Sunday, 29 November 2015

Mike Babcock's use (or misuse) of the Maple Leafs' roster: Part 2 - Defense

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Continuing from yesterday's Part 1 of this series, we're going to look at Mike Babcock's deployment of the defense.

Again, for due diligence, here is an explanation on dCorsi and Expected Corsi, both of which are used in this and the previous articles.


Gif image courtesy of

Player TOI/G ECF60 ECA60 ZSO% rel CorT% CorC% CF% rel GF% rel dCorsi60 dCorsiImpact
Jake Gardiner 17.58 56.27 54.38 2.38 48.98% 50.57% 6.93 17.05 6.37 35.46
Scott Harrington 12.16 55.42 55.43 8.61 48.72% 49.79% 3.1 -1.35 4.29 13.05
Matt Hunwick 17.57 53.98 57.62 -9.19 48.79% 50.62% -4.9 -5.3 -5.21 -33.57
Martin Marincin 12.26 52.91 54.38 14.51 48.4% 49.47% 2.9 -1.63 7.59 18.62
Dion Phaneuf 17.16 56.17 57.50 -1.68 49.42% 50.33% 0.37 11.82 -0.26 -1.62
Roman Polak 14.87 53.47 56.32 4.91 49.39% 49.76% -3.53 0.00 -5.42 -26.88
Morgan Rielly 16.94 54.35 57.45 -5.78 49.50% 50.46% -1.89 -13.49 -1.73 -10.74

The same idea applies from Part 1. I'm going to take a look at these numbers, and see what they're saying about Mike Babcock's decisions about the defense. The biggest takeaways:

Morgan Rielly is being misused

I fully understand Babcock's intentions here. Put Morgan in tough defensive situations, teach him where he's going wrong, and let him grow into a strong 2-way defenseman. And in time, that may work. But for now, Morgan Rielly is a purely offensive defenseman and putting him in a situation where he only has an ECF60 of 54.35 is what I'd call misuse.

Dion Phaneuf is slowly taking on a new role

While Phaneuf still near the top of the team in ECA60, his zone starts are way up, and his CorC% (competition strength) is way down, from previous seasons. Putting Dion in situations where his offensive skills can shine along with what defensive ability he has is ideal.

Roman Polak is weighing down the young bucks

Putting either Scott Harrington or Martin Marincin with Polak seems to not be a good idea. For a touted defensively strong, physical defenseman, he's been given soft minutes and is still not showing strong results. Harrington and Marincin are in the bottom of the team in CorT% (teammate strength) and Polak is a large factor of that.

Marincin and Harrington are being sheltered

This is exactly what you'd expect for two players in only their second seasons of consistent NHL action. Let them transition to the NHL game against some easier competition, easier zone starts, and you'll see them improve. (i.e. not what's being done with Rielly).

The bottom pairing is being denied ice time

It seems that possibly Mike Babcock knows his bottom pairing with Polak isn't very good. Or, maybe, he thinks Harrington and Marincin aren't very good. Either way, the bottom pairing is taking significantly fewer shifts than the top four, whose ice time seems pretty balanced so far.

Where the heck is Frank Corrado?
That Corrado hasn't had a chance to put his name on this chart is ridiculous. It's clear that Polak is locked into the lineup, and Corrado can't budge him out yet. The obvious theory is that management is telling Babcock to showcase Polak for a trade (as an older UFA at the end of the season, he's a prime target for a deadline deal). Alternately, it could be Mike Babcock believes Polak's work ethic is an important part of this rebuilding year. Either way, it seems Corrado is the victim. Hopefully he can get an opportunity. I'd be curious to see if Marincin or Harrington can put up even better results with better CorT%, and it's possible Corrado can provide that.


Mike Babcock's use of the defense has been suspect, but explainable. Every decision that advanced stats might say is a bad call, has a logical non-statistical argument.


Polak playing so much has a two-fold explanation. One, Mike Babcock is establishing a work-ethic based ice-time reward system where the players that dedicate themselves the most to the gritty aspects of the game are rewarded with playing time. Two, Polak is a tradeable asset for the Maple Leafs, and scratching him regularly would be detrimental to his trade value.


Rielly being misused is because of Mike Babcock's assertion that Morgan Rielly has top pairing potential, but lacks the defensive proficiency to do it at the moment. Instead of sheltering Rielly, Babcock has chosen to throw him into the fire and teach defense as Rielly makes mistakes.

Having never coached in the NHL, I can't say if this is a good or bad strategy with young defensemen. What I can say is: when Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Maple Leafs, he was a power-hitting offensive defenseman. The coaching staff over the years have converted him to a "two-way" defenseman, with tough competition, and his results in that role have been pretty poor.

Many analysts have established that Phaneuf would be better suited for a sheltered offensive role, even at his age and experience playing tough minutes. It's entirely possible Morgan Rielly ends up with the same assessment at the end of all of this.

And finally:


Corrado is the victim of a logjam on defense. His opportunity will come when Polak is moved or when injuries happen. Having an entirely healthy defense (well, except for "injured" Robidas) has been good luck for the Maple Leafs that likely won't continue. Corrado should benefit from this.


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