Toronto Maple Leafs’ Powerplay: Room For Improvement

Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly (Photo: NHLI via Getty Images)

A warm welcome to new writer, Luka Ryder-Bunting, who looks at improvements to be made with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Power Play

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ power play interested me this year. The power play was by no means a downfall of the Leafs this season, ranking 6th in the league with a 19.8% success rate. That being said, every franchise should be looking to improve themselves in any way possible, and there is definite improvement to be made on the Leafs man advantage.

Much of the coaching staffs’ decision-making seemed odd to me this season regarding player usage. Carlyle seemed reluctant to split up the top line and deployed the Van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel line as the top power play unit consistently for the majority of the season. He often kept the apparent second line together as well, deploying Kadri alongside Lupul and Raymond. The top defensive pairing seemed to consistently be Phaneuf and Franson, with Gardiner and Reilly managing the second pair duties. I’ve got a bit of a quarrel with Carlyle’s usage this season; it seems to me that the coaching staff has been favoring those on the power play based on how he plays them in regular minutes, deploying them based on even strength valuation, regardless of actual power play skill. But I’ll get into that later.

Let’s take a look at the efficiency of each player in terms of power play production

Power Play Production

A couple of players stood out against the rest this year on the power play. Let’s take a look at the assist and shot production of all Toronto players this season that played significant power play minutes (100). The below graph shows shots per 60 and assists per 60, that is a time-on-ice adjusted statistic to remove minutes played bias from the analysis.

Toronto Maple Leafs Power Play Production
Toronto Maple Leafs Power Play Production

Automatically, it can be seen that Rielly and Franson stand out on the blue line. Their assist production was best among all players and easily dwarfed the production of their counterparts Gardiner and Phaneuf. For a rookie season, Rielly’s production here is incredibly impressive. To put this in perspective, Rielly ranked 7th in assists per 60 league wide among defensemen; the potential on a young defensemen like Rielly producing at that rate is massive. As well, Rielly assisted on twice as many goals per 60 minutes as Dion Phaneuf and nearly twice as many as Gardiner as well. The knock on Rielly here is his shot production. It was low, in fact he creates shots on the power play at the smallest rate of any regular member of the power play.

As for the forwards, Kessel and Lupul stand out as the goal scorers on the power play. Kessel takes nearly 18 shots per 60 minutes. Lupul is just shy of that, generating just above 16 shots.

If you need any more reason to think trading Nazem Kadri is a bad idea, here’s one; Kadri is the most efficient power play player on the Leafs. Although it would be good to see his shot production increase, the assists are undeniably impressive. Numbers like these from a relatively young guy are very promising. I’m not sure I entirely understand the anti-Kadri sentiment in some of Leafs fandom.

On the flip side of the spectrum, Tyler Bozak and Dion Phaneuf are entirely underwhelming on the man advantage. As he is playing frequently alongside Kessel and Van Riemsdyk on the power play, it’s very worrisome to see Bozak’s assists per 60 sitting at 1.2. Phaneuf, meanwhile, was equally unimpressive, generating barely any shots and assists despite playing alongside Franson, who had a very successful 2013-2014 power play campaign.

Undeserved Usage on the Power Play

As I mentioned before, I think the Leafs coaching staff hasn’t been doing a great job of identifying power play skill. Players who don’t deserve top ice time are receiving it while players that do aren’t. To prove this, let’s look at the points per 60 of all regulars on the power play compared to the percent of power play ice time that player is on for.

NOTE: For the latter stat of how much of their team’s power play ice time they were on for, the values on the Y-axis are multiplied by 10. For example Kessel’s value of 6 is not 6% but instead is 60% of power play ice time.

Points per 60 and power play time
Points per 60 and power play time

It seems obvious from this that the coaching staff is not providing ice time to those who are most deserving. Phaneuf and Bozak are the ones that stand out particularly as over utilized. Phaneuf plays over 60% of the Buds power play minutes. Yet, his points per 60 is the lowest of any regular PP defensemen. Bozak is in the same boat, playing above 50% of power play time while having a points per 60 below 3 – the lowest of any PP forward.

Why is the coaching staff rewarding poor play on the power play? Phaneuf and his 2.64 points per 60 should not be playing significantly more minutes than Morgan Rielly, who more than doubles Phaneuf’s production as Rielly’s points per 60 is 5.71. I’m slightly more understanding towards the Bozak – Kadri situation as it could be argued that it is beneficial to be rolling out two efficient power play lines. Even though that is a reasonable proposition, that’s not a sufficient reason to justify playing Bozak over Kadri on the first power play unit. Simply put, your best power play players should be playing the most. Bozak should not be playing more than Kadri, as Kadri’s points per 60 is again nearly double Bozak’s. When the difference is as large as it is between these mentioned players, the coaching staff should be able to identify who has been playing better on the power play and reward that strong play as such.

Swapping Bozak and Kadri would likely lead to improvements on the power play, just as increasing Rielly’s power play time would while decreasing Phaneuf’s. Here are what in my mind the ideal PP lines would look like:

Kessel – Kadri – Van Riemsdyk

Lupul – Bozak – Raymond

Rielly – Franson

Gardiner – Phaneuf

Ideally, the Kessel line and the Rielly-Franson d-pairing would be getting significantly more ice time. With these adjustments to get the more efficient players more ice time and with all else equal, one would expect a decent increase in goal production on the power play. I will be very disappointed if in the coming season Bozak remains as the 1C on the power play. His ineffectiveness is fairly evident and there is obvious evidence towards superior replacements being available in Kadri. The same can be said for the Phaneuf situation and with Rielly as a replacement.

The Leafs’ power play was by no means bad, but it could have been better with the current players available. These proposed adjustments may seem insignificant or nitpicky to a degree, but even the most minor of coaching decisions can be very consequential in the long term.

The bright spot of this analysis is that the two most efficient man advantage players are both at the beginning of their careers in Kadri and Rielly. For Rielly, its only his rookie season. The organisation can look forward to years of production from these two developing stars.

Potential Offseason Targets

For a combination of novelty and personal interest, I wanted to take a look at where the potential trade targets or free agents signings would fit in terms of power play production, specifically whether they would be an upgrade on the current roster. Here’s a look at some players that the Leafs are rumoured to be interested in or ones that seem relatively possible to acquire (although some on here might not make sense for the Leafs), showing their shot and assist production on the power play.

Power play production of free agents 2013/2014
Power play production of free agents 2013/2014

I really like the look of O’Reilly this past season; his combination of shot and assist production is impressive. Cammalleri and Niskanen also stand out. Acquiring Niskanen would likely be very expensive, but if the Leafs can afford it somehow, it seems to make sense. He’s a skilled defensemen who has shown he’s able to perform well in big minutes and against tough competition in Pittsburgh, especially during times where Letang was injured. Additionally his power play results here are also an inviting addition to his play. Cammalleri is also decent here, providing a decent combination of shot and assist production. Stastny and Thornton both stand out as playmaker type centres who would look good in-between any of Kessel, Lupul or Van Riemsdyk. As long as it doesn’t cost Kadri, it seems like acquiring either of them would be a huge benefit to the Leafs from a power play perspective. Stastny, as the younger option, is obviously the favorable choice but potentially less viable.

All the players mentioned here seem to be an improvement over some existing portion of the Leafs power play – except perhaps Ryan Kesler. Kesler is the only forward mentioned with a points per 60 lower than any of the existing forwards on the Leafs power play. That fact is likely due to converting on less than 8 percent of his shots on the power play this year, while Tyler Bozak converted 21 % of his shots. I would bet on Kesler to far outplay Bozak in seasons to come in terms of power play production, as those two conversion rates seem unsustainable to both the underachieving and overachieving extremes. That being said, Kesler’s production in terms of assists is also worrisome. His shot totals do make up for it to an extent; he would have produced the most shots per 60 on the power play of any regular Leafs forward.

Obviously this info is only a small snapshot of the value of these players, but it’s still a piece of the puzzle in terms of tangible benefit these potential targets could bring to the table were the Leafs to pursue them.

Follow me on Twitter @LukaRyder

  • DeclanK

    Please keep comments limited to the article. For general chat, please go to today’s Mashup.

  • Burtonboy

    Welcome aboard Luca . What say you to the Theory that Phaneuf should be the trigger man on the RS of out PP.?

  • vinoa

    Great write up. Now let’s fix this Bozak situation.

  • BigTO

    Awesome article, welcome aboard.

    For the explanation on Phaneuf’s poor PP production, there was a great piece up here about how he’s never been used on that side of the ice before and has had a tonne more shots from the other side in the past.

  • alligatorcop

    Can’t wait to see how Reilly turns out. People forget he was projected top 3 but suffered a pretty serious knee injury in draft year. Could end up being a steal for us. And I love Kadri still. He will be a great forward in due time. Whatever team he’s on.
    Great article

  • Great Dane

    great stuff.
    conclusion: Sell Bozak and don’t play Phaneuf on the power play.

  • DeclanK

    The Decline of Dion Phaneuf

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Great Dane Play Phaneuf on his proper side on the powerplay. Historically he’s an excellent PP contributor.

  • Great Dane

    Alec Brownscombe Alec, I am certain that this would improve Phaneuf stats. But I am still convinced that come 1 October Phaneuf is no longer a Leaf.
    There are simply too many stories out there for this not to happen.

  • jimmyg65

    Excellent article. I was lucky enough to attend a couple of Leafs game last year and was very impressed by Reilly’s overall game. He is going to be something all right…

  • DeclanK

    Alec Brownscombe Great Dane
    I guess Dion is OK on the PP.
    Dman Goals on the PP since 2005.

  • Burtonboy

    About the only thing we know for certain is there will be a new coach in charge of the PP next yr . Who is yet to be determined . It will be interesting to see how many changes will be made . In fact what this new staff does as a group will have the biggest impact on the Leafs going forward . Status quo is simply unacceptable and will result in a repeat of the last season.

  • Burtonboy

    Great Dane Alec Brownscombe Moving Phaneuf is nuts unless the intention is a complete rebuild. Frankly a lot of the trade proposals around here lately are ludicrous and drags down the reputation of this site IMO

  • Cameron19

    I think you have to take the production of Boyle and Thornton with a grain of salt. A lot of their prowess on the PP stems from the fact that the unit has been together for years. I don’t know that you could definitely count on either of them going to another team and being equally effective – especially as they start to decline physically. 

    Also, while it would be preferable to get Kadri on that top unit, the problem is that he doesn’t win draws. Bozak is there to help the team gain zone time. Kadri will take that role as soon as he can be counted on in that situation. 

    Phaneuf should be on the top PP unit, and Franson shouldn’t even be on the roster, in my opinion. Put Phaneuf in Franson’s spot and we solve a lot of our problems with that unit.  I know everyone is always on about Franson’s shot but that seems to have dried up now. He can’t do anything except wait for someone to give him the puck so he can flick it towards the net. If he has to make a play, he’s hopeless.

    Raymond also would not be on my PP unit.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Burtonboy I was hoping for Ramsay, BB. Wonder if we talked to him?
    As qualified of an AC as there is in the League and he typically runs the PP.

  • Cameron19

    DeclanK Alec Brownscombe Great Dane Only our moronic coaching staff could ruin that.

  • Burtonboy

    Alec Brownscombe Burtonboy I was bit disappointed about that but came to the conclusion they probably didn’t talk to him very seriously if at all. One would think if the Leafs wanted him badly they would have outbid the Oilers

  • Great Dane

    Cameron19 DeclanK Alec Brownscombe Great Dane   WE HAVE A WINNER

  • Tim Horton

    So all those who were crying  when May Ray was on the PP were wrong?

  • Ydargo

    With everything being what it is right now, what are your PP units?
    Me, I’m going with the following:
    1st PP:
    2nd Unit:
    Clarkson-Kadri-Lupul (Clarkson can do the dirty work, sit in front the net…….ala JVR)
    On the point, use Phaneuf, Gardiner and Reilly with Phaneuf on the Right Side
    Maybe sprinkle in another D for some 2nd line PP minutes if need be

  • Yaknowwhat

    Great article Luca…appreciate the work involved to develope some of those stats…
    As for our PP, its pretty obvious that Reilly should be on the first unit full time and without any other real options Phaneuf likely would join him…although I agree his stats hardly warrant it…for me our PP is far to predictable…Kessel setting up on the half boards has to be in every opposing teams video review by now…I don’t see near enough point shots or overall player movement on our PP….good teams have quick puck and player movement…they create different options and threats…take away the points and you’ll pay down low…collapse and be exposed by the points…ours is the same old same old for the most part…Phaneuf needs to use his point shot more…with two caveats…hit the net…and don’t decapitate one of our own players…

  • Yaknowwhat

    Yes..although frustrating at times…the guy put up points…in short…he helped us win games….he’s a puck possession creative type player…he won’t just throw the puck away….unfortunately this leads to the odd bad pass and turnovers….for 2 mil or less I would bring him back…

  • Fish Head

    Great article Luca. Looking forward to more. Welcome aboard.

  • DeclanK

    Nice thing about that 2nd unit, is that you have Kadri as the primary puck carrier on the right half wall, as a left shot and it makes it a bit more difficult to prepare against for the opposing teams.
    Kessel as the primary puck carrier on PP#1 as a right shot. Gives it different looks and opens up Dmen a little more. Franson should be LD with the right-shot to open up for a one-timer.

  • Burtonboy

    Yaknowwhat Where would you say Phaneuf stand compared to the other defense men in terms of accuracy ?

  • Cameron19

    Tim Horton it was the combinations that were wrong. Him and Kadri out there both wanted to do the same things. He’s not good enough to be the half-wall quarter back. Kadri should have been setting up bombs from the point with Clarkson standing front of the net.

  • Cameron19

    Yaknowwhat It’s funny though, Kessel, like Ovechkin, when on his game can’t be stopped, no matter how well scouted and defended. All he needs is one step to the inside and to launch that ridiculous wrister on net. 

    For me, the problem with the lack of mobility stems from forcing Franson onto that unit. You put Rielly in Phaneuf’s spot, and Phaneuf in Franson’s spot, and that allows Rielly and Kessel to take turns quarterbacking the play.

  • 4evrblue

    I feel you’ve painted a poor picture of Dion here. He isn’t a PP setup man but that was how he was being deployed this year. He’s a trigger man, as is Franson. The difference between the two is Dion can utilize the one timer. Based on the info you have given I think it would be obvious to pair Rielly with Dion. A guy that can rack up assists paired with a guy that can launch a one timer just makes sense.

  • Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

    Welcome aboard, Luca.  I went to high school with a Brent and Laura Bunting back in the 80’s.  Great article, up above.  Looking forward to plenty more.  I’d target Thornton if the cost was not absorbent (Brady & Walker were discussing this the other morning and said would you give up JVR for Thornton….and I would not).  ROR would be interesting….but I would prefer not to give up either of Kadri nor Gardiner to acquire him.  Stastny….possible, but I would not get into a bidding war for him and he’s already around 6.6 if I recall….how much higher do you go for UFA years?? 
    Am I the only one not interested in Kesler??

  • Cameron19


    Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
    Rielly – Phaneuf

    Clarkson – Kadri – J.V.R.
    Gardiner – Franson

  • DeclanK

    Cameron19 Tim Horton May-Ray as a left shot on the left half-wall made 0 sense (as usual).

  • StanSmith

    You started the article with stating it looked like Carlyle just kept his usual lines together as powerplay units.  I would think that would make perfect sense to do it that way for two reasons.  First you need two power play units and putting all your eggs in one basket, or in this case, one line, might have disastrous results if the first unit doesn’t score, plus you end up with less line shuffling throughout the game.  You also still need to give some thought to defence and the responsibility there I would think would go to Bozak and Phaneuf.

  • Loric76

    Great article, and welcome aboard Luca!

    A couple comments:
    – Consider that with Franson’s defensive weaknesses, pairing him with Phaneuf is more about protecting against short handed opportunities and less about maximizing the PP.  You can’t blame RC for not going with an unproven Rielly in this situation, at least for the first half of the season, since he’d be expected to both contribute on the PP and cover for Franson’s defensive liabilities.
    – With Phaneuf and Franson getting top PP minutes, very often they were the pair to start the PP and typically against the oppositions top PK lines.  Rielly and Gardiner on the other hand got more of the oppositions secondary PK lines.  Moving Rielly up, which I don’t dispute is the right thing to do, will undoubtedly reduce his numbers a bit, and Phaneuf moving down should increase his (especially if he’s moved to the other side).

    End of the day, all the pairings are impacted because Franson sucks.  Gardiner, Rielly, Phaneuf were all misused somewhat because of him.  Replacing him should be paramount this offseason.

  • Burtonboy

    Loric76 Brennan or even Ranger would be better then Franson

  • 4evrblue

    Burtonboy Loric76  I want to see Brennan get a shot in the NHL in blue and white. He deserves it

  • Loric76

    4evrblue Burtonboy Loric76 He’s just as bad, or worse, than Franson defensively.  I’d love to see him succeed at the NHL level too, but he’s not good enough as s defenseman.  I’ve been saying it for weeks – move him up to forward as a defensive winger.

  • DeclanK

    Cameron19 Ydargo
    I think I’d have Gards with Phaneuf. He’s a bit more comfortable on his correct side feeding one-timers to Dion and has a hard shot when he’s in motion, too. Can drift in and cause some trouble for opposition. 
    I’d play Franson and Rielly on their off-sides. Rielly has played a lot of RD in Jr and looks pretty comfortable with it at the pro level. Franson’s one-timer gets put to better use on LD, even though he’s decent from RD.

  • Burtonboy

    Loric76 4evrblue Burtonboy From what I saw Brennan was much improved defensively in the second half of the season

  • 4evrblue

    Loric76 4evrblue Burtonboy  We’ll never really know until we see him in the show. Besides, if he is Franson 2.0 at least he’ll be cheaper on the cap

  • lukethenuke

    Id let Rielly and Gardiner take the 1st PP… theyre just so dangerous and bring a sense of offense phaneuf or franson cannot. DPs mins can be cut down a bit plus he can be a threat on the second against weaker PKs.  If anyones watched the Playoffs they can see how mobile guys on the blueline IS the way to go (Subban, Doughty, Markov, Keith, Seabrook, Krug on and on).

  • Black_Hawk

    Reilly will become our PP horse in good time and hopefully become our Doughty on the back end. He could do it offensively for sure.

  • Black_Hawk

    Alec Brownscombe Great Dane agree, dont know why we dont

  • lukethenuke

    DeclanK Alec Brownscombe Great Dane this was a different Dion in 05

  • Yaknowwhat

    He should be number one based on how many minutes/practice he gets compared to the others….and are you talking PP accuracy only? stats aside..he doesn’t shoot it enough…and when he does many times it is high,wide or blocked…Franson seemed to have the ability to get the shot through…Dion needs to realize its not all about the one timer slapper…

  • Loric76

    Burtonboy Loric76 4evrblue True.  He’s definately worth trying

  • Cameron19

    Yaknowwhat I’m pretty sure the stats show that Phaneuf is better at getting a shot through, but whatever. This is another one of those Phaneuf-isms people have already made up their minds about.

  • DeclanK

    Percentage of missed nets Dion vs the rest of the team.

  • Loric76

    4evrblue Loric76 Burtonboy He stunk with Florida the year before, but as BB points out he’s gotten a lot better defensively this past season.  Definitely worth giving a shot to, and you’re absolutely right about the cap hit.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Dewy Keon Hogturd JVR leads the league in screens/60

  • Yaknowwhat

    Its kind of funny …anytime there is an article critical of Phaneuf….and in this case backed up with hard stats…there are various excuses put fourth to defend Dion…its the coaches fault…its his d partners fault…he’s on the wrong side…its the supporting cast…at some point..if this player was half as good as some of you think he is…he would be able to succeed within a variety of coaching systems…he would make whoever he plays with better…and he would be able to play either side…not saying these things don’t have some kind of impact…but its not a perfect world for many of the players in this league..and good..or ahem…great players are able to have success no matter what…