We recently posted two articles rating the Maple Leafs’ forwards for offensive play and defensive play using six different five on five categories tracked by the website Naturalstattrick.com. Those categories were Shot Attempts, Shots, Scoring Chances, High-Danger Scoring Chances, Goals, and Expected Goals, both For and Against.
Today we are going to combine the average rankings of the six offensive categories and the six defensive categories to come up with an overall ranking for each of the top twelve forwards in the 2021-22 regular season.
Overall Ranking Offense By Forwards
|Overall Rank||Player Name||Average Rank|
|# 1||Auston Matthews||1.2|
|# 2||Michael Bunting||2.3|
|# 3||Mitch Marner||2.5|
|# 4||John Tavares||5.0|
|# 5||William Nylander||5.2|
|# 6||Ilya Mikheyev||5.5|
|# 7||Alex Kerfoot||7.2|
|# 8||Pierre Engvall||8.2|
|# 9||Jason Spezza||9.0|
Overall Ranking Defense By Forwards
|Overall Rank||Player||Average Rank|
Overall Ranking For Forwards
|Overall Rank||Player||Average Rank|
Auston Matthews ranked number one on the team in offensive statistics and number two on the team in defensive statistics, which means…..who cares?
At the time of this writing, he had already won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player and the Ted Lindsay Award as the league’s best player as voted on by his peers. We don’t need numbers to tell us he is the best player on the Maple Leafs. He has just been declared the best player in the league. Nuff Said.
The one thing we can say is that Matthews, both by the eye test and the numbers, has improved his defensive game immensely. Matthews finished tenth in voting for the Selke this season, evidence that the rest of the league is starting to notice the strides he has made defensively. We can see Matthews being a serious threat for the Selke Trophy as early as next season.
After getting edged out by Michael Bunting in the offensive statistics, Mitch Marner’s average ranking of 4.8 in the defensive numbers resulted in him finishing tied for second overall with Ilya Mikheyev. Marner being second on this team in overall stats is not surprising. Mikheyev being tied with him is a surprise.
We also want to note that, for the second year in a row, Marner was voted the best right-winger in the NHL, and made the first All-Star team.
Ilya Mikheyev’s average rank of 5.5 in offensive statistics placed him ahead of Alex Kerfoot. His average rank of 1.8 in the defensive statistics put him ahead of everyone. By these numbers, Mikheyev played more like a top-six winger, a place we feel he deserves to be next season. Hopefully, it will be with the Maple Leafs.
While Michael Bunting’s defensive numbers were not as good as his offensive ones, they were still in the top six. His overall ranking of fourth, while heavily influenced by his linemates, is still great. The fact that he’s signed for one more season for a paltry $950,000 is even better.
We expected that Pierre Engvall would place high in the defensive statistics. His placement of eighth in the offensive stats drags his overall ranking down to down to fifth place overall. That’s still a good showing overall. This shows that Engvall is a solid third-line player.
Despite David Kampf having his best season by far for offensive production, his offensive stats still ranked him last of the top twelve forwards. He made up for it with his defensive numbers, which placed him in a third-place tie with Engvall.
This backs up the eye test for Kampf. He’s great defensively, not so great offensively.
William Nylander takes a completely different road to end up at the same destination as Kampf in the overall rankings, tied for 6th. By the eye test, Nylander is great offensively but not so great defensively. His ranking pretty much matches the eye test.
We have to admit our surprise when we saw Tavares ranking 12th, and below Simmonds, in defensive statistics. We realize he gets the toughest defensive assignments of any of the top six forwards, but these numbers indicate that he might not be capable of facing that tough competition at this point in his career.
His fourth-place offensive ranking puts him right where we would expect him, but his defensive stats are not encouraging.
Yes, we know that he played exclusively fourth-line minutes, but he put up third-line stats in both the offensive and defensive categories. He also played close to eleven minutes a night, which is great minutes for a fourth-line player.
Seventh place in the offensive stats does not surprise us. The ninth place finish in the defensive stats does. These numbers might indicate that Alex Kerfoot is not as effective as he appears by the eye test, especially considering he just had his best season production-wise. That might not be the greatest news.
By the eye test, we thought that Kase looked effective when he was healthy. His underlying numbers do not seem to back that up.
We understand what Wayne Simmonds brings, but it appears by both the eye test and the analytics that his effectiveness just is not there anymore. His negatives seem to outweigh his positives.
If we group these statistics and break them down into specific lines, we find that the first line of Matthews, Marner, and Bunting is a powerhouse. They are not only the best line on this team but one of the best in the league.
The third line of Kampf, Mikheyev, and Engvall also does its job very well. It is too bad that Mikheyev is unhappy in that role. Kerfoot would be a good fit and better suited to that role than he appears to be in the top six, but can the Maple Leafs afford to pay a third-line player $3.5 million? We think not. Kase appeared to be effective on that line, but his analytics were nowhere near as good as Kampf’s or Engvall’s.
The second and fourth lines both need to be better. Tavares and Nylander can score, of that there is no doubt. But, if they’re giving up as much as they get, the end result does not tip the play toward the Maple Leafs’ side of the ledger. Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas needs to find a way to improve this line’s overall effectiveness.
Related: 7 Cool Things About Carey Price
If we look at the fourth line of Spezza, Kase, and Simmonds, the best player on that line has just retired. The other two, by the numbers, were not that great.
What We Would Like to See
Is there another Zach Hyman out there that Dubas can find to put alongside Tavares and Nylander? They need a 200-foot player with some physicality. Someone who can stir things up while also making that line better defensively is a key.
Maybe that player is Mikeheyev. He’s better both offensively and defensively than Kerfoot. Might it be a good idea to take the money that Kerfoot makes and give it to Mikheyev? Would he take it?
We think Kampf and Engvall are a solid combination for the third line. If Mikheyev leaves or moves up in the order, the team will need a third player. We aren’t sure that Kase is capable or can remain healthy enough. Can Nick Robertson fill that role?
With Spezza now retired, it appears the Maple Leafs need a complete fourth line. We have stated before that we like and admire Simmonds as a person but we don’t feel he can still contribute enough to remain in the lineup.
That concludes our ranking of the Maple Leaf’s forwards for the regular season. Let us know what you think and whether you agree with our conclusions or not.
Next, we will look at the analytics for the forwards in the playoffs.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf