Ranking the Toronto Maple Leafs Blue-Line by WAR

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - OCTOBER 26: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skating up the ice in control of the puck against the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell on October 26, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QUEBEC - OCTOBER 26: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skating up the ice in control of the puck against the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell on October 26, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team who takes a lot of criticism about their blue line.

I’ve argued that the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line is underrated.

My argument is that Rielly is an elite player, Muzzin and Holl a great second pairing, that Tyson Barrie is underrated and that with Dermott, Liljegren and especially Sandin on the horizon, the Leafs are in great shape.

I recently puchased a subscription to @jfreshhockey’s Patreonthat allows me to access the beautiful and information cards you’ll see below, which he makes.

One great thing about these cards are the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) ratings.  The NHL features a 1000 players playing 82 games each. No one can watch them all,  and we can’t help but be swayed by media narratives and player’s reputations.

WAR attempts to give a single number rating for a player based by a weighted combination of many other statistics.  See here for a glossary with a better description.

For context, Connor McDavid, the consensus best player in the NHL, is worth about 4 wins per year above a replacement player.   Dougie Hamilton – often sited as the NHL’s best defenseman – was worth 4 WAR this year despite his injury.

Now on to the Toronto Maple Leafs Blue-Line.

Toronto Maple Leafs  xWAR Defense Rankings.

The xWAR stats were a little shocking to me.

For the most part, they lined up with my expectations, except with regards to Tyson Barrie and Morgan Rielly.

Rielly played injured for the whole season, then missed 23 games, and I’m sure the games he had to play as Mike Babcock’s #1 while paired with Cody Ceci didn’t help his cause, but his low ranking was still a surprise.   Then again, the context I’m giving here pretty much explains it.  He was worth almost 4 wins last year, by the way.

As for Barrie, he was useless under Babcock, but I thought he played well the rest of the season (above 50% expected goals, 4th in 5v5 scoring among defenseman).  According to these stats – which I think are more comprehensive than what I’ve been using, Barrie is in fact quite terrible. I still think that if used correctly he can be a weapon, but it seems I have overrated him.

"Leafs 2019-20 Blue Line Rankings By Expected WAR courtesy @jfreshJake Muzzin 2.0Travis Dermott 0.6Martin Marincin 0.6Rasmus Sandin 0.3Morgan Rielly 0.2Justin Holl 0.1Tyson Barrie – 0.4Cody Ceci  -0.6"

It would also seem I have potentially overated Jusin Holl, however, I think if we take into account his extremely hard ice time, and his having to play quite a bit of tough minutes with both Rielly and Muzzin missing from games, I think we can give him a pass.  Might even be that the fact he was a positive at all means he’s a great player, but I guess the jury is still out.

Rasmus Sandin only played in one-third of the games, and prorated for the entire season would come out just below Muzzin, it is definitely not unreasonable to expect him to become a top-pairing star player.

In conclusion, I think the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-line is still in pretty good shape.  Rielly and Muzzin appear capable of posting elite numbers, while Dermott, Liljegren and especially Sandin, give the Leafs hope for the future.

Next. Why the Leafs Have to Bench Cody Ceci In the Playoffs. dark

After viewing these numbers, I’m now a little higher on Dermott and Sandin, and a little lower on Holl and Barrie.