Toronto Maple Leafs: Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin Not Getting Credit

Jake Muzzin #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in action using his Bauer Nexus hockey stick (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Jake Muzzin #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in action using his Bauer Nexus hockey stick (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs won their game against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.

Unfortunately, last night’s Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens game was postponed.  The Leafs are still scheduled to play the Avalanche on Saturday.

However, with no game to write about, I thought a good topic of discussion for today would be Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl.

The Leafs use the pairing of Holl and Muzzin to start shifts in the defensive zone more than they use their other four defenders.  Their early season struggles were compounded by some unfortunate goaltending , but during the Leafs winning streak they’ve been much better than they are getting credit for. (all stats

Toronto Maple Leafs Jake Muzzin Playing Well

The Leafs – you might have heard – are the NHL’s best team since October 28th when they started their current 20-4-1 run.

Before this run occurred, one reason the Leafs were not winning was because the defensive pairing that they use against other team’s best players was getting destroyed.  Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl were minus 6 and minus 7, prompting everyone to criticize both players.

(One unfortunate thing from this time was people combining their plus/minus into one number and saying they were a “combined minus 13” which is just preposterously misleading since, while technically true, it implies that 13 goals were scored against them instead of seven).

While the pairing did start the season slowly, they were never as bad as they seemed. The Leafs goalies were only making 85% of the saves when they were on the ice. They weren’t playing great – don’t get me wrong – they just weren’t playing as bad as it seemed, because the puck was going in when they were on the ice more often than they should have been.

While Muzzin and Holl remain the only two Leafs defenseman with minus ratings, they are both plus players since the first seven games of the season. I do not think that plus/minus is a very good stat (just look at how goaltending skewed the early season numbers) but its still worth pointing out the results have improved significantly.

For the season, both Muzzin and Holl have positive expected goals ratings.  Despite playing  the toughest minutes on the team’s blue-line, they are good enough that the Leafs are expected to win whenever they play.

Since October 27th:

Muzzin: 51% puck possession, 54% of the total goals, 54% of both regular and high-danger scoring chances, and a 52% expected-goals rating.

Holl : Essentially the same.

While it remains true that Justin Holl is probably the most obvious player the Leafs could improve upon going into the playoffs, they will be perfectly fine if they stick with him.   Justin Holl is actually having a decent season, and so is Jake Muzzin.

According to @Jfresh, whose player cards crunch many stats into percentile rankings, have Justin Holl as being better than 47% of NHL defenseman over the last two seasons. This is a ranking in line with being an average, maybe slightly above average #4, which I think checks out both with his stats and visually. Statistically, Holl’s overall play has slightly improved this season over last season.

As for Muzzin, he has dropped slightly, probably owing to the rough start. He is still ranked as being better than 78% of defenseman over the last 84 games played (two seasons).

Next. A Significant Upgrade to the Leafs Defense. dark

Jake Muzzin is still among the best defensemen in the NHL, and his decline has been greatly exaggerated. As for Holl, he’s a solid mid-lineup defenseman with size and a salary that makes him pretty valuable.