Friday Mashup: A Tale of Two Teams


With last night’s loss against Nashville, Randy Carlyle’s stint behind Toronto’s bench has spanned more than a season’s worth of games. Recently, there has been much discussion surrounding this team’s identity.  Clearly, the current Maple Leafs are  one of the best quick-attack squads in the league.  They have a collection of highly skilled players, good special teams, and the support of some fantastic goaltending.  Yet naysayers are prevalent in the Toronto hockey scene.  Their criticism has often focused on the supposedly debilitating shot differential that has characterized this iteration of the Leafs.  This is a team that has seen success under Carlyle in spite of the shot differential statistics.  Ironically, it wasn’t so long ago that this franchise bucked this category of questionably predictive statistics from the other side of the spectrum.

One only needs to go as far back as the 2009-2010 season – Phil Kessel’s first in Toronto – to bear witness to a Leafs team with a radically different gameplan than that of Carlyle.  Love or hate it,  the current coaching staff emphasizes quality scoring chances.  They are fine with yielding perimeter shots against, while discouraging low-percentage attempts when on the attack themselves.  Conversely, the Jason Blake Maple Leafs could not have been  more different:

 2009-2010 rank2013-2014 rank
S/G5 (32.6 )28 (26.5)
SA/G13 (29.8)28 (35.5)
G/G26 (2.56)10 (2.82)
GA/G29 (3.21)10 (2.36)
PP%30 (14.0%)3 (23.6%)
PK%30 (74.6%)16 (82.4%)

The difference between these two teams from a statistical standpoint are vast.  With respect to shot differential, the 2009-2010 Leafs did everything right.  Their Fenwick close score was  near the top of the league as one would expect with the shot-based stat.  By all accounts, Lee Stempniak et al. should have rode these numbers to surefire success, right?  Wrong.  Despite buying into the “get it on net” mantra with admirable aplomb (heck – pretty sure Jason Blake invented that saying), Toronto stunk their way to 29th in the NHL that year while scoring 2.56 goals/game (26th in the league).

The differences – while not a mystery when accounting for the increased quality of personnel – accentuate the inherent faults of placing too much emphasis on shot differential.  Unfortunately, the increased volume of rubber hitting the opposition tender in his chest did not appeal to the sympathy of the regression gods as they refused to bestow more goals upon the desperate Leafs of 2009-2010.

What does this all mean?  Not much, really.  It is just hockey after all.  Anyone with a modicum of familiarity with NHL players could look at the rosters for both of these teams and identify the stronger club.  Yet, this very fact reinforces what Dave Nonis and co. have been saying – there is certainly room for analytics in hockey, but a well-trained eye and astute judge of talent still remains the precursor  to success.

All told, the comparison between the Ron Wilson Leafs and the newer outfit under Randy Carlyle is an exercise in irony and reflective gratitude.  For while the current team has a few significant flaws, this retrospective glance serves as a good reminder: it could be much, much worse.

Friday morning links:

Last night’s Game in 10.

The Leafs are not afraid of advanced statistics.  Nonis: “the biggest thing we use is going to watch a player play”.

Phaneuf and the Leafs still working on a deal.  They’ll get there.  At this point it’s just a matter of the familiar negotiating song and dance.

Grabo comes home.  Knowing him, he’ll be fired up and ready to stick it to the Leafs.

The Leafs goalies are good.  Yes, yes they are.

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Nikhil has been writing for MLHS since the site launched in 2008. He misses talking about Mats Sundin and is currently entrenched in enemy territory (Boston) pursuing a doctoral degree. Contact Nikhil here: [email protected]
  • Kouba

    I have almost experienced an heart attack when I saw the title picture.

  • peterbleafs

    Its nostalgic to see Wilsons picture.  I wish we had a shot of him drifting away into the sunset though.

  • Loric76

    Nice little article.  I was thinking along similar lines last night…it was just a few seasons ago that the Leafs regularly outshot their opponents, and would still lose the game.  Critics would complain that the team had no finish and were just a collection of useless plugs, which then would be regularly countered with “of course they outshot the opponent, they were losing for most of the game and were trying to catch up”.
    Fast forward to this season, and now we’re finishing our plays, we’re scoring our goals, and we’re winning our games (mostly).  And what are people critiquing?  The shot count.  FML.

  • GeorgeCastanza

    Loric76 morning

  • Cameron19

    Loric76 Part of it is just managing expectations better. Many fans and media personalities seem to be of the opinion that good teams regularly outplay their opposition in an obvious and dominant fashion.  Well, maybe the top two or three teams in the league are capable of that, but all the other good teams look like us – struggling to find consistency. That shouldn’t constantly read as an indictment of effort levels – that’s just the reality of playing in a league full of professionals and a ton of parity.  I feel like some times our fans forget that BOTH teams are trying to win the game.

  • Cameron19

    CanuckUKinToronto I doubt any coach in the NHL has seen that.

  • Burtonboy

    Loric76 Once we rectify that Loric they will only find something else. Burke was absolutly right . Toronto fans like the media would rather vilify the team for its mistakes then say anything positive

  • Knights2Leafs

    I joked yesterday that RC should play Kadri with McLaren and Orr on the 4th line as our destroyer line.  Lo and behold in the 3rd period there was Kadri playing with Mason and Orr.  I thought the JVR – Kadri – Kessel line looked good and had some great chances off the rush in the first period.  Anyone know if RC was pissed at Kadri?

  • wendelsway1

    Cameron19 Loric76 Good Morning Guys……very true, Cameron.  It’s a long season that looks like a rollercoaster ride for most teams. Some seem to think we should be winning every game…..not gonna happen.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Knights2Leafs Not sure, but I’m consistently surprised by RC’s refusal to throw out the top offensive players in situations when the Leafs need a goal or two.  Maybe he was pissed at Kadri.