The Toronto Maple Leafs finished the 2020-21 season with the NHL’s sixth-best offence, scoring 186 goals in 56 games for an impressive 3.32 goals per game. The bulk of that goal scoring was done by the team’s Big Four of Auston Matthews (41), Mitch Marner (20), John Tavares (19), and William Nylander (17), whose 97 goals accounted for 52.2% of the Leafs’ entire offense (as one would expect from a foursome that makes up 49.7% of the Leafs’ salary cap).
When disaster struck ten minutes into Game 1 against Montreal, and Toronto were suddenly without Tavares for the rest of the series, the Leafs’ offensive over-reliance on their Big Four was exposed. The team saw their goals per game shrink to 2.57 in the playoffs, representing 0.75 less goals per game. While Nylander did his best to pull his weight (and then some) by putting up five goals in seven games, Matthews and Marner combined for one goal and a shooting percentage of 1.8% between them against Montreal, giving the plucky and opportunistic Habs just enough room to climb back into and eventually steal the series.
But we’re not here to re-litigate what went wrong in the playoffs. What’s done is done and we can only look to tomorrow. The Leafs have lost some notable names this offseason: Zach Hyman, Joe Thornton, Nick Foligno, and (assumedly) Alex Galchenyuk. Obviously Galchenyuk could re-sign with the Leafs tomorrow, but the Leafs have made several additions to their forward group that would seem to indicate they have moved on from their reclamation project from last season. In comes Michael Bunting, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, and David Kampf: not the sexiest group of names but that is to be expected considering the Leafs’ current roster construction.
So in terms of shooting talent, what went out the door and what came back in? Let’s first look at career stats:
The first thing that popped out to me here was Joe Thornton’s career shooting percentage. Thornton, one of the greatest playmakers in NHL history, has forever been known as one of the league’s foremost pass-first players, so his well-above-average shooting percentage and low shots-per-game speaks to a knack for picking his spots and not just mindlessly throwing the puck on net, instead looking for the better play.
In terms of career shooting percentage, the “In” foursome has collectively shot at a rate of 9.3% while the “Out” group has a 12.8% scoring rate. That’s a net difference of -3.5%, which adds up over a full season.
But perhaps by using career stats we are diving a little too far back. After all, the Joe Thornton and Nick Foligno we got in 2020-21 were not at their 2010-11 levels of productivity or shooting talent. The “In” group is also considerably younger than their “Out” counterparts, so maybe there is some more scoring upside for the New Leafs? Let’s focus on the last three years, then:
A similar story. The “In” group’s collective shooting percentage remains at 9.3% while the “Out” cohort saw a slight dip from 12.8% to 12.2%. What’s troubling is that the “In” group is actually being buoyed by Michael Bunting’s sky-high shooting percentage, which has a snowball’s chance in hell of staying that high through the full 2021-22 campaign. In reality this group’s true shooting talent may be around 8.0% once Bunting regresses.
Projecting these Last 3 Year stats out, if we say each group plays around 85% of the next season (280 games), their Goals/GP rates translate to 44 goals for the “In” group and 58 goals for the “Out” group for a projected downturn of 14 goals. Unless the holdover Leafs have some more scoring magic in their back pockets, or this group of new Leafs shoots the lights out, it appears a surplus of goals went out the door this summer which has not been entirely replaced.
So Toronto may see themselves slide down the Goals For board in 2021-22. That does not necessarily mean a slide down the standings: their defence and goaltending, for example, could be true equalizers. But in a way it could be a blessing in disguise: by not being able to rely on outscoring their problems, the Leafs may be forced to become the sort of well-rounded team that can win a round next season. Hopefully.
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