by PuckStopsHere on 08/18/13 at 12:02 AM ET
A while ago I published a list of the NHL teams by their team Corsi. This is the difference between the team's attempted shots and those taken by their opponents. Attempted shots include shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots. This is recorded only in five on five situations. It is an indicator of puck possession and a repeatable portion of hockey. It is certainly not the only piece of success as special teams, goaltending, shooting, luck and other factors also can influence how well a team does.
The worst team in the league in the 2013 season was the Toronto Maple Leafs by their team Corsi. They posted a -522 team Corsi. This means that more than ten extra shots were taken by their opponents than by the Leafs. Despite this handicap, the Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and they forced the Stanley Cup finalist Boston Bruins to a hard-fought seven game comeback series win. As a result, most people think of the Leafs as a team on the rise but a more accurate representation may be as a flawed team that maximized their success last year and will be hard-pressed to ever match that success
There are three reasons for the Leaf success despite their poor puck possession. Toronto had the highest shooting percentage in the NHL in 2013 with 11.5%. Toronto had the second best penalty kill with an 87.9% success rate. Toronto had remarkably strong goaltending from James Reimer and Ben Scrivens despite the fact this was seen as a weakness and required an upgrade to bring in Jonathan Bernier via trade in the off-season.
The shooting percentage success is likely unsustainable. It tends to fluctuate significantly from year to year. Toronto had a 9.8% shooting percentage in 2011/12, which put them closer to the league average. It is possible, especially in a shortened season like we had in 2013, to have a significantly better shooting percentage that expectation due to luck alone. It is clear that with similar puck possession, Toronto will not shoot as well into the future and will thus not score as much.
Penalty killing numbers are always hard to repeat as well. Toronto spent 264 minutes on the penalty kill in 2013. This is a little over four games and a period. That is not a lot of time to have meaningful statistical results. The Leafs had a huge improvement in their results. In 2011/12, they were third last in the penalty kill with a 77.3% success rate. Likely their expected success rate falls somewhere in the middle of the two results, but it is clear they will allow more goals while shorthanded in the future.
Goaltending is the most interesting of these three variables. James Reimer had his first season as an NHL starter and posted a .924 saves percentage. In 2011/12 when used primarily as a backup, he posted a .900 saves percentage. This is a considerable improvement and not one that could have been reliably predicted. His 2013 backup Ben Scrivens had his first full NHL season and posted a .915 saves percentage. This gave the Leafs above average goaltending. Scrivens was part of the Leafs trade with Los Angeles where Jonathan Bernier was brought in to shore up a goaltending pair that had been better than average, but was a surprise to have done as well. Bernier has been a highly regarded prospect who was a first round draft pick in 2006 who had been an outstanding goalie in the AHL. He had only been a backup in Los Angeles behind Jonathan Quick. It is unclear how he will perform as an NHL starter. He posted a solid .922 saves percentage in limited play in 2013. I would think that in a best case, Reimer and Bernier should perform about as well as Reimer and Scrivens did in 2013. It would be tough to do any better than the very good performance in 2013. There is a real possibility that Reimer will regress and that Bernier will have troubles taking over as a starting goalie. If that happens Toronto is in for a long year.
Toronto made the playoffs by six points in 2013. That is a relatively small margin. There are lots of reasons to expect that their success will not be repeatable given their poor puck possession. They require an equal goaltending performance. They require a top percentage. They require a top penalty kill. None of these are a given and the last two are quite unlikely. I predict Toronto misses the playoffs in 2013/14. I think 2013 was a high point for the team that will be very hard to match.
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