Last week we reviewed the bottom 6 forwards for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2011-12. There were some good observations, but let’s be honest: it isn’t an area where the Leafs need to address nearly as many problems as other segments of the roster. That’s mostly why I chose to review them first; it’s easy to see why many of them are no good and why some are worth keeping. The top 6, defence and goaltending, on the other hand, are much harder problems to solve. All we can do is look at the stats and hope management sees what we do. To that end, we look at the top 6 forwards today, of which the Leafs had seven: Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin, Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak.
A few things immediately spring to mind after looking at the scoring summary of these players. One is that Kessel and Lupul scored at a far, far higher pace than their career averages. In Kessel’s case, we can attribute this jump to a young player growing into his game. For Lupul, the question becomes trickier. Kadri ended the season being on pace for a little under 20 goals, which I doubt many Leafs fans would have been upset with had he been with the team all season. Especially when the comparison is made to Kulemin, who played the vast majority of the season and mustered only 2 more goals than Kadri did in 21 games.
Clarke MacArthur’s 43 points are well below last year’s 62, but is still higher than his career average before this season. I’m inclined to believe that this season is the likely expectation for MacArthur in the future. Which is not say it’s bad (they’re fringe second line stats), but he represents an area for improvement. Finally, Bozak’s stats are interesting because of their stark contrast to his most frequent linemates, Kessel and Lupul. It makes you wonder what kind of season those two would have had had there been a PPG center between them.
The Corsi values for the top 6 are generally average, well below a playoff top 6. Stand outs are Grabovski and Kadri, which is little surprise to people who have viewed their expertise with the puck. Kessel’s Corsi is low due to his linemates. Joffrey Lupul is by no means speedy and Tyler Bozak seems out of place on a NHL top line. That’s not to say that Bozak is a poor player. Quite the opposite in fact. However, it is difficult to deny that his place is on the third line. He’s been a decent stand in, but the top line center position is one that still needs filling. Bozak is primarily good in the defensive end and this is reflected partly in his low Corsi.
Shooting percentage is another area of worry, with every single player on this list being well above expected values. Lupul’s on-ice shooting percentage of 10.77% in particular is a worrying prospect to his being a point per game player in the future. Some players, like Kessel and Kadri, may be able to keep similar on-ice shooting percentages in the future due to their heightened passing ability, but expect drops from everyone else. Clarke MacArthur and Nik Kulemin having such high percentages is likely surprising to many Leafs fans, but it is testament to their extremely low shot totals. Kulemin in particular (107 shots this year compared to 173 last season) has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, carrying a slow start through the entire season.
The varying save percentages mean little. James Reimer had an even strength save percentage of .918, Jonas Gustavsson had .904 and Ben Scrivens had .910. Most of these forwards fall within this range. Kessel and Lupul are below expected values, which should come as no surprise to anyone that saw those two in their own end. As for Kadri, I would contend that his extremely high on-ice save percentage is likely a case of a small sample size, though it is a good sign for his continued development.
No player in the Leafs’ top 6 took more penalties than they drew this season. Kadri did a superb job drawing penalties, likely due to his sometimes weak stance. Bozak and Lupul did a decent job physically on the first line, making up somewhat for Kessel’s soft game. Kadri was on pace for just under one hundred hits himself, underscoring his weird big hits, small stature dichotomy. He was also on pace for the least blocked shots in the group, though no one in the top 6 is a stand out in that category.
Deciding what to do with the top 6 is a tough choice. I saw some real nice things from Kadri this year and wouldn’t mind him being thrown into the fire next season, likely in place of Kulemin on the second line. For Kulemin, I think it’s too early to give up on someone who has shown so much in the past, but it may be time to start him on the third line. Matt Frattin could also move up with Kadri and Grabovski in place of MacArthur. You would end up with a speedy second line that can both pass and shoot well. As for MacArthur, I think it’s time to cash out and see what we can get for him. He’s a decent player, but if you can trade him for a first, I think you have to pull the trigger. But of course, the most important spot is the first line center. Either through the draft or through a trade, someone more points capable needs to be put between Kessel and Lupul. As for Lupul, expect a drop in production, though it isn’t likely he’ll fall far.
That wraps up my look at the forwards on the Leafs in 2011-12. Here are my lines for 2012-13:
Lupul – Draft/Trade – Kessel
Frattin – Grabovski – Kadri
Kulemin – Bozak – Connolly
Marlies/UFA – Steckel – Brown
It certainly isn’t perfect, but it would allow the young guys to grow for another year before the Leafs actually become a threat. What lines would you guys put out there next season?