Led by strong offensive talent, the Leafs are trending in the right direction. Let’s take a look at their defense group.
***Note: for further detail on methodology and explanation of the chart, please refer to the first installment of this series (Montreal Canadiens)
There are a couple interesting takeaways. Gardiner appears to have been the Leafs best puck moving defenseman in 2016/17 (+1.46 puck movement factor). His teammates possession numbers were consistently higher with him on the ice. However, he did start many shifts in the offensive zone (36% of the time) – although that is factored in to the calculation and reflected above.
Morgan Rielly had a solid year. While his puck possession and movement was average (-0.18), he did face top opposition and started the most shifts (along with Zaitsev) in the defensive zone (35%).
Nikita Zaitsev appears to have struggled as a puck mover 5 on 5 (-1.30). That said, he did start many shifts in the D-zone (35%) and faced top opponents. While he brought strong value to the Leafs powerplay, he might be better suited on a 3rd pairing 5v5.
Connor Carrick is an interesting case. His possession and puck movement ability was impressive in 2016/17 (+1.96). If you’re suspicious of that, you have reason to be. Carrick started more shifts in the offensive zone than any other Leafs defender (39%). He also faced the weakest average opponent of all Leafs defenders. Still, Carrick likely slots in as a solid 5/6/depth guy.
Verdict: Gardiner emerged as a very solid puck-moving defenseman. In Rielly, the Leafs have another ascending player with solid puck movement ability that will likely continue to improve. Still, there’s a clear hole in the top 4 to add 1 or 2 more pieces. We expect the Leafs to be active this off-season trying to improve their back-end.