5 Key Stats That Must Improve for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015-16 Season
If the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to play as poorly as they have over the past few months, with just four wins in 2015, the club will be selecting a blue-chip prospect in the NHL Entry Draft this summer.
The biggest prize is phenom centre Connor McDavid, but other standout players are available, such as Dylan Strome, Noah Hanifin and Jack Eichel.
Adding McDavid will mean an immediate boost for the Leafs. But there are a number of areas that require significant improvement if the Leafs hope to be playoff contenders next season.
Let's take a look at five key statistics that must improve in 2015-16 for the Leafs to be a playoff contender.
The Leafs are a poor possession team. While being a good possession team doesn't necessarily correlate to wins every season, the top teams over a number of seasons have good Corsi percentages.
In 2014-15, the Leafs are at No. 27 in the NHL. The team has a Corsi of 46.5 during five-on-five play. The worst team in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres, is at 36.9.
The Los Angeles Kings are in the top spot at 54.8, and the Detroit Red Wings are second at 53.8. Both of these teams have the puck a lot, spend a lot of the time on the attack and consistently outshoot their opponents.
The Leafs must improve the amount of time they control the play, rely much less heavily on scoring off the rush and, quite simply, the club has to spend less time defending.
It's easier said than done, but the team must improve this stat in a big way next season.
Shots Against Per Game
The Leafs have struggled to defend as a team for multiple seasons. Individual defensive play and team tactics must improve. Systems play has to be better, and the team has to spend less time defending in its own end.
Puck-moving, mobile defenders are key. Also, players cannot spend time chasing needlessly and recklessly. Puck retrieval is important, but most superior defensive teams collapse and keep attacking players to the outside.
Defenders have to be skilled puck-handlers and have good foot speed. Size and reach are great to have, but if players aren't reasonably agile, there is little chance to consistently track offensive players successfully. Zdeno Chara is surprisingly mobile at 6'9".
The Leafs are at No. 27 in the league in this critical category and give up 31.9 shots per game. This has to improve in 2015-16 if this team is going to climb in the standings.
Goals Against Per Game
The Leafs have had some outstanding efforts from their goaltending duo this season. But it hasn't been enough on too many nights.
The team is No. 25 in the NHL in giving up 2.55 goals on a nightly basis. To put it in context, the Buffalo Sabres are at No. 26 with a 2.56 goals-against average.
The team doesn't score enough to offset this relatively poor team stat. With the focus on getting younger, it's going to be difficult to improve this stat in the short term.
The Leafs are going to have to simplify things and outwork opponents. This has not been a team characteristic in a long time.
This is no easy task, but if Toronto is going to improve, the goals against must be better.
Team Save Percentage
If you have identified a larger pattern here, you're not alone. The Leafs have to commit to better team defence in hopes of climbing in the Eastern Conference next season. Despite having a talented netminding duo in Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, the Leafs have a save percentage of .908.
That team total ties them for No. 18 in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks. With these goaltenders, the team should be much higher in this category.
Like so many stats related to defence, this has more to do with will than skill. Of course defending requires skill, but the team has to develop a pack mentality and take any goal against as a personal failure.
With Reimer and Bernier as the defensive backbone, this team should be in the top 10 in the NHL in this category.
Shots Per Game
The Leafs have one of the best offensive wingers in the NHL in Phil Kessel. He and James van Riemsdyk have a complementary skill set that makes them a dynamic pairing.
The team has to get a true No. 1 centre playing with them. It could be Nazem Kadri as his game continues to mature, or it may have to trade for one. Or Connor McDavid may be on his way to the Ontario capital.
The first line has to be the catalyst for increased shot production. All of the league's top teams generate high shot totals. Good teams have the puck, generate offence consistently and dominate the shot-clock totals.
The Leafs are at No. 23 in this category at 29.3 shots on a per-game basis. The Chicago Blackhawks, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators are the NHL leaders. All of these teams average more than 32 shots per game.
The Leafs need to set their sights on these levels if they hope to be playoff contenders in 2015-16.