We all know that the Toronto Maple Leafs finished dead last in the NHL in 2015/16. We also know that this was more or less the plan and that it worked out perfectly when they won the right to select Auston Matthews first overall.
The Leafs assembled one of the ugliest lineups in recent NHL memory and trotted it out there all season. Let’s take a look at last year’s opening night roster. I took this list from a James Mirtle piece on the Globe and Mail from just before last season started. Stephane Robidas was on the original list, but I took him off because he went Amelia Earhart on us.
Forwards (14): Arcobello, Boyes, Bozak, Grabner, Holland, Kadri, Komarov, Lupul, Matthias, Panik, Parenteau, Spaling, Van Riemsdyk, Winnik.
Defence (7): Gardiner, Harrington, Hunwick, Marincin, Phaneuf, Polak, Rielly.
Goal (2): Bernier, Reimer.
Only 6/14 forwards, 4/7 defencemen and neither of the goalies are still, or once again, under contract with the Maple Leafs less than a year later. That is definitely a good thing, because that is an ugly lineup. Like I said though, that was pretty much the plan. This team’s leading goal scorer was P.A. Parenteau with 2o goals and it’s leading point-getter was Nazem Kadri with 45. I could go on forever about the lack of skill on this roster, but that would be beating a dead horse. Instead I’m going to look at the team’s performance according to the numbers to see how much Mike Babcock was able to squeeze out of a truly awful roster. I’ll use Randy Carlyle’s awful tenure with the Leafs as a comparison. A similar piece was done the other day over at theleafsnation.com by @draglikepull, who is a really good follow on twitter, but I’m going to dig a little deeper than just the CF%. He also showed how much individual player’s CF% increased under Babcock from Carlyle and I’m just going to focus on the team’s performance as a whole.
One of the easiest ways to judge a team’s overall performance over a season is to look at their corsi and fenwick numbers. Obviously, anything over a 50% corsi for percentage or fenwick for percentage is a positive shot differential, while anything below suggests that this team is spending more time in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. The Leafs posted a 51.3 CF% last season, good for 13th in the NHL. That is very good for a “tanking team” who ultimately finished last place in the NHL. For context, the 2014/15 last place Buffalo Sabres posted a 37.5 CF%. That is quite the tank job. Anyway, I put together the Leafs corsi numbers under Carlyle vs. under Babcock into this chart so you can see for yourself.
Carlyle’s Leafs posted the second worst CF% in the league during his reign, better than only the Buffalo Sabres who were intentionally horrific for a couple of seasons. The Leafs were by far the worst defensive team in the league during this time, posting the worst CA/60 by a significant margin. The lowly Sabres ranked second worst during this time, bleeding shot attempts at a rate of 62.25 shot attempts against per hour. Babcock’s first season as the Leafs bench boss saw them improve to 18th in the league in terms of shot attempts against. Still not great, but when you think about the fact Matt Hunwick and Morgan Rielly played top pairing minutes together for a large portion of the season, it’s a pretty impressive leap. The Leafs weren’t particularly good at peppering the opposition with shots under Carlyle either. They ranked 25th in the league in terms of shot attempts per 60 minutes under Carlyle and immediately jumped to third during Babcock’s first season. Just looking at the corsi numbers I can’t tell what is stronger, the negative effect of Carlyle or the positive effect of Babcock.
Fenwick is probably a more accurate stat to judge a team over a longer period of time as it discounts shot attempts that were blocked, assuming that shot blocking and getting shots through to the net is a repeatable skill. Let’s see how the team faired in terms of Fenwick under Babcock compared to Carlyle.
Babcock’s Leafs drop down the list a little bit when using fenwick, posting a 49.8 FF% which put them 17th in the league, down from 13th when including blocked shots. They only drop one spot in shot attempts for, but they drop nine spots in shot attempts against, suggesting they don’t block as many shots as other teams. Maybe they should sign Kris Russel?
The next numbers I will compare come from @MannyElk’s expected goals metric on corsica.hockey, the site he created and the site I get most of my numbers from. This metric calculates how many goals a team or player should expect to score based on number of shot attempts, where the shots are taken from (low-danger, medium-danger and high-danger) and average shooting percentages from said area. Once again, the results are staggering when comparing the Leafs performance under each coach.
Again, the numbers suggest the Leafs were either the worst or the second worst team in the NHL under Carlyle and pretty good under Babcock. They even ranked 11th in terms of xGF% on the power play in the first season under Babcock, while ranking 22nd in that department under Carlyle. The Leafs also ranked dead last in SCF% (scoring chances for percentage), during Carlyle’s time behind the bench and jumped up to 15th in the NHL under Babcock in this department with a 49.7 SCF% in 2015/16. The moral of the story here is that the Leafs were one of the two worst teams in the NHL at 5v5 under Carlyle and have taken massive steps forward in the first year under Babcock.
So, if the Leafs were so much better in 2015/16 than the previous years under Carlyle, how come they still finished dead last in the NHL? The answer seems to simply be bad luck. Or good luck, depending on how you look at it. The fact that they also had a very limited lineup in terms of scoring ability certainly doesn’t help, but they still shouldn’t have come dead last. They finished the season tied for dead last in PDO with the Carolina Hurricanes. The PDO statistic is simply shooting percentage plus save percentage, with 100 being the average mark. The Leafs and Hurricanes both came in at 98.3, an unsustainably low mark, suggesting that even if the Leafs iced the same mediocre team this season they would certainly improve in the standings. They won’t be icing the same terrible lineup in 2016/17, though. They will be adding a lot of young skill into the lineup, most notably Auston Matthews, William Nylander and, probably, Mitch Marner. They also added Frederik Andersen in goal which they hope will narrow the gap between their 148.11 xGA and their actual 160 GA.
To put it lightly, it isn’t likely they will finish the season with the worst PDO and lowest shooting percentage in the league again. It is virtually a guarantee this team will improve in the standings this season, but to what extent is unknown.
*all stats courtesy of corsica.hockey and stats.hockeyanalysis.com
*all stats are 5v5 unless otherwise specified
*good luck to the Anaheim Ducks who fired Bruce Boudreau for Randy Carlyle lol