by PuckStopsHere on 01/15/10 at 01:07 PM ET
The Toronto Maple Leafs have the worst penalty kill in the NHL this season. They have killed 68.9% of opposing team’s penalties. The second worst team is the Edmonton Oilers who are over 7% better with a 76% success rate. The NHL has recorded penalty kill success rates since the 1963/64 season and this year’s Leafs team has the third worst rate in history. Behind the Net Hockey has a nice summary of the worst penalty kills in history.
The two teams that were worse in raw percentage than this year’s Maple Leafs are the 1979/80 Los Angeles Kings and the 1982/83 Kings who came in at 67.7% and 68.24% respectively. With a bad game or two, the Leafs could be in that range. In fact at times they have fallen behind the 83 Kings penalty kill rate only to recover a bit.
When the Los Angeles Kings posted those historically bad penalty kill rates, scoring was higher in the NHL. Penalty kill rates in the NHL were lower. As a result, the difference between the Toronto Maple Leafs and an average penalty kill team is bigger today than it was between the Kings and an average penalty kill team of that time. The Leafs are currently about 15.5% worse than the average penalty killing team in the league. Los Angeles was 13.4% worse in their worst season. Thus the Toronto Maple Leafs have the worst penalty kill in history - relative to the other teams in their era.
What makes it so bad? The personnel is one part of things. The Leafs top penalty killers in terms of ice time have been Francois Beauchemin, Ian White, Lee Stempniak, Luke Schenn and Matt Stajan. None of them are among the top defensive players in the league. Beauchemin is the best that they have. He played quite well in Anaheim a few years ago, but he hasn’t been the same since a knee injury cost him most of the 2008/09 season. The Leafs also have poor goaltending. Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson are not good enough to bail out the weak personnel in front of them.
Much of special team success is coaching. The Leafs special teams are the job of assistant coach Tim Hunter. Hunter was been an assistant coach with Ron Wilson for several years. He has followed Wilson from San Jose to Washington and now to Toronto. His role as an assistant coach has increased as time has passed. Hunter is attempting to run a similar penalty kill system in Toronto to the one that succeeded in San Jose and Washington. The personnel is not as good as the previous teams had and the organization of the players does not appear to be as good either.
Clearly the Leafs penalty kill is not working and it appears Hunter has no ideas to fix it. Here is a quote from Hunter on the penalty kill:
It’s maddening, we’re using the same system we used in Washington when we set a record for the least power-play goals against and the same system we used to kill penalties when we were No. 1 in the league. It takes time and it takes willingness. It’s sacrifice. It’s blocked shots. It’s getting underneath sticks. It’s being aware where passes are going. It’s boxing out guys around the net and competing.
Basically he says that the team is not doing the things that the coaching staff should make sure gets done. I think his quote basically suggests that they are trying the only thing that he knows and it isn’t working - therefore it must be due to lack of effort. It cannot be that Hunter is not getting the system across well or that the wrong players have been chosen.
A penalty kill this historically bad should lead to significant changes. Much of the penalty kill staff should not return. The coach in charge of the penalty kill should not return. The Leafs should make an effort to acquire some better defensive players to help solve this problem in the off-season.
The Leafs have allowed 52 power play goals. The average NHL team has allowed about 35. The difference between an average penalty kill and the Leafs pathetic penalty kill is about 17 goals allowed. The Leafs have allowed 35 more goals than they have scored this season. Half of that can be attributed to their failure to have an average penalty kill. Fixing this problem is not enough to make Toronto a contender, but it will be a significant step in the right direction. The Toronto Maple Leafs have the worst penalty kill relative to the rest of the league since statistics have been kept. That is a serious problem and one that should not be allowed to continue.
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