Toronto Maple Leafs’ Powerplay: Room For Improvement

Toronto Maple Leafs’ Powerplay: Room For Improvement

176
Morgan Rielly

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

169 comments
chandler
chandler

would love to see a stat on shot attempts blocked per 60 by franson on the pp. If you're saying he generates 10 on net per 60. His block rate is easily at 100 per 60. Guy can't avoid shooting at peoples shin pads to save his life.

MikeSimon
MikeSimon

Nice to see your recognition of Reilly, but about the whole putdown of Bozak thing: have you seen how efficient he is at: face-offs, leading to puck possession, and also how skilled he is along the boards and in puck cycling despite his modest size.  Bozak is a gifted and intelligent player.  When Kadri can win a face-off, he might be more useful.  Otherwise, you're heading back to your own end to gather the puck, again!

Noodleman
Noodleman

You're forgetting quality of competition on this one. 


First PP line, Bozak, Phaneuf and Franson are playing against the other teams top defenders.

darthNihilus
darthNihilus

If we re going by shear stats then the 1st PP group should be lupul-kadri-kessel-reilly and franson.


What would be interesting to see is what percentage of the guys analyzed give up odd man rushes back the other way, who loses the puck most frequently, who from this group cannot keep it in (the D men). Reason being that even though our PP was OK we allowed way too many shorthanded goals and odd man rushes the other way. 

Anthony benel
Anthony benel

This stat does not consider the calibre of opponent. Just saying. I am not defecting Dion but he faces the number one penalty killers on the other team.

silvermaple
silvermaple

Congrats Luka, nice to see some balanced analysis, pointing out both flaws and strengths.  Welcome aboard.


Has anybody noticed a skill Rielly has, of entering the attacking zone and dishing off to a Leaf pylon just inside the blueline.  Then he continues on towards the net, but never receives a return pass on the give-and-go.  When you are the only offensive weapon on the Medicine Hat team, you get the passback and score or pick up an assist when they bury your rebound.  And you figure in 1/2 of team scoring.


When Rielly passes off to another Leaf, they hold the puck or give it to someone else.  They don't expect him to be heading for the front of the net.  So his efforts are wasted, and soon he will stop it, since he never gets rewarded for his trouble.  But this is perfect for the power play, the Leafs need to set up a Rielly rush as one of their powerplay set-plays.


As for the first unit, LD Rielly with RD Brennan;  second unit, LD Gardiner with RD Phaneuf.  Brennan can be a PP specialist regardless of his defensive deficiencies, and will cause fewer SH goals against than Franson hands down.


And losing the first draw and 20 seconds does not kill the PP, you only need one shot to score.  By the way, there are 2 types of PP goals, OZ setup or PP rush;  we need to know where ours come from.

BrandonCheema
BrandonCheema

If we improve our pk. to maybe just above average i think it will bring us into the playoffs. The only time we have excelled in the penelty kill we made the playoffs.

Biltmore
Biltmore

Something I think that's close in value as a good power play is the ability to grind other teams down in their own end when 5-on-5. Lengthy possession/pursuit wears them down, and comes to fruition with an icing. Fresh legs can come on while the other team has stay with the same exhausted five on the ice. Goal scoring opportunities then are almost like having a pp. Three lines are needed to be able to play this way to be effective in the long haul, leaving the top line to be a pure skill/score off the rush line. 

WendelGilmour
WendelGilmour

PP1 should be;

JVR-KADRI-Kessel, Reilly, Phaneuf. JVR in front of the net, Kessel cruising into open spaces. Kadri along the wall. Kadri and Reilly set the plays.

WendelGilmour
WendelGilmour

Good write up, Luke, and welcome. RC being stubborn with ice time (Bozak over Kadri, on the PP) is one of the things that drives me crazy. IMO, PP2 was our better option anyway.

mr_hanie
mr_hanie

LA Kings had the 27th ranked power play...in 2014. Power play is over rated. 5 on 5 play is the main reason teams win.

loomx
loomx

Notes about the powerplay:

- 1st ranked PP at home (2nd fewest home PP opportunities)

- 8th worst PP on the road (9th most road PP opportunities)
- 2nd most shorthanded goals allowed

mr_hanie
mr_hanie

Leafs power play 6th in the league. Article written is pure nitpicking. Like saying if Leafs power play was best Leafs have no more worries.

ProfessorRance
ProfessorRance

Great article Luka. Happy Fathers day to all the dad's of MLHS.

whalz
whalz

Lmfao at some of you guys playing coach and setting up lines for pp etc.

LeafsForLife
LeafsForLife

Welcome to MLHS Luka. Great job. Very insightful. Quite enjoyable and thank you for your hard work.

shafted
shafted

Some good thought, although it seemed obvious to me Carlyle went with book for the faceoffs

DeclanK
DeclanK moderator

@silvermaple was just talking about this.sets up great give and goes but never gets it back.

Cameron19
Cameron19

@leafersutherland The PP falling off the map post-Olympics was a pretty serious concern. It's also troubling because it was just so ineffective that it was killing momentum. It appeared that teams had solved it pretty much entirely, and once again we saw a total refusal to adapt from the coaching staff. 

whalz
whalz

We need to improve out positional play. Basically do the opposite of what RC coaches system wise.

- no breakout system unless you think dumping/ flipping it out into centre ice.

- pk system a joke

- too many shots against resulting from RC system

We need a lot of help.

JeffNB
JeffNB

@WendelGilmour

Although, we'd probably lose the first faceoff and there goes the first 20 seconds of the powerplay. If the first break in attempt is thwarted there goes another twenty seconds. It makes sense having a guy who can win the draw out to start the powerplay. Kadri needs to improve this part of his game. 

loomx
loomx

@mr_hanie Right, but for the most part, playoff teams are in the top 20 in powerplay %. Unless you have the defensive magic formula that the Kings had, the Leafs will need their special teams running on all cylinders The Leafs only scored 8 times on the PP in 63 opportunities over the last 22 games. That's a % of 12.7, 2nd worst in the league. That's a problem.

Cameron19
Cameron19

@mr_hanie How did their PP click in the playoffs though?  Generally speaking, you still need your PP clicking when it matters most.

lukaryderbunting
lukaryderbunting

I by no means meant to propose it was a gigantic problem nor that it was the largest problem -- I actually started the article by stating that sentiment.

That being said, I think there is definitely potential for improvement. If the potential is there, why not take advantage of it? Teams should always be looking to improve in minor ways. The buds have the potential on their roster for an even more lethal PP

WendelGilmour
WendelGilmour

When you have something you could improve just by using the right players, why wouldn't you do it?

sniperstar
sniperstar

@mr_hanie There is always room for improvement and as such we should explore every opportunity to improve this team.

Ydargo
Ydargo

It sure beats the negativity that tends to come to surface on here

It's nice to see guys getting a little excited for the possibilities

It seemed there was a pretty heavy dose if doom and gloom for a bit

silvermaple
silvermaple

@DeclanK @silvermaple By the way, when I tabbed Brennan as PP specialist, I did not mean he could not cut it as a fulltime defenseman.  He should get a chance to earn the fulltime role first, and only become  the PP specialist if his fulltime D tryout sucks.

Komas Taberle
Komas Taberle

@Cameron19 @leafersutherland

That didn't kill us, what did was every player being second to the puck.

Second to the puck meant that every team we played against could start a cycle until their hearts were content, that is what did us in.

Cameron19
Cameron19

@whalz Sounds like you're on track recognizing that a lot of it is systematic though. 

WendelGilmour
WendelGilmour

Someone posted on that earlier. Bozak 53.6%, Kadri 52.5%. Every 100 PP draws Bozak wins one more.

DeclanK
DeclanK moderator

@sniperstar @mr_hanie Powerplay was awful to end the year and this is what mediocre teams say. "Good enough" doesn't cut it for a team that had the worse record in the league—by a country mile—from the Olympic break onwards.

mr_hanie
mr_hanie

I was quite happy with Leafs powr play it was their d zone play that needs improvement. The trouble is defensive zone does not make sports high light reels like power play goals. People in love with the slam dunk stuff.

whalz
whalz

Hey I'm excited aswell but it's in relation to the upcoming draft and the possibility of trades and buyouts. We don't even know who will be in the lineup next yr.

DeclanK
DeclanK moderator

@silvermaple @DeclanK

not sure the leafs can afford to do that. If you have a borderline nhl player on your pp#1, you have a bad team.

whalz
whalz

Your damn right. Lol. We have the right mix of players. A few more meat and potatoe type of players and a system that works within the group should improve this team.

RC also needs to let his young players play.

Ashton, Damigo, holland need more ice time in place of Orr fml and mcclemtn. (Although McClemment if used on the 4th line properly) is still a decent player.

sniperstar
sniperstar

@mr_hanie I completely agree with you that the defensive zone play is what needs the greatest improvement. And I think we have beat that like a dead horse. I enjoyed this article as something new to look at and think about.

Ydargo
Ydargo

Ha, I know.......we all have our own version of what could happen......most of it isn't likely to happen. It's still food for thought which I'm ok with

For example, Hope_Smoke is on this big anti-Bozak kick via Twitter.......it's alright to not like someone......but it's been his mission for the last week to prove he is right and everyone who likes Bozak is wrong. I don't think I have ever met one person on this site, on tv, on radio, on twitter that has been 100% right.......the negativity just bothers me, hockey to me is something that I enjoy and is an escape from a lot of things

Thats my rant on that lol

mr_hanie
mr_hanie

Yes defensive zone breakouts is very hard to execute let alone write about

whalz
whalz

Lol. I check out his tweets only to see what I missed from dreger or Mackenzie. That's the only thing his account is good for. I'm tired of looking at his tweets bashing Bozak and Clarkson. How many times has he tweeted Clarkson just fell down? Lol guy needs to get a life.

I scope out websites looking for info but find all I need to do is come here as a lot of posters post it here.

All I know is I'm counting down the days leading up to the draft and hope the buyout period starts off with a bang and we see a lot of movement.

Komas Taberle
Komas Taberle

@mr_hanie

As long as we are 2nd to the puck, there is no hope for good defensive breakouts.

We need to be 1st to the puck and work from there. take the hit to make the make the play.

JeffNB
JeffNB

@whalz

I can understand the Clarkson comments. He played terribly this season and took up a lot of cap space. Bozak on the other hand, was on a 60-70 point pace, wins faceoffs, kills penalties and plays a pretty good two way game. He's also signed to a reasonable contract. I know he may not be the ideal number one centre, but if you want to chase this guy off your team, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND HOCKEY. In any rational market, we would be excited about Bozak having a strong season and hoping that he can build off it.

Ydargo
Ydargo

I'm right there with you, would unfollow if he didn't do those interview transcriptions