Back in late September, I published Hockey Prospectus’ VUKOTA projections for every player on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ roster. VUKOTA is a rankings system using a statistic called goals versus threshold to determine the offensive, defensive and goaltending impact every player in the league has on their team.
VUKOTA predicted the Leafs would finish 10th in the league, or in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Obviously, that didn’t happen, as the Leafs finished 12th in the East. As we look back at VUKOTA’s preseason player projections, it’s not hard to see how their prediction fell short of the mark.
Here’s how VUKOTA predicted every Leafs skater’s games played, goals, assists and points, and every goaltender’s games played and save percentage, and how they stacked up compared to the actual results:
*Player did not finish season with Leafs
You can tell here how much the Leafs’ secondary scorers struggled to put the puck in the net. David Clarkson, Nazem Kadri, Dave Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement and Frazer McLaren all fell well short of where VUKOTA predicted their point totals would be. Of course, nobody could have predicted Bolland would endure that freak ankle injury that limited him to 23 games, but his absence was felt for sure.
As for pleasant surprises, the only Leafs to finish ahead of their projection were Jake Gardiner, Mason Raymond, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. Contributors VUKOTA didn’t account for included Morgan Rielly, Paul Ranger, Troy Bodie, Peter Holland (acquired mid-season in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks), Tim Gleason (another mid-season acquisition), Carter Ashton and Jerry D’Amigo.
On the goaltending side, Jonathan Bernier took the number-one goaltending mantle and ran with it this year, finishing tied for fifth in the league in save percentage (minimum 40 games played). James Reimer ever so slightly fell short of the .912 mark VUKOTA predicted.
It’s impossible for any projection system to be bang-on with these numbers, but what this confirms to me is how far some Leafs underachieved this year. At the end of the day, hockey is about scoring goals, and when only a few others besides your top line are scoring, you just can’t expect to be a winning hockey team. Even with .920+ goaltending.