Leafs collapse should be cautionary tale for young Avs

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The collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs — a collapse that was widely predicted by hockey’s burgeoning analytics community — should be a wake-up call for anyone who still doubts the predictive value of shot-based metrics like Corsi, and what those statistics say about a team.

No, Corsi doesn’t tell the whole story; if you’re looking for a be-all-end-all hockey statistic, you’re not going to find one. But those who continue to ignore what’s already out there, well, frankly, we’re not sure how anyone can continue to ignore these stats.

Consider: the top three teams in Corsi (score close, 5-on-5) are Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. The bottom three are Buffalo, Toronto, and Edmonton.

This is not some giant coincidence. Good teams possess the puck more than they don’t, and that’s all these shot-based metrics are trying to measure. There’s really nothing “advanced” about these stats.

A lack of puck possession can be overcome, at least in smaller sample sizes, by factors like goaltending, special teams, and high shooting percentages. However, as the Leafs are discovering, relying on those things can be a dangerous game to play.

In the Globe and Mail, this is what they’re writing about the Leafs, losers of eight straight in regulation:

Fixing what ails this franchise will not be easy. Doing it while in continued denial about its faults will be impossible.

There has been an unearned hubris around this group for a while, going back well before last season’s half season run, and it permeates the organization from the players to the staff, management and ownership.

And this is what they’re writing in the National Post:

Hockey is fighting its way through the early days of analytics, which long ago washed over baseball and are transforming basketball.

And in hockey, the basic puck possession stats — Corsi, which measures shots attempts for and against, and Fenwick, which excludes blocked shots — have often been met with derision, not least by the Leafs themselves.

For an up-and-coming team like the Colorado Avalanche, what’s happened to Toronto should be a cautionary tale. We say this because the Avs are currently 26th in Corsi, above only Buffalo, Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary. And that’s generally not the kind of company you want to keep.

For all the coach-of-the-year buzz that Patrick Roy is receiving, if not for his starting goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, there’s just no way Colorado would have the sixth-most points in the NHL. Varlamov has made 1,715 saves this season, the most of any netminder in the league. If the Hart Trophy were actually given to the “player judged most valuable to his team,” he would have a strong case for winning it.

Now, this isn’t to blame the Avs for having a good goalie. Nor can you say their 10.3 shooting percentage, the second highest in the NHL, is just luck, what with all the young offensive talent they boast up front. When those guys get the puck in good spots, they’re going to bury a lot of shots.

It’s simply a question of, can you count on these things to continue at their current rate into the future?

History says no.

Last season, the Ottawa Senators led the league in 5-on-5 save percentage with the score close. They made the playoffs and Paul MacLean was named coach of the year.

The season before, the Florida Panthers led the league in 5-on-5 save percentage with the score close. They made the playoffs and many felt that Kevin Dineen, since fired, was snubbed big-time in the coach-of-the-year nominations.

On Saturday, Colorado beat the Sharks, 3-2, to clinch a playoff spot.

The Avs were outshot, 49-22.