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: Mitch Marner Contract Expectations

It’s no secret that the Mitch Marner contract extension talks with the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t close to being done.

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Marner is coming off a great season. In 82 games played, Marner tallied 26 goals and 68 assists. He posted a career high in both categories. With Marner having an outstanding season, he’s going to command quite a contract and he truly deserves it. But, the NHL of course has a salary cap, so that makes things rather challenging for clubs to give the world to their players. With that being said, it’s evident that both sides are far from resolution.

Contract Update

Rogers Sportsnet analyst Elliotte Friedman joined Tim & Sid (Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro) the other day to discuss the Marner talks. Unfortunately, Friedman didn’t have great news for Toronto Maple Leafs fans. Apparently, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas offered the restricted free agent an eight year deal worth 11 million (88 million total) per season. Marner’s camp turned that offer down. 

Back in January, Rogers Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos mentioned that Dubas had (prior to the season) offered 72 million to Marner and that wasn’t in the ballpark that Marner’s agent, Darren Ferris was looking for. 

The good news is that the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t trying to nickle and dime Marner. If they were, they never would have upped their original offer. But, the bigger challenge is to determine exactly how to make Marner happy. 

Projected Contract

It’s been speculated that it would take quite a bit of money to extend Marner. A couple of weeks ago, EvolvingWild projected that Marner would get an eight year deal worth 9.79 million annually. They projected that he’d earn slightly less than fellow restricted free agents, Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes (~10 mil, 8 years) and Mikko Rantanen (~10.1 mil, 8 years) of the Colorado Avalanche. With the Leafs reportedly offering 11 million per season, they are going far above the projections and are truly showing Marner that he means a tremendous amount to the club. But, the thing that might be holding Marner back from signing on the dotted line has nothing to do with money.

Term Length

It’s got to do more with term length. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen fewer players signing on for 8 year deals, especially restricted free agents. Auston Matthews signed a five year deal, William Nylander signed a six year deal, David Pastrnak signed a six year deal and Johnny Gaudreau signed a six year deal. Players simply don’t want to feel like they are locked into the same contract for a long period of time. In addition, with the salary cap continue to rise, players want the option to renegotiate their contract sooner than later in order to get a higher salary. 

Trying To End Their Contracts At The Same Time

In addition, the Maple Leafs have been trying to get their contracts to expire roughly at the same time. If you take a look at CapFriendly, you’ll see that Matthews, John Tavares and Nylander’s contract end at roughly the same time. Matthews and Nylander’s contracts expire at the end of the 2023-24 season. Tavares’ contract expires at the end of the 2024-25 season.

Based on when those contracts expire, I’m taking a wild guess that Marner’s camp wants a five year deal. With how things change from season to season, the Toronto Maple Leafs could look like a completely different club in a few seasons. They could be in a rough spot and might not be a contender. If that’s the case, Matthews, Nylander and Marner want to explore the market in five years time to see if they might be able to play in a better spot somewhere else. Unfortunately, it’s rather challenging to predict the future and my crystal ball is in the shop.

But, what we can realistically expect is that Marner’s camp isn’t looking for a long contract with the possibility of not playing with Matthews and Nylander for a few seasons. These guys are friends and they don’t want to separate, so it makes a lot of sense that they’d want to re-evaluate their situation sooner than later.

My Projection

Based on what I mentioned above, I think that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Marner will come to terms on a five year deal worth somewhere in between what Nylander and Matthews are getting paid. So, it’ll be very close to what EvolvingWild projected, except for the fact that it would be a five year deal. 

stats from hockey-reference.com, EvolvingWild

salary research from CapFriendly.com

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

Puck77 Interview: Steve Kournianos of TheDraftAnalyst.com

Yesterday, I had the privilege to interview Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst). Kournianos is an NHL Draft Analyst for TheDraftAnalyst.com and he contributes for Sporting News NHL.

Kournianos has posted a ton of draft related content on his site including Rankings, Prospect Profiles and Mock Drafts. You should check out his content as you prepare to sit down to watch the draft this weekend.

In my interview with Kournianos, we touched on several different draft prospects who are eligible in the NHL Draft and some prospects who are eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. So, let’s take a look at what he had to say. 

Interview

Josh: The USNTDP has many top prospects including Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte and Jack Hughes. But, who are some draft prospects from the USNTDP who could be steals in the later rounds?  

Steve: I really like Patrick Moynihan, Owen Lindmark and Judd Caulfield. All did really well when given a chance in the top six. Moynihan can fly and wire it off the rush; Lindmark has a nonstop motor and is great off the cycle; Caulfield is a big-bodied two-way type with soft hands and underrated creativity. I also see defensemen Domenick Fensore and Marshall Warren being able to translate their speed, hands and playmaking into top-pairing roles when after two or three years in college.

Josh: While Jack Hughes is looking like the number one selection, the race between Kaapo Kakko and Hughes has gotten much tighter. What are some of the concerns that analysts have with Hughes?

Steve: I don’t know any notable analysts who have concerns. Only fans. I for one have zero concerns about Hughes.

Josh: Alex Newhook is sky-rocketing up draft rankings. Is there a chance that we could see Newhook be drafted before Trevor Zegras and Dylan Cozens?

Steve: Slim. It’s recency bias from the U18 words. Zegras or Cozens would have put up 150-point seasons in the BCHL.

Josh: In addition, do you believe that with Newhook playing in the BCHL, that it had a negative impact on his rankings earlier on this year?

Steve: My issue with Newhook had more to do with his frustration on the bench and his inconsistency fighting through tougher matchups. I don’t think league quality had anything to do with his slipping. Cale Makar and Tyson Jost were high picks from Canadian Jr. “A” because they were consistently dominant without any real concerns.

Josh: What do you think of Moritz Seider and what should NHL fans expect down the road with Seider? 

Steve: Seider is a hot topic and deservedly so. He is too good for his age group and held his own against adults. His hockey smarts and positioning impress me more than his size and mobility, which is what many are focusing in. I see a future No. 2 or No. 3 who eats up minutes and plays in all situations.

Josh: Last year, fans saw Joe Veleno fall and fall. Who do you believe might fall this year and why?

Steve: I think one of the WHL centers will drop. Dach, Cozens or Krebs. My money is on Krebs because of the Achilles tear coupled with the rise of Caufield, Seider, Knight and several others.

Josh: Alexis LaFrenière is projected to be the number one overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft. If you had to choose an NHLer (current or former) as a comparable, who would you select and why?

Steve: Lafrenière is a mix between John Tavares and Patrick Kane — a well-balanced, strong and brilliant decision maker like Tavares and finesse, elite puck control and hands like Kane. He’ll be among the NHL scoring leaders every year.

Josh: Aside from LaFrenière, who do you believe that fans should pay special attention to next season as they could be taken early on in the draft?

Steve: So many to list by I’m already partial to Russian winger Vasili Ponomaryov, the Czech kids — Jan Mysak, Adam Raska and Jaromir Pytlik. Also Anton Lundell from Finland, Dylan Holloway from Canada and a quintet of Minnesota high schoolers in Blake Biondi, Jake Boltmann, Carsen Richels, Cole Hansen and Jack Smith.

Thank You

Thank you Steve for taking the time to answer my questions. I look forward to interviewing you again in the future.

player profiles from hockey-reference.com

Toronto Maple Leafs

Who Were The Most Improved Toronto Maple Leafs?

Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs increased their production this year – here is how they did it.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans are notoriously susceptible to narrative swings – one minute Kapanen is the new fan favorite, and a trade untouchable – the next he’s the cause of Auston Matthews‘ frustration and an irrelevant RFA. As such, it’s helpful to do a more detailed breakdown of the most improved, how they improved, and what to expect moving forward. While these players have made strides and important contributions this year, the impact of their teammates is a key factor in evaluating their point production.

Improvements In Per 60 Metrics

The above chart illustrates improvements in selected metrics at 5v5 – Points per 60, Goals per 60, and Assists per 60 – during the 2018-2019 season. Each dot represents an NHL player with at least 20 GP – players to the right of 0 improved on that metric, while players to the left saw a decline in that metric.

As we’ve already noted, Marner, Kapanen, and Rielly saw the largest increase in P/60 production, with each scoring roughly 1 point more game in comparison to last year. You’ll also note that these are some of the more impressive improvements in the league, with relatively few dots lying to the right of our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rielly saw the largest G/60 improvement amongst the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s probably not a surprise to those of us who watched him score virtually every shot he took through December onwards.

Marner and Kapanen saw slight G/60 improvements, but both had large increases in A/60.

So, how exactly did these players improve their 5v5 numbers?

It’s possible they produced more chances, or they could have converted chances at a higher rate than the last year, resulting in more points. Let’s take a look by player:

Mitch Marner

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With contract negotiations ongoing, Marner’s surge in production due to playing with John Tavares is an oft-cited reason to pay him less money. I am going to avoid arguing with myself about Marner’s contract for now, but I will take a look at Marner’s line combinations during the past two seasons:

As the above graphic shows, in 2017-18, Marner split time with Patrick Marleau/Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk (JVR)/Tyler Bozak before playing the entirety of last year with Zach Hyman/John Tavares. Also evident is the slight bump in Expected Goals, which is the number of Expected Goals the line contributed while on the ice. Using this as a proxy for generating offense, Marner’s line did produce more chances this year – and this would result in between 0.3 – 0.6 goals per 60 for the line, independent of shooting percentage.

Marner’s On Ice Shooting Percentage

Next, we’ll look at on ice shooting percentage. We see another difference here – particularly with the JVR/Bozak line which shot 6.8% that year compared to 10.8% for Tavares/Hyman this year. This contributed to an extra 1.21 G/60 when you compare the totals from both seasons. In addition, it seems most likely that the increase in shooting percentage is the main driver of Marner’s improvement this year. It’s up for debate whether or not Marner has a roll in the increase in shooting percentage via creating better scoring chances, however this should manifest in the Expected Goals figures and a more detailed argument of this fact is beyond the scope of this blog post.

Kasperi Kapanen

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In the 2017-18 season, Kapanen had a pretty limited role, playing 38 games and averaging 11:15 minutes in average ice time. During those minutes, he played mostly with Leo Komarov and Dominic Moore – not exactly an offensive juggernaut. That line wasn’t actually terrible at creating chances according to expected goals. But, Kapanen did see a slight increase in expected goals on all the lines he played on in 2018-19. The Auston Matthews/Andreas Johnsson line was particularly good, and the other combinations could raise questions about Marleau’s impact. So similar to Marner, a change in role for Kapanen resulted in a slight bump in the chances created while on the ice.

Kapanen’s On Ice Shooting Percentage

As with Kapanen, what is likely the more important driver is the switch from Leo Komarov/Moore, who lacked almost any shooting talent with a 4.8 shooting percentage, to Matthews who has personally shot over 13% at 5v5 in all three of his season so far. This results in an increase of 1.83 G/60 on the lines that Kapanen played with, a pretty substantial increase. A lot has been made of Kapanen’s rush ability, he has been described as bit of a lone wolf who will leaf both teammates and opponents in the dust with his speed. While his play with Matthews ebbed and erred during the season, these facts support the conclusion that he needs a shooter on his line to finish off the plays he creates with his legs, whether this is Matthews or someone else.

Morgan Rielly

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The graph below displays some of the key metrics we looked at earlier for Rielly. Being that he’s played much of the past two seasons with Ron Hainsey, I don’t think his 5v5 improvement is being influenced by any change of his roll. As you can see, Rielly’s Individual Expected Goals did tick up slightly last year, but was in line with past seasons, and he actually created more chances in 2017. However, his shooting percentage skyrocketed to almost 9% last season and that looks like the likely driver of his points and goals per 60 improvement.

Looking ahead…

All this talk of shooting percentage is not to say the players detailed above had no influence on their improvement. All three players, but particularly Marner and Kapanen, skated with confidence/spark that they had yet to display consistently. For Marner, that meant continuing the momentum from the end of last year to prove his worth as a member of the core. For Kapanen, it was a semi-surprising display of his ability to play top 6 minutes and be a difference-maker at 5v5.

Despite these facts, the stated increases in their top line numbers have a lot to do with their situation, and shooting talent. We should praise these players on their ability to fit and contribute on these lines, but pull short of giving too much credit for their individual contributions.

data/stats from naturalstattrick.com, EvolvingHockey, hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

Not Panda Watch, It’s Time For Erik Karlsson Watch

Last summer, we saw the Toronto Maple Leafs sign John Tavares on day one of free agency. This summer, San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson is set to test the free agent market. 

It’s been a topsy-turvy year and a half for Erik Karlsson. Karlsson and his wife dealt with the Mike Hoffman situation, Eugene Melynk’s mismanagement and a bunch of turmoil in Ottawa. Fortunately for Karlsson, he was able to evade the frustration in Ottawa. Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion pulled the trigger on a trade with the San Jose Sharks and shipped Karlsson off to the Northern California. On September 13th, Karlsson and Francis Perron were dealt to the Sharks in exchange for Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo, Josh Norris, Rūdolfs Balcers, a first rounder (2020), a second rounder (2019) and a conditional second rounder (2021).

After joining Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the Sharks defensive core, Karlsson had some health challenges. He had sustained a groin injury and thus he was kept out of the lineup for 27 games. His health wasn’t great at times, but neither was his offensive production. In 53 games played, he tallied 3 goals. It’s the lowest amount of goals scored in his career. Karlsson has lost his 5v5 goal scoring touch. The hope is that Karlsson will redeem himself next season and get back to his old self.

Where Will Karlsson Play?

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But, the bigger question is where will Karlsson play next season? 

His tweet that he wrote after the San Jose Sharks were eliminated in the playoffs made it sound like his days in the Silicon Valley were done. In addition, its been rumoured that his wife, Melinda would like to return back to Ottawa. But, does that mean that Karlsson feels the same? He left an organization that was in shambles and it might take quite a bit of money for Karlsson to forgive and forget. 

The good news is that if he does return to Ottawa, he’ll be alongside elite defenseman Thomas Chabot and a rising core of youthful talent. Brady Tkachuk is emerging, Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton are almost ready to make the leap and Erik Brännström is a top defenseman in the making. Everything is looking good for the Senators long-term, but can Karlsson forgive the Senators front office? 

If he can forgive and forget, he’d be a great addition to the Senators. But, it still might be a couple of years before the Senators are contenders. They need more than just Karlsson, but if they can land Karlsson, it’ll give the Senators leverage in attracting other top free agents.

Montreal 

The other two teams that have best chance of landing Karlsson are the Montreal Canadiens and the San Jose Sharks. 

Last off-season, the Habs lost out on Tavares, but had a great season. They added Max Domi via a trade with the Arizona Coyotes and Brendan Gallagher was easily the best 5v5 goal scorer in the NHL last season. While the Habs weren’t able to make it to the playoffs, they just need a piece or two to be a true playoff team. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin needs to add a defenseman and should look to add some forward depth. If he can add Karlsson, he’d have one of the best defensive groups in the NHL. Karlsson would also take a ton of pressure off of Shea Weber. Both defenseman play on the right side and with Karlsson present at the Bell Centre, the Habs could scale back Weber’s minutes. 

San Jose

In addition, the San Jose Sharks could theoretically re-sign Karlsson. But, the main issue is cap space. The Sharks have quite a few pending free agents including Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Timo Meier, Joonas Donskoi, Michael Haley and Gustav Nyquist. The Sharks need to keep Meier and at least two of those forwards to stay competitive next season. So, if Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is looking to re-sign Karlsson, he’s going to have to create some cap space. Wilson could look at trading Justin Braun and/or Brenden Dillon to free up some space, but either way, the Sharks will put themselves in a whole new cap crunch. If Karlsson and Meier both sign long-term contracts, they’d have seven players on the hook for next five years. Given the salary situation in San Jose, the Sharks might be better off bowing out of the Karlsson sweepstakes. But, who knows what will go down.

Tampa

A lot of hockey fans speculate that the Tampa Bay Lightning will be in on the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes, but I’m not sure that will happen. The Lightning are in a bad cap crunch and need to re-sign Brayden Point. In addition, the Lightning need to re-sign Mikhail Sergachev and Andrei Vasilevskiy next off-season. With how much money top defensemen and goaltenders are being paid these days, the Lightning simply can’t afford Karlsson. They’d have to move quite a few pieces to cough up the cap space and that might hurt them in the process. So, if you are a Lightning fan and are hoping for a Victor Hedman and Karlsson pairing, I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high. 

Dark Horses

Instead, I believe that there will be two dark horses who will jump into the sweepstakes. They haven’t been mentioned yet in the rumor mill, but they likely will soon. 

The New York Islanders and the Boston Bruins are my two dark horses. 

Islanders

The Islanders need a true offensive defenseman. They need someone who can step in and be the number one defenseman. Barry Trotz needs a John Carlson in Long Island. If Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello can land Karlsson, he’ll get a “John Carlson” and a whole lot more. Karlsson can control the tempo of the game, he’s got great hands, phenomenal speed and a laser of a shot. He’d be a welcomed addition in Long Island. The only issue is Lamoriello’s shaving policy. I’m not sure if Karlsson will be on board for shaving his facial hair. But, who knows? 

Bruins

Like the San Jose Sharks, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Bruins were interested in bringing John Tavares to Boston. Well, that failed, but I’m not sure that the Bruins see it that way. They are in the Stanley Cup Finals. Regardless if they lose to the St. Louis Blues, they have outplayed the Toronto Maple Leafs during the season and in the playoffs. Even though secondary scoring was needed in Boston, they went the cheaper route and acquired Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson at the deadline. That seems to have worked well. 

But, the Bruins will be in a challenge next off-season. Torey Krug, John Moore, Zdeno Chara, Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton will all test the market. There is a good chance that Chara will retire. He is 42 years old and I can’t imagine that he’s going to play till 50 like Tom Brady. In addition, Krug has been a tad inconsistent throughout his time in Boston. Krug is dominant in the offensive zone, but isn’t always reliable in the defensive and/or neutral zone. Moore has been in and out of the lineup. Grzelcyk and Clifton will get raises. But, even if Grzelcyk and Clifton remain, the Bruins will still need to fill a couple of holes on defense and Karlsson would be a great stop gap.

stats from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com

research from CapFriendly.com