When Mike Babcock took over as the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he spoke openly about the fact that the process of turning the team into a contender would be a painful one. Babcock acknowledged that the team likely have to endure more losing in their process of becoming a winning team.
But still, there was rightfully a fair amount of optimism that the hiring of Babcock was a big step in the right direction for a Leafs team badly in need of a shot in the arm. And so far, while the results have been mixed and the wins are by no means coming in droves, this Leafs team seems to be benefiting from the new face behind the bench. The team’s special teams have shown marked improvement thus far compared to a season ago. They have also made big steps towards being adequate, in terms of possession, improving a 45.3 score-adjusted shot attempt percentage in 2014-15 to 48.1 percent in 2015-16 as of the start of play on Monday.
The Leafs have also improved in terms of the rate at which they are generating shot attempts and scoring chances. What is even more interesting is that the top forwards seem to benefiting the most in these two important areas. Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, and Joffrey Lupul have all seen an uptick in their individual shot attempt and scoring chance rates, and in most cases their individual improvements outpace the improvements the team, as a whole, have seen.
The chart below shows the teams shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5v5 play over the past two seasons for the team, as well as those of the three players listed above. The percent improvement is in the furthest right column. The stats are from Hockey Analysis.
|Shot Attempts/60||2014-15||2015-16||Percentage Change|
As can be seen, the Leafs have seen a modest increase in shot attempts/60 at 5v5 this season, but three of their key offensive players have seen anywhere from great to downright absurd improvements in their shot generation.
For Kadri, this would completely shatter his career high of 15.73 shot attempts/60 set in 2012-13. In fact, his 19.42 shot attempts/60 ranks 12th among all NHL forwards who have skated at least 100 5v5 minutes entering play on Monday.
Van Riemsdyk’s 16.25 shot attempts/60 would be the second best rate of his career, trailing only the 17.83 he posted in 2011-12.
Lupul has posted rates in previous seasons above his 2015-16 pace, but he is still markedly improved from last season, to the tune of a 14.9 percent increase.
Next, here’s a look at scoring chances per 60, as defined by War on Ice:
|Scoring Chances/60||2014-15||2015-16||Percentage Change|
Again, the Leafs under Babcock show an encouraging amount of improvement, upping their scoring chances/60 by 7.5 percent. But Kadri again steals the show, improving his individual rate by 28.2 percent. Despite his slow start in the goal column, there are plenty of reasons here and elsewhere that point to Kadri having a career year.
Lupul’s improvement and current rate pale in comparison to Kadri, but a 21 percent improvement shouldn’t go unnoticed. While van Riemsdyk’s improvement doesn’t keep pace with that of the team, he’s still headed in the right direction.
The results have not been seen yet on a consistent basis for the Leafs in 2015-16, but the process is improving. And not only is the process improving for the entire team, but three of the Leafs’ key forwards are seeing improvements that, for the most part, outpace that of the team. There’s truth to the cliche that you need your best players to play like your best players on a consistent basis. This trend continuing for the Leafs would be nothing but a good thing.