5 Stats That Will Have the Biggest Impact on Toronto Maple Leafs' 2014-15 Season
The Toronto Maple Leafs will enter the 2014-15 season without huge expectations. While fans would love to see the club challenge for a playoff spot, visions of Stanley Cup parades will not be dancing in most, if any, reasonable heads.
However, there is room for guarded optimism.
The team has made some good offseason additions in terms of support players on the blue line as well as up front. If veteran players can lead from the front, the club could surprise many in challenging for a playoff spot.
Let's take a look at five key stats that will impact Toronto's season.
Jonathan Bernier's Save Percentage
Jonathan Bernier posted an excellent .923 save percentage in 2013-14. This was good for eighth place in the NHL.
If Bernier can match, or better yet, improve this number by a few percentage points, it could mean a handful of more wins for the Leafs.
The club needed five more wins in 2013-14 to make the playoffs. A save percentage of better than .925 for Bernier, in combination with the club giving up less shots per game, could be a decisive mix for a playoff berth.
The former Los Angeles King should be itching to play following his sports hernia surgery in May.
Dion Phaneuf's Ice Time
Dion Phaneuf has been a workhorse for the Leafs. The team captain has played a lot of minutes in his Hogtown tenure.
At 23:33 minutes per game in 2013-14, Phaneuf played more than two minutes longer, on average, than any other Leaf. This number needs to come down even more.
At 29, Phaneuf is no longer at his peak physically. He would benefit from playing against opponents' second and third lines from time to time. As Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner grow into expanded roles, Phaneuf can play less and potentially be more effective with fewer defensive responsibilities heaped upon him.
Allowing Phaneuf to focus more on his offence could see him approach 40 points and be a more effective player. On too many nights, he was run ragged as the third period wound down and was faced with having to shut down the other team's top offensive talents.
Around 20-22 minutes of ice time per night could be optimum for the former Calgary Flame.
Jake Gardiner's Points Total
Morgan Rielly receives a lot of deserved press, but Jake Gardiner is poised to have more of a positive impact in 2014-15. Gardiner is entering his prime years as a defender, while Rielly is still learning the fundamentals of NHL play.
Gardiner was tied with Phaneuf as the second-highest scoring defender for the Leafs in 2013-14. The talented American is an effortless skater who could likely increase his ice time by more than two or three minutes per game with ease.
With a minus-3 rating, Gardiner is more likely to see increased minutes rather than Cody Franson, who posted a minus-20 rating in 2013-14. Gardiner has developed into a more complete defender over time.
Gardiner doesn't take a lot of penalties and he had just 19 penalty minutes in 2013-14. He could easily score 40-50 points this season. The Minnetonka, Minnesota native has all of the offensive tools to be an excellent offensive NHL defenceman.
An additional 10-15 points next season could mean a few more wins for the Leafs as they battle for a playoff spot.
Leafs' Team Corsi Number
The Leafs, as a team, were positively awful in terms of their Corsi number. Their shot differential on a per-game basis was minus-eight over the 2013-14 season.
The club was tied for last with the Buffalo Sabres in this key measure of a team's effectiveness. Additionally, the woeful Edmonton Oilers were the third-worst team in this category with a minus-six shot differential on a per-game basis.
In contrast, the San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings were at the top of the league in this category. All three of these successful teams were over plus-five in shot differential.
It's not a perfect barometer for team success, but it is very close. The Leafs need to see this number improve significantly if they hope to challenge for a playoff spot.
Total Goals Against
Based on the Leafs' team Corsi number and that all-important eye test, the focus for the Leafs must be on better play in the defensive zone.
The team spent far too much time in its own end, giving up key shots against and not generating enough shots and prime scoring chances themselves.
The Leafs' goals-against average was 3.07, which was 26th-best in the league. At five-on-five, the Leafs gave up 166 goals, which was 23rd-best in the NHL. These numbers must improve significantly.
Bernier seems to have made the leap into elite goaltending territory. The club must make his life easier with stronger defensive play.
The bottom-six forward group should help a lot here. Combined with a more mature defence corps, there is reason to believe that the club can do this.