The emergence of Nikita Zaitsev

Ryan Hobart
January 10 2017 07:32AM

USATSI_9785885
Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY SPORTS

This offseason, the Leafs signed Nikita Zaitsev, a KHL free agent that brought much anticipation. The Leafs were in desperate need for improvement on the right side of their defense, and Nikita Zaitsev's play promised to bring that

There were some that were skeptical of just how much an impact he could have, including myself. After all, we're still not totally sure how the KHL stacks up against the NHL, since that league is so volatile these days. Could Zaitsev really be a top 4 defenseman in his first NHL season?

He definitely can.

Read Article | 1 Comments

Connor Brown is an average depth forward and that's fantastic

Ryan Hobart
December 19 2016 07:51AM

USATSI_9713886
Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

Recently, Connor Brown has been fitting in nicely for the Maple Leafs. It seems like an appropriate time to talk about his performance so far in more detail. He has played all 29 games for the Maple Leafs so far and has seen a lot of faith put in him by Mike Babcock.

Despite being a forward that didn't have to go through waivers, among a sea of depth forwards that the Maple Leafs had in training camp, Connor Brown was able to find a role on this Maple Leafs team. It started on the 4th line with Holland and Martin, grew into a 3rd line role with Nazem Kadri, and now is partially becoming a shared role on Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman's 1st/2nd line (the line TOI is a little muddled) with William Nylander.

There was a pretty strong feeling heading into this year that Brown was going to win the uphill battle of making the roster, knowing how Mike Babcock lauded over his stint with the Maple Leafs last season. Here is his TLN prospect profile written in the summer (by yours truly) for some context. Now that he's here, he's making waves.

Read Article | 0 Comments

Peter Holland, Ben Smith, Tyler Bozak, and the Leafs' Penalty Kill

Ryan Hobart
November 30 2016 09:32AM

USATSI_9707522
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS

An announcement came out recently that the Leafs were going to try to trade Peter Holland due to his concerns over ice time and future with the organization. Jeff Veillette covered the announcement here, so I won't double up on that.

A common first reaction to this move was that it was terrible and that the Leafs were continuing to make mistakes involving the selection of players for their 4th line. But after digging into the data, it seems that's not the case. The information below should show why that is, and discuss a good plan would be going forward if the Leafs are unable to trade Peter Holland.

Read Article | 0 Comments

Ben Smith, and the Value of Penalty Kill Faceoffs

Ryan Hobart
November 12 2016 09:13AM

The Maple Leafs are currently faced with a problem we knew they would have from the start of the season: they just have too many forwards. If you had told me they'd claim two more on waivers to add to that mix, I would have said you were crazy, but here we are with Ben Smith and Seth Griffith added into the mix.

The Leafs chose to re-waive Seth Griffith, and I'm not going to get into why that itself was dumb. Instead, I want to focus on the addition of Ben Smith, and investigate what kind of effect he is having.

I have a two-part disclaimer for this post. First, if you don't like math at all, you probably won't enjoy this piece. Second, I am doing that thing where I already have a conclusion in my mind before I analyze the math, which is bad form, so I apologize for that.

Are you ready to dig into it?

Read Article | 0 Comments

#RITHAC: Gold Drafting and the Maple Leafs

Ryan Hobart
September 18 2016 08:38AM

Recently, an hockey analytics conference was held at Rochester Institute of Technology (known as RITHAC). There were multiple very interesting presentations by smart and interesting people among the analytics community, nice enough to share their smart-ness with the rest of us SMRT people.

I want to focus today on the presentation made by Micah Black McCurdy on Gold Drafting, an oft-debated model for how to determine draft order. Specifically, I want to look at how it would have affected the Leafs' past drafts.

You can view the presentation slides here, but to summarize: the idea is that draft order is determined by the number of points a team earns after they've been eliminated from the playoffs. This, in theory, removes the incentive to build an intentionally bad team, as that team will get eclipsed in "gold points" by teams that are bad by circumstance and are still trying. Some may remember it was a theory proposed by Shane Doan earlier in the 2015-16 season, but the idea had been floated around hockey communities certainly before that.

Read Article | 2 Comments