In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’m going to once again collaborate with long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith to take a look at the numbers (some simple advanced analytics) to see really if might gain more insight about how Mitch Marner played during the regular season when compared to his postseason production.
The 2020-21 regular season was Marner’s best season. He scored 20 goals and 47 assists (for 67 points) in 55 games. Given that the season was COVID-19 shortened, those numbers would have translated into 30 goals and 100 points over an 82-game season. However, few fans might ever remember how well the regular season actually went for Marner.
Since the Maple Leafs’ seven-game payoff exit, Marner’s been roasted for playing poorly during the playoffs. There’s a point. He scored zero goals and four assists in seven games. There was even a feeling among many fans that he’d let the team down so badly that he needed to be traded.
In fact, during end-of-the-year media interviews, Auston Matthews was asked about that very possibility. The expression on his face show that he was incredulous – not believing someone ask that question. However, although the interviewer probably should not have expected much of an answer, to his defense he wasn’t too far off the mood of the fanbase he’d probably been hearing from.
Here’s the question we trying to answer in this post: “By the numbers, how much worse was Marner in the playoffs than he was during the regular season?”
To answer that question, we’ll compare Marner’s numbers 5-on-5 per 60 minutes during the regular season with these same numbers during the playoffs using the following advanced statistics (as tracked by naturalstattrick).
Before we offer the numbers, we want to give a short definition for the advanced statistics we’ve used.
Corsi measures shot attempt differential while at even strength play. These measures include shots on goal, missed shots on goal, and blocked shot attempts towards the opposition’s net minus the same shot attempts directed at your own team’s net.
Fenwick measures shot attempt differential while playing at even strength. It’s also known as unblocked shot attempts by the NHL. The difference between Fenwick and Corsi is that blocked shots are not counted in Fenwick.
Shots For are successful shot attempts. They do not necessarily become goals, but they are successful enough that a goalie must stop it from entering the net. The definition of a shot on net in hockey is a play where the goalie must prevent a puck, propelled towards the net by an opposing player, from entering the net.
During any game, some shots on net have no chance or a very small chance of becoming a goal. These are not considered Scoring Chances. There are also times when a player has a good Scoring Chance that misses the net or bounces off the iron. These not classified as shots, but they are classified as Scoring Chances.
A High Danger Scoring Chance is a Scoring Chance from the area between the hash marks on the inside of the face-off circles in the offensive zone because that’s where most goals come from.
Expected Goals is a ranking of shot quality and rating its chance of becoming a goal. It takes into consideration things like shot location, whether it was created by a cross ice pass, forcing the goalie to move, or on a rebound, a breakaway, etc. Exact formulas might vary from site to site; and, honestly, we don’t know what the exact formula is. In this post, we’re trusting the people at naturalstattrick. Using Expected Goals takes the goalie out of the equation.
This is the easiest stat of all. It’s when the puck crosses the goal line, goes into the net, and is counted as a goal. Unlike Expected Goals, Goals For is highly influenced by the goalie.
Note that these are “on ice” statistics and represent the number of each Maple Leafs’ statistic while Marner was on the ice.
Offense Reg Season Playoffs Difference
Corsi For 53.9 60.8 +6.9
Fenwick For 41.1 46.2 +5.1
Shots For 30.0 37.7 +7.7
Scoring Chances For 34.4 34.2 -0.2
High Danger Scoring Chances For 13.9 12.6 -1.3
Goals For 3.69 1.51 -2.18
Expected Goals For 2.72 3.00 +0.08
Finding One: Using these advanced statistics, we can see that when Marner was on the ice 5-on-5, the Maple Leafs had 12.0% more shot attempts, 12.4% more unblocked shot attempts, and 25.7% more actual shots on net in the playoffs than they did in the regular season.
Finding Two: When it comes to Scoring Chances For with Marner on the ice 5-on-5, the Maple Leafs produced virtually identical Scoring Chances, but 9.3% fewer High Danger Scoring Chances in the playoffs than in the regular season.
Finding Three: The most interesting statistic to us is the difference between Goals For and Expected Goals For. The actual goals for dropped from 3.69 during the regular season to 1.51 during the playoffs, a drop of 60% in goal production. But his Expected Goals actually increased in the playoffs from 2.72, to 3.00 (a 10.3% increase).
Because Matthews is the primary shooter on that the first line and Marner is the playmaker, to offer a truer comparison of Marner’s effectiveness we decided to also look at Matthews numbers both in the regular season and in the playoffs.
Offense Reg Season Playoffs Difference
Corsi For 56.8 62.3 +5.5
Fenwick For 43.8 47.0 +3.2
Shots For 31.4 39 +7.6
Scoring Chances For 35.9 34.0 -1.9
High Danger Scoring Chances For 15.4 12.6 -2.8
Goals For 3.74 1.40 -2.34
Expected Goals For 2.91 3.03 +0.12
Finding One: Using these advanced statistics, we can see that Matthews had much better numbers than Marner in every category during the regular season. We also see that, during the playoffs, he was slightly better in generating Shots For and virtually identical in generating Scoring Chances For and High Danger Scoring Chances. He was slightly worse in Goals For and identical in Expected Goals For.
Finding Two: Interestingly, although both Marner and Matthews posted fewer High Danger Scoring Chance numbers, they both posted slightly better Expected Goal Numbers.
Finding Three: Although both Matthews and Marner had fewer High Danger Chances, Marner was down 9.4% and Matthews down 18.23%. Bouncing off these numbers, how could the two young forwards actual Goals be down 60% and 63% respectively? We believe the answer is Carey Price.
As Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas insists, an organization must look at the process and not the results. Given what we’ve found by employing advanced statistics, it appears the process was actually pretty good – much better than fans might have expected. It was the results that suffered.
Not that he was inclined to do so anyway, with what we found by looking at Marner’s play by the numbers, we can’t see Maple Leafs’ President Brendan Shanahan, Dubas, or head coach Sheldon Keefe abandoning Marner quite yet.
As painful as it is for Maple Leafs’ fans, it’s still a process.