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