What Effect Could Load Management have on Toronto Maple Leafs Playoff Performance?

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 25: Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs plays the puck against Tage Thompson #72 of the Buffalo Sabres during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 25, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 25: Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs plays the puck against Tage Thompson #72 of the Buffalo Sabres during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 25, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen has had the hardest workload over any other goaltender in the NHL over the past three regular seasons (2016-2019).

The Toronto Maple Leafs #1 netminder has also faced the most shots against him over the last three seasons by a very large margin (a total of over 500 more than the second most goalie). This heavy workload may be correlated to Andersen’s consecutive poor playoff performances he has had in the past 3 playoff rounds.

This brings up the argument of load managing Andersen more this season which has been hinted at by both general manager Kyle Dubas and Andersen himself.

To get a better grasp on what kind of value load management can bring, we can take a look at how well other goaltenders have done in the playoffs while taking into account their regular-season workload.

Frederik Andersen Workload

Recently, Marc Antoine Godin published an article on The Athletic which featured three separate groups of the 31 starting goaltenders in the NHL based on the workload and tallied how far the goaltenders made it in the playoffs for each group.

I decided to make my version of this using a sample of the past 5 seasons to get a more accurate result. I have grouped the starting goaltenders by using TOI (Time on ice), group 1 being the 10 goalies with the most TOI and group 3 being the least.

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What does this data tell us?

The data of how far starting goaltenders have made it in the playoffs based on their workload over a sample of five years does not allude to any strong case for resting goaltenders.

Some goaltenders have had both a heavy workload and a lighter workload that have made it far into the playoffs. The data is scattered everywhere and there is no definitive pattern we can make out of the data. However there are clearly many other factors that we should take into account when examining the data, something such as the quality of team in front of the goalie which plays a large role in the goaltenders success in making it further in the playoffs, logically there’s no way a goaltender can make it far into the playoffs if the team in front is not playing well.

So to further study the idea of load management, we can dive deeper and measure how well each of the goalies played, of those who made it into the playoffs, while also taking into account their in season workload.

So I took a look at all of the goaltenders who played in the playoffs from the 2015 playoffs to the 2019 playoffs (minimum 230 TOI) and grouped them into their affiliated group based off their in season workload. Then I averaged each group’s SV%, SV% above expected, and HDSV% (high-danger save percentage) to calculate if the in season workload played a factor into the goaltender’s playoff performance.

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Does workload have any correlation with performance?

So from the graph which examines how well goaltenders have done in the playoffs over the past five years based on their in-season workload, group 1 being the goaltenders with the hardest workload and group 3 being the goaltenders who had the easiest workload.

We can establish that the goaltenders in group 3 who had the easiest schedule performed the best, in comparison to group 1 and 2 by a fairly significant margin. Although peculiarly, the goalies who took part in an average regular-season workload in group 2 seemed to have only a marginal difference in results compared to the goalies found in group 1.

This is why I fail to believe that we should look too much into the results of the data given the three data points we have with each of the groups only show one significant difference in playoff performance from group 3 to group 1 and 2, but no difference notable enough between group 1 and 2 to read into.

To get a better illustration, if we have two of the same caliber goaltenders with the same team in front, one goalie is in group 1 and the other goaltender is in group 2, one would hypothesis that the goalie who had an easier workload would play better, but with the data collected there is no accuracy to this assumption.

So if the Toronto Maple Leafs were to buy into load management and deploy Andersen into approximately eight fewer games for him to be in group 2, based on the data collected from the past five years, we should not expect Andersen’s playoff performance to improve.

Furthermore, despite goalies in group 3 having the best results of the 3 groups, we can not make a statement for load management given the goalies in group 2 don’t coincide with the hypothesis.

When a goaltender has an easier workload the hypothesis is that the goalie will play better, if this were the case the results from group 2 would be significantly better than the results from group 1 which is not the case. There is no correlation between the goaltender’s results and their respective workload as a result.

What does this tell us from a load management perspective?

The evidence we have formulated would suggest that there is no logical correlation between a goaltenders workload and their respective playoff performance. So when arguing in favor of load management there is no definitive evidence to suggest that limiting a goaltenders workload in the regular season would result in improved post-season performance.

However there are plenty of scientific studies of which gathered that many of the movements done by goaltenders can induce a toll on the body, this is why goalies skipping practice has become an increasingly common theme.

For Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I expect that the sports science department of MLSE is well aware of this scientific-based evidence and Andersen has the best resources available to him, but this topic is something of discussion for another day.

But in regards to Andersen’s workload, the evidence would suggest that resting him an extra 8 or so games wouldn’t make a difference in his playoff performance, the only thing that would matter is if he is on top of his game at the time.

A goalies load can also be specific to certain goalies, some goaltenders have spoken out about their workload and how many games they believe they should be starting, such as Carter Hutton of the Buffalo Sabers who stated it would be hard to play over 60 games and go on a long playoff run, Andersen seems like he is comfortable playing 50-65 games a year, this is something that has been touched upon by other contributions on this site.

With Frederik Andersen, the Toronto Maple Leafs organization will give him all of the tools to succeed and sustain his performance, Andersen himself has talked about developing a new way of coming back from the off-season, in getting back on the ice earlier but not as much.

Next. The Door Is Wide Open For Sandin and Liljegren. dark

With the load management conversation, the most important aspect of it for Andersen is to be feeling good and healthy, I wouldn’t stress too much about Babcock being stubborn to the idea of load management, when he starts Andersen more than desired, given there is no evidence to suggest his workload would play a factor in his playoff performance.