May 13, 2013; Boston, MA USA; The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins shake hands after the Bruins defeated the Leafs in overtime in game seven of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Regression; Meet The Toronto Maple Leafs

Regression, according to the dictionary, is defined as:

  • Relapse to a less perfect or developed state
  • Statistics The relationship between the mean value of a random variable and the corresponding values of one or more independent variables

What this has to do with the Toronto Maple Buds is many things, but consider the following. Here are the statistics of goalies who played at least 15 games in a season not named James Reimer since the 2007-08 season:

2007-08

Vesa Toskala (.904 SV%, 2.74 GAA, 66 GP)

Andrew Raycroft (.876 SV%, 3.92 GAA, 19 GP)

2008-09

Vesa Toskala (.891 SV%, 3.26 GAA, 53 GP)

Curtis Joseph (.905 SV%, 3.57 GAA, 21GP)

2009-10

Jonas Gustavsson (.902 SV%, 2.87 GAA, 42 GP)

Vesa Toskala (.874 SV%, 3.66 GAA, 26 GP)

Jean-Sebastien Giguere (.916 SV%, 2.49 GAA, 15 GP)

2010-11

JS Giguere (.900 SV%, 2.87 GAA, 33 GP)

Jonas Gustavsson (.890 SV%, 3.29 GAA, 23 GP)

2011-12

Jonas Gustavsson (.902 SV%, 2.92 GAA, 42 GP)

2012-13

Ben Scrivens (.915 SV%, 2.69 GAA, 20 GP)

I’m not a mathematician, nor do I pretend to play one on the internet, but I can tell you this: The Leafs had crap goaltending from the end of the 2003-04 season until the arrival of James Reimer (If you need a refresher as to what ended that year, watch this responsibly:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NY8SVWNHeEY). The Leafs have predominantly been in the bottom five in save percentage over the years. It’s important to keep this in mind while looking at the Leafs’ PDO. PDO is not a fancy acronym, but it’s generally referred to as puck luck. From the hockey analytics website Behind the Net:

PDO is the sum of “On-Ice Shooting Percentage” and “On-Ice Save Percentage” while a player was on the ice. It regresses very heavily to the mean in the long-run: a team or player well above 1000 has generally played in good luck and should expect to drop going forward and vice-versa.

As everyone in their right mind knows, last year was the first time since 2004 where the Leafs made the playoffs. The thing mainstream media guys (*cough* Sportsnet, *cough* Toronto newspapers) latched on about this iteration was how everyone on the Leafs “bought in” to Randy Carlyle‘s system. The Leafs, according to some, played a more “winning” brand of hockey that involved toughness and better communication from coach to players. To some people, those are things are actually real and legitimate. To others, including the guy who’s writing this piece, it’s bullshit.

The Leafs were tied with Pittsburgh at the top of the league in PDO. The Leafs also lead the league in team shooting percentage. The Leafs made the playoffs in major part because they finally got above-average goaltending, the likes they haven’t seen since Ed Belfour was sober in 2003-04. The problem with relying on shooting percentages and goaltending, or in other words “puck luck”, is that the volatility of PDO is real, and unless you’re of the calibre of Pittsburgh or Boston, PDO varies heavily from year to year. The following is the top 10 teams in PDO since the 2007-08 season.

  1. Vancouver Canucks
  2. Boston Bruins
  3. Pittsburgh Penguins
  4. Washington Capitals
  5. Anaheim Ducks
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Montreal Canadiens
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Phoenix Coyotes
  10. Philadelphia Flyers

Six out of the 10 teams here (5-10) missed the playoffs at least once during that six-year stretch. The Penguins might be the most consistent team out of the bunch yet they lost in the first round against the Flyers. The Capitals and Canucks have been counted out by most in the media more times than a professional wrestler. For reference, here are the top 10 teams in PDO from 2011-12:

  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Detroit Red Wings
  3. Vancouver Canucks
  4. Phoenix Coyotes
  5. Nashville Predators
  6. New York Rangers
  7. St. Louis Blues
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Washington Capitals
  10. Philadelphia Flyers

And 2012-13:

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins
  3. Chicago Blackhawks
  4. Columbus Blue Jackets
  5. Anaheim Ducks
  6. Washington Capitals
  7. Dallas Stars
  8. Tampa Bay Lightning
  9. Montreal Canadiens
  10. New York Rangers

The only team that made it twice on these lists were Washington and the Rangers. Now PDO shouldn’t be solely referred as a death sentence for a team, because as the old adage goes, some teams “create their own luck”. From the 2011-12 list, six out of the 10 teams were in the top half in Corsi percentage and five out of the 10 teams were also in the top half in Fenwick percentage. Concerning the 2012-13 list, the “creating your own luck” adage is tested more with only three of the 10 teams being in the top half in Corsi, and four of the 10 teams ranking in the top half in Fenwick.

What should concern Leafs fans with the current iteration of the team is the lack of possession players they have on the squad. They lost Matt Frattin, Mikhail Grabovski, and Clarke MacArthur; all guys who had varying degrees of success as possession players throughout their time in Toronto. The buyout of Grabovski exposed the split between bloggers/shot metrics supporters and the old guard in the hockey media. The old guard mocked at the value of Grabbo as a result of his declining point production, his heavy salary, and who Randy Carlyle usually played him with on the third line. The “Corsi Nerds” screamed at the old guard saying he’s a terrific two-way player who’s a great possession asset to have, but hasn’t had the opportunities that say a Tyler Bozak has had. Many observers point to his playoff performance as an indicator of what he can do when given an opportunity to succeed. Hell, he’s even produced in the traditional metric that the old guard favours, ranking 17th among centremen in goal-scoring over the last three seasons.

Then there’s the matter of the Leafs having a ridiculous high shooting percentage, the likes of which the NHL hasn’t seen in a long time. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, no team has ever lead the league in shooting percentage for two years in a row. One comparable would be the Capitals who lead the league in 2010 with a 10.39 per cent mark, a similar percentage to what Toronto produced during the 2013 season. The following season, under a similar “stylistic” change that the Leafs went through, the Caps ranked 21st in shooting percentage and 16th in PDO.

There’s every reason to believe the Leafs will regress heavily this year, an event that would bring satisfaction to any fan/writer who’s been mocked for pointing out the team’s PDO, Corsi/Fenwick and shooting percentage to the old guard. Despite what’s been written here, as a sad/depressed Leafs fan, I hope they continue to buck every stat imaginable and make the playoffs, an event that’s made even harder with the NHL’s new conference alignment bringing the improved Red Wings to the Eastern Conference. Leafs fans will enjoy the rough and tumble play that the Leafs will embody, highlighted by their free agent acquisitions of Dave Bolland and David Clarkson. Sadly, that might be the only “enjoyable” quality the Leafs will embody in the upcoming season.

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