For the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Maple Leafs won 20 games before the official NHL winter break. But, in the eight full seasons between accomplishments, never had the team played over 60% of their games before the winter break at home.

YearHome GamesTotalPercentage of home games

The Leafs went into Christmas with a 14-8-0 record at home specifically; nobody else in the league had more than 13 wins at home. According to Sporting Charts, “Over the 2013 NHL season, the average Home % – Away % among NHL teams was 0.08.” It was a 0.11 difference in 2011-12. This tells us what most people can already guess: Teams, on average, win more at home than on the road due to a litany of reasons one can think of such as line matching, faceoffs, familiarity, etc. The average winning percentage at home in the NHL during the 2013-14 season was .557% and the Leafs at the moment have a .636w% in the ACC, which is perfectly fine and sustainable in a vacuum, but how will they do on the road?

Since the lockout lifted, the Leafs have had a road record winning percentage over .500 exactly once in full 82 game seasons (the 2006-07 season). For a team with 27 road games left, including the road trip they are on now — which technically started against Chicago (loss) and includes Dallas (win), Florida (loss), Tampa Bay, Boston, Minnesota and Winnipeg — crunch time is coming sooner than everyone thinks. After this road trip, the team comes home for two games before going on another road trip and playing six of seven on the road against LA, Anaheim, San Jose, St. Louis, Carolina (the one home game), New Jersey, and Ottawa.

When that stretch is over, we’ll really get a clear indication of good or bad this Leafs team really is. And, truthfully, that works out perfectly because that will give management enough time to figure out how to proceed with this team and whether they should be buyers or sellers come the deadline.

You can’t blame the Leafs for having a home-loaded schedule to start the year, or for taking advantage of it, but you have to keep it in mind when looking at their overall record; the truth is, it is a little misleading as soon as you look under the surface.


  •  Back in the summer, I wrote about whether Joffrey Lupul or JVR should play with Kessel. In the analysis, we can see that Lupul’s scoring numbers stand to benefit from Kessel much more than JVR’s, and that Lupul had reasonable possession numbers with Kessel, albeit with a different coach. Meanwhile, JVR stands to play better if apart from Kessel and Bozak and instead with Kadri and whoever else flanks them. What was not said in that post but what everyone is also thinking—worst case scenario, it’s going to boost Lupul’s point totals and inflate his trade value.
  • Earlier in the year I noted how the Leafs have actually been getting results with the lead but struggle when trailing. Gus Katsaros demonstrates this perfectly with this chart.

    The interesting thing about that is the Leafs currently leading the league in goals. Yet, seemingly, whenever teams pop a few in, the entire team deflates. Out of 36 games played, 21 Toronto games have been decided by a 3+ goal difference with the team winning 13 and losing 8.

  • Some of the analysis on the Leafs really highlights how much of a fishbowl the Leafs play in, but over 58% of the team’s games being in “blowout” range really indicates how this team is one of the most difficult to get a read on in the league. One of the worst possession teams in the league, with one of the best goal differentials. The toughest task will be sorting out who is part of the solution, and who is part of the problem. There are some obvious answers on both ends, but a lot of middle ground players that can be debated either way.
  • There are generally three reasons you healthy scratch a guy: 1) You have someone else to play that is better; 2) You don’t think the player is playing well enough, and you are trying to spark him; 3) The player is a rookie and he needs to reset/veterans ahead of him/is hitting a wall. When it comes to scratching Jake Gardiner a few weeks ago, the reason pretty clearly is option number two, so it is always strange to see the debate. Gardiner is on pace for a career worst season points wise and to be a negative CF REL player for the first time; he is playing poorly, and that is not debatable. The team hardly believes Holzer is a better player; the scratch was entirely to do with Gardiner and hoping he would respond and play better. Last year Gardiner was scratched against Carolina, the Leafs lost 6-1, he went back in and was one of the best players on the team for the rest of the season, especially down the stretch. Comparatively, there is nothing to really gain from scratching Robidas unless he needs rest; his issues are he had offseason surgery and he’s long in the tooth, the only way he is going to improve is by playing and getting into a routine. Gardiner’s issues are clearly mental.
  • For more extended thoughts on Jake Gardiner, go here.


[quote_box_center]“He gives coaches trust. When I had Danny and I put him out there, I felt good nothing bad would happen. I think Randy feels the same way. He knows how to play the game, he’s in the right position all the time. He might not score you 30 goals, but he does all the little things that help you win. Blocks shots, good skater, big man.”

  • Bruce Boudreau, on Daniel Winnik.[/quote_box_center]

Winnik was my top bargain free agent after the initial free agent frenzy in the summer, and I don’t think he has disappointed. He is essentially a cheaper Nikolai Kulemin. There is no doubt these cheap depth additions have helped the team, but in the big picture here is the situation: If they play on the team for a season and then leave for free after a year in which the team does not make the playoffs (ala Mason Raymond), all that has happened is the Leafs will receive a slightly worse draft pick in a possibly historically good draft. The Leafs could also retain these guys and they can be used as part of the solution moving forward (like Leo Komarov), they can be traded for picks, or they could even help the Leafs make the playoffs and then leave. Preventing option one there is imperative.

[quote_box_center]“There are only so many people you can have in a decision making process. There’s only so much information that you can integrate effectively in what you are doing. It wouldn’t be a “more” question for me, as far as, I’d take that money and hire 20 more analysts, and we’d do nothing but ideate about all sorts of different topics. This isn’t the primary reason, but you need to have some organizational focus. When you become bloated in your ideation, just implementing and utilizing those ideas becomes more difficult. Which ones are the good ideas?”

  • Nick Ennis, Director of Operations for the San Diego Padres.[/quote_box_center]

I highly suggest reading the entire interview with Nick Ennis here. The line on Burke was he had too many cooks in the kitchen, and yet Shanahan has hired an awful lot of people in under a year already. Some people in the industry believe more people means more information and better decision making, while others believe it gets too crowded with too many different opinions. I don’t have a feel for what will occur with the Leafs new regime, but this is a storyline I am interested to see unfold.

[quote_box_center]“He’s the engine in the break out. He will be the ‘quarterback’ and set up his (teammates) from his normal position on the left side in the offensive zone.”

  • Tommy Boustedt, the development chief of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association.[/quote_box_center]

Based on the early stages of the WJCs, it would be hard to say Nylander isn’t in the elite class of players at the tournament this year. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I think it is pretty clear to everyone that the Leafs have something here.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think I would take David Clarkson off the second power play unit. Even if you ignore that he has one PP point in nearly 77 minutes of PP time on the season – which in and of itself makes it almost crazy to do — the dynamics of the unit don’t work. The second unit is completely centered on Nazem Kadri playing the right half wall, just like he did in London. With this set up, Lupul plays in the slot and Clarkson roves as an outlet below the goal line and going to the net. The problem lies with Kadri making that pass to a right-handed shot; it is extremely difficult because Clarkson’s stick is closer to the net than the corner, and Kadri now has to fit that pass into a tiny hole, where the challenging defender can easily pick it off, versus a pass to the outside to a left handed shot that he can cycle with. Logistically, it just makes absolutely no sense and it is tough to watch. Everyone probably understands the only reason Clarkson is still on the power play is because of his paycheck, but eventually enough is enough.
  2. I think I would give Carter Ashton an extended look regardless of who else is healthy and not playing. The game against Florida is a good example of what I like in Ashton and see in him; he won a battle around the defensive blue line which drew a penalty, and multiple times he recovered dump-ins as he was strong on the forecheck. He was an even possession player last night with 0% offensive zone starts. Ashton is a first round pick, he has been a solid scorer in the AHL and it appears to sour people on him that he (probably) won’t reach that potential in the NHL, but who are the Leafs of all teams to turn down a cheaply-priced 6’3 kid who can skate, hit, and will fight and forecheck? We’ve seen him get looks before, but from what we’ve seen this year I think he’s stuck out like a sore thumb on this team for all the right reasons. I’d keep him in and try to grow his confidence in this league.
  3. Similarly, I think I would also just ride Reimer as long as Bernier is out. Reimer has proven he is at worse an average NHL goalie, but he has also shown when he gets thrown to the wolves he can carry the team at times. I’d rather roll the dice with that pedigree versus a goalie who has never played in the NHL. They will have to rest Reimer at least a game because coming off a holiday and having not played all too much in general increases injury risk if you ride him too hard, but I’d give him as many starts as he could physically handle as long as Bernier is out.
  4. I think, if Richard Panik is out, I would call-up Sam Carrick and play him as the 4C. The Leafs have been sticking with Trevor Smith, who is going to turn 30 in a few months and has yet to crack 100 games. You can’t fault the effort, but he’s not an NHLer; there’s no other way to put it. For a team like the Leafs especially, I’d rather see what I have in a 22 year old who could potentially be a long-term depth piece than kick tires with a 30-year-old career AHLer who should frankly be in the minors boosting the Marlies (who desperately need it, even though they did win three straight this weekend). Looking long term, maybe with a dash of wishful thinking, if Carrick were to show well as a 4C, it gives the Leafs Kadri-Holland-Carrick as three young centers in the NHL, with one legitimate top six center in the group. That’s not a championship center group, but it is at least a start, and in the short term there is no real downgrade from Smith to Carrick anyway.
  5. I think, looking to the 15 games from now until the end of January — 11 of which are on the road — and looking at the wildcard standings with Washington, Florida and Boston nipping at the Leafs’ heels, where the Leafs are at by the end of January should tell Shanahan what he needs to know to start making some real decisions 51 games into his tenure. Across all sports, most GMs believe you are either going up or down with no middle ground; I think this core is at max a bubble team but in a weak Eastern Conference. An extremely tough January should be a good indicator either way in the weak East. On the topic of January, I’d also like to quickly wish everyone a very Happy New Year. Please drink responsibly and do not drive if you do indulge. Thank you very much for reading.