mistakes. Is this one of the things he was referring to, when he stated the things he would've done differently? Doesn't a coach have to provide the basis for discipline? I wonder if Shanny will keep him after all? He seems like the kind of guy, that expects discipline from his players.

hometeem
hometeem

no late game tonight wtf

Cloud09
Cloud09

David Clarkson w/ 25% salary retention and Holzer to NJD for Adam Larsson. Bam, problem solved. 

Bruffins
Bruffins

Do you trust Nonis to build a contending team? Why? Why not?

Luke_R
Luke_R

you may think to yourself why am i posting this.... well the paulywalnuts26 is paul stastny.... keep playing him jvr and bozie... get him in TO!

FloorHockeyFlopper
FloorHockeyFlopper

@DylanJ  replace Kessel with Gardiner and Kadri and you might be onto something.  Kessel is in prime,  most valuable to trade now - he's gonna be too old when this team comes into its own

Bruffins
Bruffins

@wiski  

wouldn't have got boo'd in the playoffs if you played for Toronto...

Bruffins
Bruffins

@hometeem  

pretty hard when our Gm/coach are throwing away picks like they are nothing

Zep2
Zep2

Rangers need to keep some salary

Leafs2 Isles1
Leafs2 Isles1

@deedrag, I think that a point that many people could be missing is that RC may have been under tremendous pressure from upper management to win. That answers a lot of questions about his player decisions. He didn't play his bottom 6 because he was trying to win and his best option was playing his top 6. His top 6 had shown him many times that they could appear completely out of the game, and then score a goal or two out of the blue. So, I figure he played them and played them and played them again hoping that they'd score.

hometeem
hometeem

@deedrag  he lost the room very early in the season and i would guess that the roomwas diviided while he was on the minority of the division. lame duck most of the year, he actually said as much long before xmas i believe

Zep2
Zep2

That trade didn't help either team

MaxwellHowe
MaxwellHowe

@Cloud09 I suppose the BAM is the gunshot killing Lamarello, because that deal only happens over his dead body

Luke_R
Luke_R

Classy guy in the NBA, nice to see

darthNihilus
darthNihilus

@Bruffins  I dont trust Nonis to build lego for a 4 year old. Since he sat on his hands all season and has not fired RC thus far it shows he is a moron. (I forgive him for Clarkson)

Zep2
Zep2

I'll give him one more year. He was big part of building a pretty good Vancouver team

After 47 years , what's one more

Luke_R
Luke_R

@Bruffins  No cause he took away the culture of our team and replaced it with shit.  No looking to replace it again with Shanny.  Best trade (Bernier) could very well be Lieweke's trade (we dont know but still the idea of that makes me lol)

darthNihilus
darthNihilus

@hometeem @deedrag  Lost the room? Funny how he lost the room but the players got him a nice big win in Anaheim. The players have blue and white disease and an unhealthy sense of entitlement. (and yes RC is a shit coach as well as dumber than a box of rocks)

Cloud09
Cloud09

@MaxwellHowe @Cloud09  Mock all you want, New Jersey is probably one of the only teams that would take Clarkson back for just under $4M.

rustynail
rustynail

@Zep2  he made way too many mistakes last year IMO, lost my confidence in him.

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

People were whining about why Leafs can't land free agents like Nash.

hometeem
hometeem

@darthNihilus @hometeem @deedrag  sure they won it for him, ok?seriously? yes he is as dumb as rocks but the current players are not listening anyhow so y does it even matter

Cloud09
Cloud09

@MaxwellHowe @Cloud09  From what I've heard Larsson isn't happy in NJ and could try and force a trade or take an offersheet. 

MaxwellHowe
MaxwellHowe

@Cloud09 @MaxwellHowe maybe, but they ain't throwing Larsson in the deal.  Leafs would probably have to throw a Percy in the deal and then get back a 5th round pick or somethin