Toronto Maple Leafs: Measuring the Impact of the Captaincy

History was made on opening night when the Toronto Maple Leafs named John Tavares the 25th captain in franchise history.

While much focus was put on the circumstances of the announcement and the other candidates that were looked over for the captaincy, a storyline that has flown somewhat under the radar is how the Toronto Maple Leafs captaincy will affect John Tavares this season.

Measuring the success of a player prior to an announcement and following is a tough task. There are multiple different stats applicable for the exercise and an infinite amount of variables to keep in mind, so by no means are the results definitive by any means.

Rather, it will hopefully show us a pattern that could lend to some intriguing discussion over the course of Tavares’ first season with the Leafs “C” on his chest.

Impact of the Toronto Maple Leafs Captaincy

The simplest way to measure the success of an individual player over the NHL’s history is by points per game.

Now, there are many flaws in using this stat, but it’s the best we have when our sample goes way past the available advanced statistic data available.

To measure the impact of the captaincy, I will be comparing each captain’s points per game the year prior to being named Leafs captain and their points per game in their first season with the “C”.

Without further adieu, here are the results:

As you can see, the results are split exactly down the middle. Of the 18 unique captains in Leafs history, nine have had their PPG increase afterwards, and nine have had their PPG decrease.

On the extreme sides, we see Rob Ramage and Doug Gilmour.

Ramage was named captain in 1989 at 31 years of age. The season prior, Ramage was a member of the Calgary Flames, scoring 16 points in 68 games as a hard-nosed defenceman. Upon being traded to Toronto, he was named the captain and saw his scoring significantly increase, up to 49 points in 80 games.

On the flip side, Gilmour was named the captain in 1994 following the departure of Wendel Clark. Gilmour was coming off his second consecutive 100-plus point season when given the “C” but had a steep drop off in production in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. With just 33 points in 44 games, Gilmour’s PPG dropped all the way from 1.34 in 1993-94 to 0.75 in 1994-95.

But what does this have to say about the captaincy’s impact on John Tavares?

Over the course of Leafs history, the captaincy has had minimal impact on the new captain from a production standpoint. At both ends of the spectrum, there are reasons as to why the differential is so big.

Ramage went from playing on a Flames team with Al MacInnis to getting big minutes in Toronto. Rick Vaive was entering the prime of his career and at 22, was just finding his scoring gear in the NHL. Gilmour was named captain in a lockout-shortened year while also having to share offensive minutes with the newly acquired Mats Sundin.

When we look at the most recent captains in Toronto Maple Leafs history, however, we begin to see a pattern that could give us some pause.

When sorting chronologically, we see more of a pattern. From 1969 (Keon) through to 1989 (Ramage), each Toronto Maple Leafs captain saw an increase in production the following season.

Conversely, each Leafs captain since 1991 (Clark) has seen a decrease or stagnation in scoring. Each of Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, and Mats Sundin all had their production fall off once named captain. Though Dion Phaneuf‘s scoring improved, we all know that his defensive play fell off quickly thereafter.

To recap, the Leafs captaincy has not had a steady impact on new captains over the history of the franchise, but there are some fascinating trends that appear to have formed.

Whether it’s simply coincidence or a genuine result of the colossal pressure placed upon these players by fans and media, it’s tough to say. There are so many different factors playing into the numbers that we can’t come to a conclusive result.

Next: Has Cody Ceci Played Better Than Morgan Rielly?

Still, the recent string of results is enough for me to keep an eye on Tavares and the impact the captaincy has on his production over the course of this 2019-20 season.

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