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Michael Stephens

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Michael Stephens has been writing for Maple Leafs Hotstove since 2010, and has featured in the 2010 and 2012 Maple Leaf Annuals. Former Editiorial Intern at The Hockey News. Undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor. Chat me up about all things hockey on twitter @MLHS_Mike

1516

Jonathan Bernier took a costly penalty in the overtime frame, and Max Pacioretty scored his second of the game to give the Montreal Canadiens a 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The Leafs both battled back from a two-goal deficit and coughed up a late lead to lose their second consecutive game in OT since coming back from the Olympic break.  James van Riemsdyk scored two, and Kessel had a goal and an assist while Jonathan Bernier made 26 saves.  Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, PK Subban scored in regulation for the Canadiens, while Peter Budaj made 22 saves.

Gold is Canada’s and the players are on flights back home.  The NHL season starts up again on Tuesday with just nine days remaining until the March 5 NHL Trade Deadline.  As the Toronto Maple Leafs push towards its second consecutive playoff berth, could Mason Raymond’s 16 goals and 19 assists in 60 games this season make him one of the hottest buys on deadline day?

593

Everything is coming up aces for the Toronto Maple Leafs in January.  The club has won six straight games to not just climb back into the playoff race but establish a secure foothold.  And if the riches weren’t embarrassing enough, the Leafs also have junior hockey’s hottest scorer, Connor Brown.

Brown, the 156th selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft currently leads the Ontario Hockey League in scoring with 31 goals, 61 assists for 92 points in 45 games this season.  He holds a 10-point lead over his closest competitor (teammate Dane Fox) and is on pace to challenge the 140-point mark in the OHL for the first time since Patrick Kane in 2007.

Since the OHL season began in October, Brown has gone from being a longshot prospect (ranked 21st by PPP and 18th by TLN in the 2013 offseason) to the club’s brightest draft pick.  His play so far this season earned him a three-year entry level contract; and his omission from Canada’s WJC team came as a shocker to anyone who understands that winning teams tend to outscore losing teams.

While interning at the Hockey News in the spring of 2012, Brown’s name first came to my attention while working on their draft preview issue.  While playing on a comically bad Erie Otters team, Brown racked up one of the worst +/- scores of any player in any league ever with a -72. Indeed, if I recall correctly, he was something of a laughing stock among the staff.

Never mind that +/- is a mostly pointless stat; Brown was one of the few good players on a team that literally gave up twice as many goals as they scored (169 GF vs. 338 GA, a hilarious -169 differential).  Lost in the negative zone was that Brown led those woeful Otters in scoring in 2012.  And repeated that feat in 2013.  And seems hell bent to lead the whole league for the three-peat.  Heck of an encore after being written off so completely.

Despite making headlines for the wrong reasons prior to his draft, the Leafs certainly have had a precise plan in place to see Brown develop into a top six guy in the NHL.  In a July 2013 interview, Leafs Player Development head Jim Hughes said this about Brown:

He’s an interesting one because his skill sets are so high.  He can find the late people, he can find the seam, he can find the backdoor people and he can buy time and space. He’s got really soft hands and a very creative brain.  

And then you put him with McDavid for another year. I think Connor finished around 80 points in the OHL?  So, when you play him with McDavid he should be in the 100-point range.  Maybe we keep in junior for an overage year.  Maybe he’ll be in the 110-120 point range. We’re not sure.  He’s got a high ceiling and we’re going to continue to find out how far he can take this, because he’s a second line player, not a 3 guy or a 4 guy.  He’s a 2 guy.  And we’ll see what kind of production he can put up this coming season.

With Connor we’re looking 24 months down the road.  It’s not a quick fix with him.  We’re looking to put 6-8 pounds on him this year, maybe another 6-8 pounds on him next year.  We’re looking long term and if we allow him that big window of another 24 months we might have something.

It’s safe to say that Brown has exceeded everybody’s expectations for him, even if a 100-point season did seem insane (instead of prophetic) at the time.  Clearly the biggest goals from the Maple Leafs’ standpoint are to see Brown add to both his point totals and his waistline.  But having nearly superseded his projected point totals in his draft +2 year with 23 games remaining, it’s safe to say Brown is ahead of the Leafs’ internal schedule.  He’ll almost certainly start with the Marlies for the 2014-15 season, as his offensive pedigree will be a welcome addition to Spott’s roster.

But will he be an NHLer? Or is he is merely an exceptional OHLer? I took a quick peak at the last 20 years of OHL leading scorers, their ages, draft status, points and games played:

Year
Name
Age
Draft+
PTS
NHL GP
2014Connor Brown202920
2013Vincent Trocheck1921090
2012Mike Sgarbossa1921026
2011Tyler Toffoli19110043
2010Taylor Hall180106215
2009John Tavares180104341
2008Justin Azevedo2021240
2007Patrick Kane180145497
2006Rob Schremp202145114
2005Corey Perry202130625
2004Corey Locke2021189
2003Corey Locke1911519
2002Nathan Robinson2031107
2001Kyle Wellwood180118489
2000Sheldon Keefe201121125
1999Peter Sarno2021307
1998Peter Sarno1911217
1997Marc Savard202130807
1996Aaron Brand2031190
1995Marc Savard180139807
1994Jason Allison191142552

Here are some takeaways from the above list:

-          Purely by the numbers, nine of the previous 20 OHL leading scorers went on to play at least 100 games.  When all is said and done, it seems likely that Tyler Toffoli will also achieve that rank, while Sgarbossa and Trocheck are still too young to guess.  But roughly 50% of leading scorers in the past 20 years played at least a season and a half in the NHL.

-          7 of the 9 leading scorers to play 100+ NHL games were first round picks.  3 of those 7 were first overall picks in their draft year.

-          5 of the 9 leading scorers to play 100+ NHL games did so in their draft year.

-          2 players led the OHL in scoring in an overage year (Robinson and Brand).

-          Only 2 players (excluding Trocheck) never played an NHL game.

-          Most of the above info doesn’t really help Connor Brown’s case

 

There appears to be a few distinct species of OHL scoring champs.  First is the superstar talent that set the league on fire before they were drafted.  Tavares, Hall, Kane would be the best examples of these guys.  Guys that end up being posters on some kid’s wall.

On the other end are smaller guys taken in late rounds who lit up the league before flickering out into relative NHL obscurity.  The Robinsons, Lockes and Sarnos of the world might torch the Erste Bank League, but their NHL dreams are long extinguished.

The third and final type is really an offshoot of the second.  Later round guys like Wellwood and Savard who had distinct knocks to their game (size, speed and commitment etc.) yet clearly have a couple truly exceptional hockey skills (playmaking and puck skills) that allow them to become everyday contributors to NHL clubs.

Unfortunately, his age (and likely his now insanely good supporting cast in Erie) suggests that Brown’s road to the show will be a long one, more similar to those second and third types.  But he’s already being afforded the opportunity to improve upon weaknesses like skating or defensive acumen with the Leafs training staff.

Yet for every Marc Savard comes at least one Aaron Brand or Justin Azevedo.  So while Brown has provided nothing but optimism for Leafs fans since his selection, all he’s done is distinguish himself from young competition after his draft year.

In terms of an NHL timeline, it would behoove Leafs fans to remember Jerry D’Amigo, another sixth rounder who shot out the lights after the Leafs drafted him.  Five seasons later and he’s only now cracked the Leafs lineup in a spot duty capacity.

But if you consider the process over the product, you can’t help but be hopeful.   While it doesn’t sound particularly impressive to potentially play ‘only’ 100 NHL games, the Maple Leafs’ scouting staff’s ability to continue to unearth cheap, potentially NHL-calibre talent late in the draft speaks to its competence league-wide.

More importantly, this late round success could offset dubious, low-ceiling selections in the first round like Tyler Biggs and Frederik Gauthier.  Because while it could be well argued that I’m being too negative about a guy tallying 2 points per game in junior, guys that can’t manage a point per game tend to have it worse.

585

A new look line up produced better results, as the Toronto Maple Leafs topped the Boston Bruins 4-3 Tuesday night.  The Leafs were led by the offensive dynamism of Tyler Bozak who scored 2 game-tying goals in the first period and added an assist on the eventual game winner.  Phil Kessel recorded 3 assists, and now has 7 points in his last three games.  It was Bozak’s 7th career 2-goal game… which is actually kind of an impressive stat for him.  Equally impressive was the goaltending of Jonathan Bernier, who made 38 saves in his 9th start in the past 10 games.

312

It’s a simple question with a scary answer: how important are the next two games to the Toronto Maple Leafs? The Leafs are kicking of a stretch of five games in seven nights tonight in Carolina, one of their busiest portions of their season. The Leafs have held playoff positioning all season, but months of mediocre play have whittled its foothold in the East’s hierarchy. While it’s impossible to say that these are the two most important games of the Leafs season, it could very well be the two most important games of the season so far.

334

As reported by TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dion Phaneuf have come to terms on a 7-year contract extension valued at $49-million ($7-million AAV).  This keeps the 28 year old Phaneuf in the fold until the end of the 2020-21 season.  Bob McKenzie is reporting that there is some form of NMC/NTC, which is a typical addendum to UFA-year contracts.  The deal is the second-most expensive contract ever signed by the Maple Leafs (Kessel’s 8-year, $64-million dollar deal signed earlier this season is #1).

The Only Man for the Job

The money should come as no surprise.  Back in October, I wrote that the Leafs would likely spend between 47 and 56 million on a 7-8 year deal for the Captain (between 6.7-7 AAV).  Very simply, the Leafs defense is among the most porous in the league, and Phaneuf is one of the few defenders that can play 25+ minutes a night in three zones.  There’s no one else in the system that can provide what Phaneuf does, and this is the going rate for a defenseman of his pedigree.

Due respect to Morgan Rielly, but even if he is a No. 1 defenseman, it won’t be for at least a few seasons.  The prize UFA defender on the horizon is Dan Girardi, though his availability next summer remains uncertain.  Phaneuf was going to get paid by some team, and Leafs GM Dave Nonis chose to deal with the devil he knew instead of trolling the free agent market for unknowns.

Terms and Conditions

Detractors will point to his meagre and falling point totals since coming to Toronto – he has just 15 points through 39 games this season – as reason for concern.  However, as Elliot Saccucci pointed out the other day, in the world of a rising cap Phaneuf’s dollar figure won’t admit much impediment to building a winner.

His cap number will come in at about 10% of the total cap next season.  That sounds high, but will fall as HRR continues to skyrocket and increase the annual salary cap figures league-wide.  The more legitimate concern should be: just how prudent is it to pay a guy $7-million until he’s 36 years old.

Neon Dion

Phaneuf, selected ninth overall in 2003, has played 261 games for Toronto, recording 35 goals and 92 assists for 126 points over the last 5 NHL seasons.  For his career, he’s tallied 110 goals, 245 assists for 355 points in 639 games.  Since entering the league in 2005-06, Phaneuf ranks sixth in points and third in goals by a defenseman.  Phaneuf has been a finalist for both rookie of the year (2006) and the Norris trophy (2008).

Top Point Producing NHL Defenceman Since 2005-2006

Click on column headings to organize or use the search bar.
Rk
Player
From
To
Tm
GP
G
A
PTS
+/-
PIM
EV
PP
SH
S
S%
1Nicklas Lidstrom20062012DET548913254161732384150013526.7
2Dan Boyle20062014TOT585101291392-154445248114477
3Brian Campbell20062014TOT6276130636741145322909216.6
4Zdeno Chara20062014TOT6341122513631368024168317766.3
5Sergei Gonchar20062014TOT54369293362-234242246111366.1
6Dion Phaneuf20062014TOT638109245354118494761117856.1
7Lubomir Visnovsky20062014TOT54694260354262535539010259.2
8Kimmo Timonen20062014TOT63858293351594082330510595.5
9Duncan Keith20062014CHI647622833451194234215513204.7
10Tomas Kaberle20062013TOT54146293339-40150252109255
11Shea Weber20062014NSH563117195312314395756415097.8
12Brian Rafalski20062011TOT4564925930882172222618305.9
13Andrei Markov20062014MTL4556424330726305194237948.1
14Mark Streit20062014TOT52868236304-55270293729417.2
15Chris Pronger20062012TOT44563235298584922439010096.2
16Jay Bouwmeester20062014TOT6576922729624334722012355.6
17Mike Green20062014WSH46897199296513644650111278.6
18Ryan Suter20062014TOT6304225029241438271419864.3
19Marek Zidlicky20062014TOT57457233290-41502174008946.4
20Dennis Wideman20062014TOT60575210285-543972944212446
21Christian Ehrhoff20062014TOT60964217281684233628012535.1
22John-Michael Liles20062014TOT54867212279-402143235010086.6
23Brent Seabrook20062014CHI639592142731074773820110995.4
24Joe Corvo20062014TOT58279193272191873938213066
25Niklas Kronwall20062014DET5325720926650352312608256.9
26Scott Niedermayer*20062010TOT37160204264-5306213907867.6
27Ryan Whitney20062014TOT48050209259-30381252417057.1
28Bryan McCabe20062011TOT42769189258-3470264309657.2
29Joni Pitkanen20062013TOT46449206255-23440351319045.4

The Scientific Method

For those who look for more than just box cars, some advanced metrics are unearthing a lode of information on Dion Phaneuf’s two-way contrbutions to the Maple Leafs.  One such, THoR (Total Hockey Rating, created by Michael Shuckers and Jim Curro) puts Phaneuf in the top ten among NHL defenders over the last two seasons.  It goes on to suggest that Phaneuf’s contributions over a season add up to almost 4 more wins compared to a league-average player.

More on THoR from http://statsportsconsulting.com: THoR is a two-way player rating that accounts for the all of the on-ice action events when a players is on the ice as well as their linemates, their opponents and where their shift starts.  Each event is assessed a value according to the chance that it leads to a goal.  THoR uses a statistical model to determine the value of each player’s contribution to the overall outcomes that occur while they are on the ice.  The values for THoR in the columns of the files below are given in wins over an average player for an 82 game season.  Count/Number in the files below is the number of plays that a given players was on the ice.

If that doesn’t float your boat, then there are some more traditional fancy stats to consider.  According to Behind the Net, among defenders with at least 20 games played, Phaneuf faces the hardest Relative Corsi quality of competition, the lowest quality of teammates score, while being twice as likely to start a shift in the defensive zone.

Phaneuf is Phaneuf

What we see every night, Phaneuf shouldering the load against increasingly difficult odds, is confirmed in the above numbers.  And it’s no small part as to why he’s been paid $49-million over the next seven years.  His ability to handle those tough and plentiful minutes as time goes by, while also providing above average offense, will determine whether this deal is a great success or failure.  But the money is market value for 2013, and it’s nowhere near the worst deal Nonis has signed a player to in the last 362 days.

232

Two vastly different Maple Leaf teams showed up, but neither were enough to muster W, as the Leafs fell to the San Jose Sharks 4 – 2 Tuesday night.  Ex-Leaf Mike Brown, Joe Thornton, Brad Stuart and Logan Couture tallied for the Sharks, who won their 19th of the season and sixth straight.  Mason Raymond and Phil Kessel replied with power play goals for the Leafs, who dropped their fourth straight.  James Reimer made 37 saves in defeat, while Antti Niemi stopped 28 in his 24th start of the season.

1752

Jake Gardiner dazzled in his best game of the season, David Clarkson FINALLY scored his first goal of the season and Jonathan Bernier was good when he needed to be as the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped the New York Islanders 5 – 2. Trevor Smith, Phil Kessel (2), Mason Raymond and Clarkson all scored for the Leafs, who won their second straight game.  Smith (1G, 2A) and Joffrey Lupul (3A) tallied 3 points apiece as the Leafs cruised to a pretty easy victory. Bernier made 35 saves for his eighth victory of the season.  Kevin Poulin struggled for the Islanders, making just 19 saves.  Casey Cizikas and Frans Nielsen responded for the Isles.

1.  Despite their middling record, the Islanders came into Toronto having won their last three matches at the ACC.  They also have one of the league’s top forward trios with Jonathan Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo combining for 66 points through the first 21 games.  But that didn’t matter all that much because Joffrey Lupul carried the puck cleanly through the neutral zone, sifted through the defense, cut towards the net and found a wide open Trevor Smith out front who scored the game’s opening goal just 22 seconds into the game.  Lupul assisted on the goal, Smith’s fourth of the year, breaking a mini slump (2 pts in last 9gp prior to tonight).  Hockey’s Handsomest Line™ (Lupul, Smith and Clarkson) was creating chances every shift they took tonight, combining for 7 points.

2. Jake Gardiner was electric in the first period.  He turned a defensive zone fourth line shift into two offensive chances.  Firstly by adroitly clearing the zone and getting the puck to Frazer McLaren and into the Islanders zone.  Later in the same shift, Cody Franson pounced on a turnover and left a soft touch pass for Gardiner.  With the Isles forwards switching their vectors onto him, Gardiner floated a surprise pass to Franson.  Despite somewhat bobbling the back and forth, Franson had enough time and space to recover and get a crisp, low shot off.  Later in the frame he also played a 3 on 1 textbook perfectly, neutering what should have been a good chance by the Isles.  He saw 9 minutes through the first 20, 22 through the game, and had a shift in the second period where he was just a one-man breakout machine (fun fact, that was my nickname in high school).

3. For Gardiner’s heroics, his erstwhile (that means former, before you get on me in the comments) defense partner Paul Ranger had another rough game, especially at the blue lines.  The Islanders were allowed to keep the puck in the Leafs end for nearly a minute due to Ranger’s inability to get it to the line AND out.  With the Leafs applying pressure and the Kessel line on, Ranger turned the puck over at the blue line on a seemingly innocuous play, allowing for a chance the other way.  That’s usually the recipe for a good old fashioned benching, so of course he went on to play 17 and a half minutes tonight, even in spite of a foolish roughing penalty towards the middle of the third.

4. Though the Leafs were outshot 11-7 through 20, they appeared to hold the balance of play through the first.  The second period started off less favourably for the Buds, getting outshot 4-0 and out played through the first five minutes of play.  It wasn’t until a borderline hit by Nikolai Kulemin on Tavares that the Leafs woke up.  Though not instantaneous, the ice began to tilt in Toronto’s favour.  The Leafs top two lines took to work, hemming the Isles in their zone for sustained periods of time, leading to the inevitable….

5.  After James van Riemsdyk got hacked down in the Isles’ zone, the Maple Leafs took the game’s first power play mid-way through the second period.  With a PP that’s been scoring nearly a goal per game and the Leafs surging, Phil Kessel took a pass from Lupul, button hooked, took a couple steps down to the circle, and took just a beautiful wrister that sailed passed Poulin’s blocker. The goal was Kessel’s 11th of the season and just his second in 8 games; with Lupul and Phaneuf picking up the assists.  He’d later pick up his second goal of the game and 12th of the season off a 2-1 rush with van Riemsdyk to close out the third.

6. This is why you don’t make fun of people’s names.

Casey Cizikas, who isn’t a tasty thing that goes with donair, scores an absolute beauty on a breakaway with 11 seconds left in the 2nd, outracing Jake Gardiner (Not a typo) and slipping the puck through Bernier’s wickets.  The Leafs held a 2-1 lead through 40, and I’m still sorry about the whole thing guys.

7. The third period started in a similar fashion to the second, with the Islanders controlling play.  Shortly after Eric Boulton and Colton Orr chucked knuckles, Carl Gunnarsson blocks a shot and gets the puck out to Mason Raymond.  The puck finds its way to a driving McClement in the center lane, who puts a shot on Poulin.  Raymond was Johnny on the spot and buried the rebound to make it 3-1. The goal was Raymond’s 8th of the season, with McClement getting the lone assist.  It was all over but the screaming at that point.

8. I wanted to use this space to discuss just how great a game Nikolai Kulemin had, but David Clarkson’s goal – and play tonight – warrant mention.  The second line was great tonight.  Their ability to wear the Isles down in the offensive zone was noticeable, and all three were rewarded handsomely on the score sheet.  But for Clarkson, who is suddenly hot with three points in his last three games, his third period tally was the monkey off the back goal he so desperately needed.  Much like Phil Kessel last season, it took Clarkson 21 11 games to pot his first, but it sure was a beauty.  He played just a shade under 19 minutes tonight, and was hell for the Islanders to play throughout.

The line of Raymond, McClement and Kulemin was also effective while lining up against the Tavares unit for a number of shifts.

9. Special Teams Report: The league’s 11th ranked PK entering tonight (83.5% success rate) went 2/2 and kept the Leafs ahead the Islanders in the waning minutes of the second and mid-way through the third.  Carl Gunnarsson, whom I maligned earlier this afternoon, made a huge play to block a couple shots with Bernier scrambling to get back in position.  Gunnarsson’s selfless maneuver kept the Leafs two-goal lead intact with just over 10 left to play in the game.

The Leafs power play, ranked 3rd in the league with a 23.1 success rate, went 1/2 and helped put the Leafs out front by a two-goal margin.  They never had to look back after that.  For the record, the Zebras looked kindly on the Maple Leafs all game.  In the first, Frazer McLaren attempted to instigate a fight with an unwilling Matt Martin.  That probably should have been a penalty.  Kulemin’s thunderous hit on Tavares, while the most hit Kuli’s had since May, was certainly on the edge of legality.  The refs, thankfully, kept the whistles away, allowing for a fun, fast paced, even game.

Kessel's 2nd of the night, the 5-2 goal.

Kessel’s 2nd of the night, the 5-2 goal.

10. The Islanders weren’t exactly expected to be a fearsome competitor facing the East’s third best team.  Instead they served as slump busters, getting both Lupul and Kessel back on the score sheet after short droughts.  It wasn’t always pretty for the full 60, but at no point did the game truly seem in doubt for the Leafs.  There’s still plenty of room to grow, but this was a better, more dominant win than most for the Buds.

The Leafs will be in action on Thursday as they host the Nashville Predators.  It’ll be the second and final regular season matchup between the two clubs; Toronto won their previous tilt 4-0.

Leafs/Isles Shot Location Data

Leafs/Isles Shot Location Data

SCORING SUMMARY
 
 
 
1ST PERIOD
0:22:00TORTrevor Smith (3) Snap shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (5)1 - 0 TOR
2ND PERIOD
11:19:00TOR PPG - Phil Kessel (11) Wrist shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (6), Dion Phaneuf (7)2 - 0 TOR
19:48:00NYICasey Cizikas (3) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE2 - 1 TOR
3RD PERIOD
3:39:00TORMason Raymond (8) Backhand shot - ASST: Jay McClement (2)3 - 1 TOR
12:52:00TORDavid Clarkson (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Trevor Smith (2), Joffrey Lupul (7)4 - 1 TOR
15:14:00NYIFrans Nielsen (10) Wrist shot - ASST: Josh Bailey (6)4 - 2 TOR
17:17:00TORPhil Kessel (12) Wrist shot - ASST: James van Riemsdyk (7), Trevor Smith (3)5 - 2 TOR

Islanders at Leafs - November 19

Leafs 5 vs. Isles 2.
NO.
PLAYER
POS
G
A
P
+/-
PIM
S
HITS
BKS
GVA
TKA
FO%
PPTOI
SHTOI
TOI
3D. PhaneufD0112004210-2:52:002:47:0022:16:00
4C. FransonD000-2024120-2:18:001:13:0020:56:00
11J. McClementC011101000159%0:00:002:47:0020:18:00
12M. RaymondL1011030000-0:32:000:00:0015:57:00
15P. RangerD0001202231-0:00:001:20:0017:22:00
19J. LupulR0330202010100%2:36:000:00:0019:28:00
21J. van RiemsdykL011102002125%2:36:001:13:0016:54:00
22J. SmithsonC000000320075%0:00:001:35:008:43:00
23T. SmithC123102121157%0:32:000:00:0016:43:00
24P. HollandC000001310014%0:00:000:00:0012:43:00
28C. OrrR0000504000-0:00:000:00:006:29:00
36C. GunnarssonD0003004131-0:00:000:52:0019:31:00
38F. McLarenL0000501000-0:00:000:00:006:39:00
41N. KuleminL00010332110%0:00:002:25:0017:26:00
44M. RiellyD0001012421-0:16:000:00:0017:45:00
51J. GardinerD000-1030110-0:50:001:48:0022:20:00
71D. ClarksonR10100251100%0:32:000:00:0018:49:00
81P. KesselC2021041000-2:36:000:00:0015:41:00
Goalie
NO.PLAYERSAVESSV%PIMTOI
45J. Bernier35 - 370.946060:00:00

932

Two of the longer term concerns entering the 2013-14 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs were the contract statuses of their star players Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.  GM Dave Nonis made good on Kessel’s desire to negotiate before the season, and now the Leafs leading scorer will be in the fold until 2022. Having taken care of the time sensitive work, now Nonis’ sights will be set on re-signing the Leafs captain to a long term deal.  But what’s it going to cost?  Let’s take a look.

For his part, Phaneuf has said he’s open to negotiating a new deal midseason, having done so in Calgary back in 2008.  And why not? The Flames overpaid to lock up a young, budding star defender that had already reached the 20-goal and 60-point plateau by the age of 23.  He’s never managed to repeat either feat since, and was shipped to Toronto two years later as a high-priced disappointment.  Since coming to Toronto, he’s lost and re-found some measure of his scoring touch, while regularly lining up in the toughest defensive assignments.  His role has changed, the cap has risen, the rules have changed, but his paycheque has remained static since then.

To look at what Phaneuf should get, I looked into the last four seasons of data on defensemen (2009-10 through 2012-13).  Amusingly, these happen to be the four worst years of Phaneuf’s career from a statistical standpoint, but probably better reflect his scoring output as the seasons roll on.  Yes, in an eight-year career, two Phaneuf’s worst individual seasons saw him feature 10th and 12th in league scoring among defenders.  So please understand that I used the word ‘worst’ in a relative sense here.

In 277 games over the last four seasons, Phaneuf ranks 23rd in points scored with 134, good for .48 points per game.  More impressively, he ranks 8th in goals (41), power play goals (18) and time on ice (6916 minutes).  It is in that last category where there’s some interesting salary correlations, as six of the seven players ahead of him in TOI over the last four seasons also have higher cap hits (Weber, Chara, Bouwmeester, Doughty, Suter and Boyle).  Only Duncan Keith, signed to a phony 13-year, $72-million deal that pays just 5% of his total salary over his final two seasons, has a lower annual cap hit and has played more hockey than Phaneuf.

Now, ice time is hardly a perfect measure of Phaneuf’s worth, and I think most would agree that at least five of the seven players ahead of Phaneuf on that list are better defensemen than the Leafs captain.  But what we can extrapolate is that is that defensemen who play as much as Phaneuf does tend to get paid as much as Phaneuf does.  They also tend to have both a leadership role and a ‘play in all situations’ role with their club, much like Phaneuf does.  So while I’d be hesitant to say that Phaneuf is the league’s 8th best defenseman, he’s certainly in the top 20.

But one of the greatest difficulties in projecting Phaneuf’s future cap hit is understanding the vast shift in his playing style since coming to Toronto.  As alluded to above, he has been tasked with defensive zone starts and top lines every shift he’s skated in Toronto.  In his early days, Phaneuf saw over 5 minutes a night on the power play, and was given sheltered minutes at even strength.  This season, Phaneuf finds himself in an elite pair of defenders (the other being Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson) who average at least 3:30 in ice time on both the penalty kill and power play per game while facing the league’s best forwards.

At this point, I’d like to remind Leafs fans of Phaneuf’s idol and potential career model, Scott Stevens.  While known for punishing hits and staunch defensive play for the New Jersey Devils, it’s sometimes hard to remember that he was once a pure scorer.  While never among the ranks of Larry Murphy or Paul Coffey offensively, Stevens still tallied 900 points in his career.  His best season was 1993-94 when he finished with 78 points.  Then came the first of Gary Bettman’s lockouts and a new game format that encouraged stifling defensive play.  In 10 more seasons, Stevens would only crack 30 points once more, yet he became the most notable defensive presence of the “Dead Puck Era.”

Similarly for Phaneuf, the offensive dynamism that made him rich seems to have been replaced by defensive prowess.  It’s not that Phaneuf has lost that offensive side to his game, it’s that his role and usage limit his overall number of offensive chances for in favour of limiting offensive chances against.  Phaneuf could never score 40 points again, but he’s significantly more reliable, responsible and positionally sound than he was in his halcyon days as a scorer.  As both James Mirtle and I said on Monday, Phaneuf is without a doubt the most irreplaceable player in the line up.

Many have argued that Phaneuf’s current cap number looks out of place citing his capgeek comparables, and have been using Jay Bouwmeester when forecasting Phaneuf’s next deal.  The St. Louis Blues defender and former linemate of Phaneuf’s is in the last year of a deal that pays him $6.68-million annually.  He also recently signed a five-year extension with the Blues that will pay him a mere $5.4-million.  And for seemingly little reason, that’s what Phaneuf should get.  Or so the thinking goes.

But there’s several factors that make me believe there’s no chance that Phaneuf can be re-signed for JayBo’s modest number.  Firstly, there’s little similarity in their game, beyond the fact that both log a tonne of minutes.  Over the past four seasons, Bouwmeester has 30 fewer points than Phaneuf; 22 fewer goals.  While a top defenseman in his own right, Bouwmeester has to fight for third billing behind standouts Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk.  It’s hard to ask for a raise when there are two other guys at your work who do your job better than you.  Phaneuf does not have to suffer that workplace competition, and might never in a Leaf uniform.  Also, George W. Bush was still president at the start of the last season where Bouwmeester recorded 40 points.  Finally, Phaneuf is also a year younger than Bouwmeester, still closer to his prime and still able to crack 40 points.

So what does it all mean?  What is Phaneuf worth? Most would agree that he’s not worthy of Ryan Suter’s $7.4-million paycheque, despite Phaneuf having 59 more points over 600-game careers.  He’s also worth more than Jay Bouwmeester’s future cap hit of $5.4-million.

If I had to stake a guess, I’d actually say that Phaneuf will see a slight raise ahead of next season.  He’s still only 28, and has been healthy most of his career.  He’s proven capable of playing 25-minutes a night and more likely than not to score 40 points a season.  There’s a dearth of options internally or externally that the Leafs could acquire to immediately replace and improve upon what Phaneuf does.

The only way I could see him re-signing at his current price tag or for less money is if the Leafs are willing to offer Phaneuf an eight-year deal.  But if I had to give a more accurate range, I’d say that the Leafs and Phaneuf will probably end up coming to terms on a deal in the 7-8 year, $47-56-million deal.  That would put his annual cap hit at a reasonable, $6.7 to $7-million cap hit on a deal that would expire when Phaneuf was 36 or 37 years of age.  Should the Leafs want shorter term, expect the AAV to go up accordingly.

While it might sound unreasonable, nothing about NHL player’s paydays are ever reasonable.  And ask yourself, what would you rather have? Phaneuf at 6.9 million, or to spend the next few seasons trying to replace him?

Highest Scoring NHL Defenseman

For combined seasons, from 2005-06 to 2013-14, playing defenseman, sorted by descending goals scored.
Rk
Player
From
To
Lg
GP
G ▾
A
PTS
GC
+/-
PIM
EV
PP
S
S%
TOI
1Shea Weber20062014NHL54011118529610939433565114577.612485
2Dion Phaneuf20062014NHL61310823934712311815466117356.215327
3Zdeno Chara20062014NHL606104245349122133783386317116.115816
4Dan Boyle20062014NHL56096280376126-13430514413926.914214
5Lubomir Visnovsky20062014NHL5469426035411926253553910259.212524
6Mike Green20062014NHL4459419028410352330454810678.810082
7Nicklas Lidstrom20062012NHL54891325416135173238415013526.714088
8Joe Corvo20062014NHL568771912689324183373812726.111852
9Dennis Wideman20062014NHL5927420628095-45389284412256.013905
10Marc-Andre Bergeron20062013NHL4317213520775-2717931418418.67667
11Brent Burns20072013NHL4567014821877433538329697.29803
12Sergei Gonchar20062014NHL52069282351112-22418224611036.312702
13John-Michael Liles20062013NHL5426721227992-38214323510036.710761
14Jay Bouwmeester20062014NHL6316621327993-7427452111855.616487
15Mark Streit20062014NHL5026522729296-5825027369037.210418
16Chris Pronger20062012NHL445632352989658492243910096.211652
17Christian Ehrhoff20062014NHL586622102728975407342812075.112741
18Sami Salo20062014NHL47061141202706819421408687.010140
19Duncan Keith20062014NHL62059258317101101419411312574.715731
20Ed Jovanovski20062013NHL4485815321172-6542525339106.49593
21Brent Seabrook20062014NHL612571962538388471371910555.413810
22Brian Campbell20062014NHL601572993561104614130278736.513983
23Kimmo Timonen20062014NHL612562843401075539821309985.613826
24Niklas Kronwall20062014NHL50554194248804533430247846.911234
25Marek Zidlicky20062014NHL5485322828189-4447216378536.211739
26Alexander Edler20072014NHL44253158211712524726269305.79809
27Jordan Leopold20062014NHL4955210515756-2423238136647.810337
28Pavel Kubina20062012NHL5155016521571-1555624268845.711102
29Ryan Whitney20062014NHL4785020925982-2838125247057.111070
30Andrej Meszaros20062014NHL53949153202673239929199625.111195
31Joni Pitkanen20062013NHL4644920625582-2344035139045.411462
32Brian Rafalski20062011NHL45649259308948217222268305.910924
33Kevin Bieksa20062014NHL47548161209684070830189285.210721
34Michal Rozsival20062014NHL55146163209687145222226656.912144
35Tomas Kaberle20062013NHL54146293339103-4015025219255.012658
36Francois Beauchemin20062014NHL5514513618160-1032030159564.713538
37Ian White20062013NHL5034513417960462543879674.710493
38Fedor Tyutin20062014NHL5894415920366-3238626169394.713121
39Jaroslav Spacek20062012NHL46043150193636434123206596.59692
40Trevor Daley20062014NHL6064212116355104333577995.312656
41Ryan Suter20062014NHL60342235277854542627149454.413948
42Filip Kuba20062013NHL5264217721970-3624225156936.111772
43Dan Hamhuis20062014NHL6104018222270814142899264.313704
44Brad Stuart20062014NHL5774013217257-1731125148874.512704
45Brett Clark20062013NHL5314013517557-3023323177015.710923
46Chris Phillips20062014NHL6183911615552354322976995.613272
47Stephane Robidas20062014NHL60239158197631056319199504.113095
48Derek Morris20062014NHL5543913317256-4446526118334.711555
49Matt Carle20062014NHL53138194232725717718207395.111223
50Roman Hamrlik20062013NHL5223815919763524232897804.911544
51Adrian Aucoin20062013NHL5063811615452-433725137635.010744
52Keith Ballard20062014NHL551361301665405562576155.910987
53Eric Brewer20062014NHL496369613245-694453156645.411392
54Tom Gilbert20072014NHL4593614217857-4413423125446.610338
55Ron Hainsey20062014NHL5713515719261-3826715208544.112133
56Chris Campoli20062012NHL4403511114649-422002585216.78015
57Rostislav Klesla20062014NHL43934751093834242776305.49144
58Zbynek Michalek20062014NHL5753311715049-526222117924.212867
59Braydon Coburn20062014NHL50433109142482843523106984.710664
60Paul Martin20062014NHL52632185217667416819136514.912626
61Dan Girardi20072014NHL4993112315450220319117334.211328
62Dennis Seidenberg20062014NHL5283014817856202242379733.111317
63Steve Montador20062012NHL484309312341436172646654.57398
64Marc-Edouard Vlasic20072014NHL5312712214947782081976254.311758
65Johnny Oduya20072014NHL5242710212942462362335305.110582
66Andrew Ference20062014NHL5232311513844184351946633.510390
67Steve Staios20062012NHL464238010334-545461935134.59111
68Bryan Allen20062014NHL516229111336166002015214.210271
69Francis Bouillon20062014NHL50922749632-133401754664.79408
70Henrik Tallinder20062014NHL503229011236253022004454.910335
71Willie Mitchell20062014NHL490228110333914192104834.610906
72Milan Jurcina20062012NHL43022598128-282801565404.17315
73Scott Hannan20062014NHL6042010112138-313131725273.813217
74Jan Hejda20072014NHL47920871073422391914604.310078
75Barret Jackman20062014NHL5551911012940176661435813.311827
76Mark Stuart20062014NHL44019426121324671803355.77045
77Steve Eminger20062013NHL43019749330-282901632856.77725
78Robyn Regehr20062014NHL5931810212037425191075723.112538
79Toni Lydman20062013NHL5581713214944614111435473.111591
80Hal Gill20062013NHL55617809731-14961704333.910231
81Tim Gleason20062014NHL5541510512036-45621225672.610957
82Anton Volchenkov20062014NHL530158710232673621505602.710198
83Nick Schultz20062014NHL617149110532-303091224333.212212
84Josh Gorges20062014NHL50714748828332411133494.010068
85Mike Komisarek20062014NHL45514587223-146031203933.68123
86Karlis Skrastins20062011NHL44314556922-142191203064.68868
87Shane O'Brien20072014NHL49413768927178631124133.18469
88Matt Greene20062014NHL47913536621-155431303663.68243
89Cory Sarich20062014NHL55412799128206241204442.79750
90Greg Zanon20062013NHL49312506220-92301203333.69789
91Brooks Orpik20062014NHL5581110311433785651013862.811022
92Ladislav Smid20072014NHL47111546520-423911102963.78951
93Bryce Salvador20062014NHL45911556620-53671102953.79096
94Sean O'Donnell20062012NHL5311079892742574902454.19368
95Shaone Morrisonn20062011NHL43610576721244371002753.68326
96Colin White20062012NHL47496675224347813322.79347
97Andrew Alberts20062014NHL45284755170492702483.27213
98Mike Weaver20062014NHL4857687522-11169612772.58624
99Douglas Murray20062014NHL467755621831374614281.68174
100Rob Scuderi20062014NHL583678842420165603281.811522

1391

One of my favourite parts about a new season is the sheer volume of roster changes.  The Toronto Maple Leafs alone saw 10 players leave the fold from May till October, and have already had 9 players make their Leaf debuts.  So let’s catch up with some of the site’s old friends-turned enemies and see what some of last season’s jettison has been up to in the 2013-14 season.

231

Cody Franson has been a lot of things to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  He’s seen more of the pressbox than the entire MLHS writing staff combined.  He’s been top 10 in defensemen scoring.  He’s twice held out on contract demands, only to sign below market value.  But last season saw him change from bench warmer to playoff warrior; and through the first four games of the 2013-14 season he’s looked ready for more.

304

Dave Nonis completed arguably the best and most important contract negotiation of the offseason this morning, as the Toronto Maple Leafs locked up star right winger Phil Kessel to an 8-year contract worth $64-million.  The annual cap hit it comes to a round $8-million, shirking the annoying trend of players getting paid their Jersey number, and is the biggest and most expensive player contract ever signed by the Leafs, nearly doubling David Clarkson’s contract signed in July.

87

James Reimer stood on his head but a plethora of turnovers proved deadly for the Toronto Maple Leafs , as they fell 3 – 2 to the Ottawa Senators on Monday night.  Reimer made 34 saves while Senators starter Robin Lehner made 25 in defeat.  James van Riemsdyk scored an absolute beauty and Dion Phaneuf collected the other tally for the Leafs who are now 4 – 1 – 1 in the preseason.

Because the league is hilarious, Phil Kessel served the first game of his suspension for his Paul Bunyan antics on Sunday while David Clarkson took his spot on the top line, as he waits for his 10-game suspension to begin on October 1.

As training camps opened this week, the last of the RFAs have begun to re-sign with their clubs.  Most notably, Leaf phenom Nazem Kadri signed a two year pact that will pay him $2.9-million per season.  A hundred or so miles down the road, the Buffalo Sabres locked up their star RFA centre Cody Hodgson to a six-year deal at $4.25-million per year.

Last season, Kadri had a stellar 44 points in 48 games; Hodgson had a good but not great 34 in 48 games.  For their careers, Kadri has a .636 points per game average (63 points in 99 games played) compared to Hodgson’s .554 (73 pts in 139 GP).  So why does Hodgson get $20-million and four years more than Kadri?

There’s still no movement on either Nazem Kadri or Cody Franson, and training camp is still about a month away, so it’s time for another clip show!

The spin-o-rama has become a hallmark move in the NHL, even if it’s not without controversy.  Here’s the 5 best in blue in white at twisting and turning heads.

 

5. Nazem Kadri is really, really, really skilled.  Like damn skilled.

We’ll start of this clip show with a real beauty of a goal by Kadri during the 2011-2012 season.  Kadri passes off to Joffrey Lupul in the left wing corner and sneaks through to the top of the crease.  Lupul’s shot shanks off the Wild defender.  Kadri, reading the ricochet, pivots on his right skate and bats the puck out of the air on his backhand to give the Leafs a 1 – 0 lead.  Just incredible hand-eye coordination on this play, and totally worth a new contract… Dave.

4. Jason Blake… backhand

Jason Blake.  Remember him? Seriously, do you? Do you remember when the Leafs made THAT free agent winger mistake in 2007? Anyway, I’m not saying you have to like the guy, but this is a pretty sweet shootout goal nonetheless.  Blake carries the puck out to the right wing before taking a more direct line towards New Jersey netminder Scott Clemmensen.

Then, as if unbound by the laws of physics, Blake stops on a dime dead centre at the top of the crease and spins counter clockwise, backhanding in this beauty. Perhaps the most amazing part of this goal is seeing how tremendously underprepared Clemmensen was on that move.  He’s like two feet out of the net and a foot off the ice.

3. James van Riemsdyk scores the first Leaf playoff game winner in nine years

May 4, 2013 was a special day to me for several reasons, and this was one of them.  James van Riemsdyk cruises towards the net, slows and turns to receive a Mikhail Grabovski pass.  He takes Grabovski’s pass with both feet firmly planted in the crease, standing almost on top of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.  After trying to tap the puck in between his legs, he swings on his right foot and puts the puck to his forehand, barely sneaking the puck past Rask’s outstretched right leg before tumbling to the ice.

He probably would have scored higher on this list were it not for the dismount, but this was probably the most exhilarating goal of the 2013 season for me.

2. Mikhail Grabovski… forehand

Another shootout goal, but boy this one is a beauty by Mikhail Grabovski.  Grabovski, like Blake, cuts wide to the right wing as he prepares his attempt on Ty Conklin.  But Grabovski chose to attack at an even wide angle, getting as far over to the hash marks before veering towards the net.  He spins in a counter clockwise direction as he cuts to the left in front of the net, waits out a sprawling Conklin, and lightly flicks the puck into the top half of the net.

This goal is so incredibly because Grabo had the time, space and ability to complete the 360 THEN score.  Absolutely masterful move and it would be the winner if it weren’t for…

1. Killer with the OT dagger in the Gardens

Clearly anyone can score on a spin-o-rama in front of the net.  A real winner does it behind the net.  An even real-er winner does it in a playoff game.  And Doug Gilmour does all of that in double overtime.

Seeing Blake and Grabovski’s spin-o-rama goals in the shootouts, you think to yourself about the focus and timing required to make that play.  Everything has to be moving in just about perfect order in perfect time on this risky play.  What makes Gilmour’s so incredible is that he held the puck behind the Blues net for a full five seconds before making this dastardly move.

As Gilmour starts to move, the Blues left defenseman first breaks to intercept him.  Then Gilmour cuts the other way, forcing the defenseman and the Blues net minder Curtis Joseph to cover the far post.  Gilmour completes the pirouette, skates up and shovels the backhand just inside the near post to give the Leafs the victory.  Just incredible.

LINKS:

In case you missed it, Anthony had a great chat with Leafs scout Garth Malarchuk.

PPP Fanpost with the most! Not Norm Ullman has a terrific piece on the acquisition of Paul Ranger.

Cam Charron was a stat laden piece on quantifying Dion Phaneuf’s ice time and usage in a Leaf uniform.

Gabriel Landeskog re-signs in Colorado for 7 years, $39-million ($5.57-million AAV).

Justin Bourne’s Backhand Shelf Podcast on Alfredsson, the Devils money woes, and crimelords’ cup rings.

 

 

From Conn Smythe’s likely-apocryphal quote, “If you can’t beat ‘em in the alley, you can’t beat ‘em on the ice” to Brian Burke’s tears for Colton Orr, the Toronto Maple Leafs have always encouraged fighting.  There’s not much to report on in Leaf land right now, and instead of lamenting unsigned RFAs and the cap woes, let’s take a look at some of oddest fights in Leaf history.

The combatants are unusual, the results often surprising, and most of them leave one thinking fighting has no place in hockey (especially if you can’t fight).  But they’re all still pretty hilarious, and ought to be remembered fondly by all Leafs fans.

383

It’s been an incredibly interesting first week of free agency for the Toronto Maple Leafs and around the NHL.  Here’s four thoughts to get you through your Friday.

Kovalchuk’s retirement a blessing for the Devils

Ilya Kovalchuk shocked the world Thursday when the Russian superstar announced his retirement at the tender age of 30.  In doing so, Kovalchuk will be leaving $77-million on the table over the next 12 seasons.  But he also might save the New Jersey Devils.