Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Evaluating Jason Spezza

The Toronto Maple Leafs add veteran centre Jason Spezza to the mix. He may come at a minuscule cap hit but his numbers look anything but.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs made a handful of small signings when the free agent window opened up on July 1st. The most notable of these moves was adding 36 year old centre, Jason Spezza. Spezza signed a 1 year, $700,000 deal for league minimum salary. That’s a very cheap price to pay for centre of Spezza’s ilk, even given his decline over the past couple years. Spezza is however a very rich man, with his career total earnings in the NHL considered to be over $85M, his current focus seems to be on silverware. The 5-time 30-goal scorer, who hails from Mississauga, Ontario (also home of John Tavares), credited his love of the game and desire to win a cup as his reasoning for coming home. Whilst the deal he signed comes with absolutely no risk there are concerns about how much Spezza can truly offer the Leafs.

There is no denying Spezza was a 1st line centre in his prime, however, given the Leafs depth down the middle there are questions surrounding where exactly Spezza fits. He spoke with media following the signing of his contract and stated Babcock sees him as a good complementary fit for the team. He stated Babcock will likely give him time on both special teams and as a bottom 6 forward at 5 on 5.

The Numbers

Although Spezza spoke on needing to acclimate to a different role as bottom 6 forward, his minutes have slowly diminished through the few past few seasons. Over the past two years Spezza has been down around 13 minutes of ice time a night. Even in this diminished role he still contributes as a positive possession player for his team when he is on the ice. Over his career Spezza is a 52.5% Corsi (+3.0%rel.) and a 51.7% Fenwick (+0.9%rel.). Most impressive is that his Corsi rel. last season matched his career average whilst his Fenwick rel. was more than double his career average +2.0%. This is a positive sign that whilst he may not be producing the points he once was, Spezza certainly isn’t being outplayed by opposition matchups.

screenshot of hockey-reference.com

Spezza has also never been a below 50% face-off man in his entire career. In fact, last season Spezza led his team (58.2% FO) second only to Martin Hanzal who only appeared in 7 games. Whilst the above stats show that Spezza was a positive possession player for Dallas and his line outshot and out-chanced the opposition at 5 on 5, they didn’t outscore them. Spezza was a -13 for 2018-19, however, there is pause for optimism with this stat. While on the ice his team shot as a measly 6.1% shooting percentage, well below the teams average of 8.3% and even further below his career average of 9.3%. The fact that Spezza experienced a heavy dip in both his personal SH% and his teams on ice SH% is a positive. Assuming this was just an off year and that Spezza’s shot hasn’t declined by such a large factor, this should move back closer to his career average. This is the cause for why his actual +/- doesn’t match his expected +/- in the table below.

screenshot of hockey-reference.com

Special teams

As previously mentioned, Spezza made reference to the fact that Babcock saw him fitting in on both special teams. The losses of Kadri and Ennis on the power play will free up a couple spots. Spezza mentioned in his press conference that he has played on the man advantage his entire career and feels very comfortable there. That was evident last season with him being the 4th highest PP producer on his team behind only Seguin, Radulov and Klingberg. Given Spezza’s ability from the face-off dot and his playmaking ability on Dallas’ PP from last season, he would be a welcome addition for his ability to win draws in the o-zone and move the puck.

Spezza also commented saying he would be used on all special teams. Whilst Spezza was a valuable part of Dallas’ PP, he hasn’t really ever been used on their PK. Spezza’s possession numbers however are pretty positive, he’s great on the draw, he’s 6’3 and takes up a lot of space. He is also a veteran of the game who plays a pretty sound 2-way game which should lend itself towards him being a successful penalty killer. These are all critical skills which certainly help if what he says is true and he does feature there for the Leafs.

Final Thoughts

Exactly where Spezza features in the lineup for the 2019-20 season at this point is unclear. The Leafs clearly have their top two centres sorted. Outside of this there is a possibility of Alexander Kerfoot or even William Nylander (unlikely) playing the third line centre role. Spezza will almost certainly play one of either the 3rd or 4th line centre slots. His ability to move up and down is a huge improvement over what the Leafs had last year in Freddy Gauthier if he fills the bottom centre spot. If he does player the 3rd line, hopefully this means the Leafs will run the Matthews and Tavares line out for 20 minutes each per night.

The leadership and role specific game that Jason Spezza can bring to the Toronto Maple Leafs is huge. The fact he brings all this at a league minimum cap hit is even bigger. The team Dubas looks to be assembling for this year may just be better than last years which almost all of us considered impossible a few weeks ago. This season should be a very exciting one and hopefully Spezza can contribute to help the Leafs get over the first round hump in the playoffs.

Sources: Hockey-Reference.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Josh Tessler

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Dubas Gets A Right Handed Defenseman

The Toronto Maple Leafs have made an upgrade on the right side of their defensive unit. 

Earlier today, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced via twitter that they had brokered a trade with the Colorado Avalanche. The Maple Leafs have traded Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 third round pick to the Avalanche for Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot and a 2020 sixth round pick.

With the addition of Barrie, the Toronto Maple Leafs have successfully upgraded the right side of their blue-line.

But, there is even more news. Per Dan Rosen of NHL.com (see above), the Colorado Avalanche retained 50% of Barrie’s AAV in the deal. With that being said, Barrie will only eat 2.75 million in cap space for the Maple Leafs.

The Hunt For A Right Handed Defenseman

Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been waiting a while for this day. Over the past two seasons, we’ve heard names such as Brett Pesce, Colin Miller, P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, Justin Faulk and others be thrown out as potential options on the right hand side. Finally, the rumours are put to bed. The Toronto Maple Leafs have acquired Tyson Barrie from the Colorado Avalanche and now Barrie is their top right handed defensive option. He’ll likely replace Ron Hainsey on the top line and play alongside Morgan Rielly. While Barrie is far better than Hainsey, it’s still worth showing a comparison between the two defensemen.

In the below visual from CJ Turtoro, you’ll see an in-depth comparison of the two defensemen.

visual from CJ Turtoro, data from Corey Sznajder

Barrie is a lot better than Hainsey. There is no doubt about it. As you can see from the visual, Barrie is far more efficient at shot contributions, possession entries and possession exits than Hainsey. The only category that Barrie is worse than Hainsey in is entry defense. But, just because Barrie is worse at entry defense then Hainsey doesn’t mean that the trade for Barrie makes no sense. It’s the opposite. Barrie is more consistent across the board and is far better suited to play top line minutes in the NHL than Hainsey. 

Kerfoot

In addition to Barrie, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Alexander Kerfoot in the trade. Kerfoot provides the Maple Leafs with solid centre depth and will compete with Jason Spezza for the the third line centre spot. 

Kerfoot has a tremendous amount of upside and has been rather efficient in his time with the Avalanche. But, the challenge for Kerfoot has been his line-mates. Aside from the top line in Colorado, forward depth has been a concern, especially on the wings. Kerfoot didn’t have consistently strong wingers in Colorado and that will change in Toronto. He could end up playing with Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Ilya Mikheyev and/or Trevor Moore. 

The only immediate issue with Kerfoot is that he’s a restricted free agent. He’ll need to be paid quite quickly and if he demands too much, the Maple Leafs could be forced to trade his rights as they still need to lock up Mitch Marner.

Losing Kadri & Rosen

Unfortunately, Maple Leafs fans are losing a fan favourite. Nazem Kadri has been with the organization for a long time. If you remember, former general manager Brian Burke and former Ottawa Senators Bryan Murray had a minor confrontation at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft prior to Burke selecting Kadri. Burke went up to Murray, asked him who he planned on taking and then he informed Murray that he was going to be taking Kadri off the board. It was evident from the exchange that Murray had his eyes on Kadri and had to go to plan B.

Sadly, Leafs Twitter has been up in arms about Kadri’s role in Toronto. Since the two altercations against the Boston Bruins this past playoff series and in the year prior, Kadri has been put on the hot seat in Toronto. His character in the playoffs has been alarming and it’s clear that Dubas wasn’t prepared to give him another chance.

In addition to Kadri being dealt, the Maple Leafs also part ways with depth defenseman Calle Rosen. Rosen, since coming to Toronto has spent the bulk of his time with the Toronto Marlies, but was looking prime to play on the third defensive pairing next season. Instead, he’ll fight for a third pairing spot in Colorado.

Recap

All-in-all, the Toronto Maple Leafs have finally improved their right side on the blue-line. Barrie is quite the upgrade over Hainsey. Plus, they add a centre with a ton of offensive upside in Kerfoot. With that being said, it’s extremely hard to hate this trade.

stats from hockey-reference.com and Corey Sznajder

visual from CJ Turtoro

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs sign Kenny Agostino

The Toronto Maple Leafs added 27-year-old winger, Kenny Agostino today. The 6’0, 198lbs left shot forward joins the Leafs on a 2-year, one way deal worth $700K AAV.

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Kenny Agostino spent last season split between the Montreal Canadians and New Jersey Devils. Agostino mustered up 24pts (6-18-24) in 63 games in the NHL and a further 10pts in 12 games with the Devils AHL team. Agostino has managed 35pts in his 85 NHL games over his career spread across  5 seasons. Agostino has also proven a very productive AHL scorer with 246pts in 273 games for a 0.9 point per game pace. Agostino fills an organisational need with the Leafs as a left winger who can provide value in a depth role. This is a near league minimum contract for a player who has proven he can produce in the kind of roles the Leafs would need him in.

This signing will provide the Toronto Maple Leafs depth with some further competition on the left side. Furthermore, being on a near league minimum deal, Agostino has proven he can be very valuable at the AHL level if the Leafs pick a Marlie from last season above him. This is a small, low risk piece of business by Dubas that appears very smart and safe. A further breakdown on Agostino will come in the following days.

Sources: Elite-prospects.com, Hockey-Reference.com and NHL.com

Nikita Zaitsev

Zaitsev-Ceci Trade Reaction Round-up

featured image photo credit – Dinur Blum

Taking a look at everyone’s first impressions regarding the Toronto and Ottawa trade that included Nikita Zaitsev and Cody Ceci.

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John Shannon confirming the pieces involved in the trade.

Alex from Sens twitter doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of the return.

Sean Tierney, known for his data analysis reacts with Toronto having the clear edge in the trade.

Draglikepull just like all Leafs fans are worried about Ceci’s deployment in the lineup, while still happy to get rid of Zaitsev’s absurd cap hit that lasts until 2024.

 

On the flip side, Leafs super fan and Sportsnet analyst Steve Dangle has his own concerns about the trade. They have more to do with Babcock getting a new favourite however.

Ottawa Senator’s super fan and MVP of last season, @Brain5or6, had this reaction to the trade. It’s fair to say he’s not a huge fan.

https://twitter.com/brian5or6/status/1145662869985476608?s=21

Ottawa Senator’s super fan and MVP of last season, @bRian5or6, had this reaction to the trade. It’s fair to say he’s not a huge fan.

 

Scott Wheeler, prospect writer for The Athletic woke up to good news as a Leafs fan.

 

Senators parody account Bonk’s Mullet felt that he’s seen something similar before.

Editor and Pittsburgh Penguins contributor at Puck77, Justin Miner, had this to say on the trade, providing a little light at the end of the tunnel for Sens fans.

“Zaitsev will thrive outside of the spotlight of the Toronto media and connor brown could be a steal as a top 6 player, much like the players in Vegas that got expanded roles and flourished with the opportunity. I am not saying that they make Ottawa a threat but they will perform admirably with the opportunity.”

Tony Ferrari, Editor and contributor at Puck77, immediate reaction was a mix of positive for the Leafs and worry for the Senators.

“The fact that the Leafs were able to unload the Zaitsev contract as well as dumping Brown, as much as he was loved in Toronto, was a smart move. My hope is that the Leafs can flip Cody Ceci for a pick or prospect and use that additional space to sign a defender that fits in on Toronto’s roster a little bit better. Also, why did Dorion send Dubas a 2020 third round pick?”

Lastly, our very own Josh Tessler from ThePuck77, doesn’t understand what Ottawa was doing in this trade and sees the Leafs as the clear winners.

Overall, the reactions to the deal that essentially boiled down to Nikita Zaitsev-plus for  Cody Ceci-plus was fairly positive from the Toronto Maple Leafs side of Twitter and less than positive from the Ottawa Senators focused media/fan base. The Senators seem like the losers here but only time will tell. Could the fresh start get Zaitsev back to being a top-four defender? Will Ceci stay in Toronto or be flipped? Connor Brown could be the player that decides who wins this trade. If he can return to his 20-goal form of his rookie season with an increased role in Ottawa, they may feel better the trade a year from now. 

Ottawa Senators

Toronto Maple Leafs trade Nikita Zaitsev to the Ottawa Senators.

News trickled in overnight of the details of the long expected Nikita Zaitsev trade to the Ottawa Senators.

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It has been speculated throughout the week that Toronto would get Senators D-man, Cody Ceci, in return. Following Darren Dreger breaking that Zaitsev had agreed to waive his no trade clause, Bob McKenzie alluded to the trade including more pieces than just the two aforementioned D-men.

Toronto’s focus in this move was clearly to shed salary. Moving the $4.5M and $2.1M cap hits of Zaitsev and Connor Brown should free up the space needed to resign Mitch Marner and look at other free agents or trades involving a big defenceman. Toronto is losing a former 20 goal scorer, in Connor Brown, and their number one penalty killer, in Zaitsev. The telling part of this move is whether the Leafs decide to renew Ceci’s contract. If Ceci is renewed it will likely come in at around the same price as the Zaitsevs contract they just moved. That would leave minimal room outside of the Marner extension and would likely symbolise that this is the defensive core the Leafs head into the season with. This would be a lateral move for the Leafs and one that would be viewed pretty negatively by the fanbase.

Ottawa, however, are getting a player in Connor Brown who could produce with the ice-time he likely is afforded there. In Zaitsev, they are getting a slightly older Cody Ceci who is locked up to term. If Ceci didn’t want a renewal, this could have been seen as a necessary move for Ottawa. A more comprehensive breakdown of this trade will be coming in the future.

 

Sources: Hockey-reference.com