Blues Bag of Pucks

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We received some good questions this week so let’s dig in!!

Will Rasmus Sandin see much game time and if not, will it affect his development?

I don’t see where Sandin fits in on the blueline right now, so no, I don’t believe he’ll see any game time this year unless the team gets bit by the injury bug. 

Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie have been playing well together. Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl have continued to have great chemistry. Zach Bogosian has played better than I ever thought he would, Travis Dermott has looked steady and, lastly, Mikko Lehtonen looks like he could have the chops to stay in the NHL, even if it would likely be no more than suiting up as a bottom pairing defender that can help your powerplay.

With those seven players seeming to have the trust of the coaching staff it will be tough for Sandin to win a job right now.

If I were to guess, the plan for him at the moment is to have him practice with the NHL squad until the AHL Marlies begin playing. At that point it would make more sense to have him in the minors, playing big minutes, rather than in the NHL to simply practice. 

He can play out the year with the Marlies to truly get back up to speed and take a run at a job with the Leafs out of camp next season. It’s only a matter of time before he’s a mainstay on the big clubs blueline and you have to remember, it’s been close to a calendar year since he has played a professional game of hockey. It’s tough to jump right back in, so starting with the Marlies could go a long way towards keeping his confidence up.

If they need players to practice they can always put veterans Martin Marincin or Calle Rosen on the taxi squad. That would serve the organization better than having one of their top prospects do nothing more than practice for a full season. 

Is the improved PK for real or are we just having some luck?

Yes, we’re only 6 games into the season, and yes, the Leafs penalty kill has been better.

Yet, it’s still only clicking at 81.8%, which is good for 15th in the league. I’d suggest that this still isn’t good enough, but, again, it’s been better, so we shouldn’t complain. 

The question is, why? 

First, let’s look at the personnel being used. 

YearPlayersTOI/GP SH
2019-20Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin
Morgan Rielly
Justin Holl
2020-21Justin Holl
Jake Muzzin
T.J. Brodie
Zach Bogosian
Morgan Rielly

What’s interesting to me about the use of their defenders isn’t just the fact that Morgan Rielly has had virtually all of his penalty killing minutes taken away, it’s how much they’re leaning on their preferred pairing, Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin. With nearly 4 minutes a night on the killing unit, their TOI/GP dwarves the number of minutes they were playing Ceci and Muzzin in the same situation last season. That pairing has done a terrific job while down a man, while T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian have done a solid job as well.  

Their usage of the forwards has also changed. 

YearPlayerTOI/GP SH
2019-20Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev
Zach Hyman
Kasperi Kapanen
Trevor Moore
2020-21Zach Hyman
Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev
Alex Kerfoot
Jimmy Vesey

Zach Hyman is playing 3 minutes a night on the PK. It’s Hyman, not Mitch Marner, that leads forwards in time played on that unit so far this year. I’ve been saying that Hyman is the team’s best penalty killing forward for a long time now, so it’s good to see that he’s getting those minutes and the team’s kill percentage is going up at the same time. That’s not to say that Marner is out of his element while down a man. He can help that unit, that’s why he is still being used a lot in that situation. Marner, Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot are logging between 2:00 and 2:20 TOI/GP while shorthanded, that shows us that they are willing to hand the minutes around to the rest of the players, but it’s still the guy at the top that will always be the first over the boards. I’ll be interested to see how this progresses. 

Last thing to note is how they’re using Jason Spezza. There have been 34 faceoffs taken while shorthanded and Spezza has taken 19 of them. Of those 19 faceoffs he has won 14. That’s a whopping 74% success rate, just a touch better than his 69.3% total on the season. His job on the penalty kill is to take the faceoff, clear the zone and exit the ice. So far it’s been very helpful and when you compare it to last season, where Zach Hyman led the team with 130 shorthanded faceoffs and won just 43% of them, it’s obviously helping.

Simmonds, Thornton and Vesey have not really been impressive. Is this a ‘developing chemistry’ issue or what we can expect from them going forward?

I actually have to disagree with part of this. 

Wayne Simmonds has done a fine job so far this year. He’s been physical, has been a good disruption in front of the net on the powerplay and is logging just under 10 safe minutes per night. There’s not much to complain about there. 

If I had a complaint about Joe Thornton it’s that he has been playing higher in the lineup than he should at this point in his career. 

With that said, he hasn’t been terrible and when the game is close they tend to draw his minutes back. He’s logging 15:26 TOI/GP, which is a respectable amount of playing time for him. 

Which brings us to Jimmy Vesey. Although Vesey is only playing 13:14 TOI/GP, he hasn’t been impressive at all in those minutes. The two goals he has have been gifted to him by linemate William Nylander, he hasn’t been strong on the walls or in the corners, he hasn’t contributed to the powerplay or penalty kill in any meaningful way and he scored on his own net in a very avoidable play, which contributed to their loss against the Edmonton Oilers earlier this week. The teams LW position looks weak right now and he’s part of that problem. 

He’s a depth piece that is playing too high up in the lineup and if I’m management, fixing that position would be on my priority list this season. 

Is Bogosian better than advertised?

The short answer is yes, much better. 

The long answer is this: 

Unlike Jimmy Vesey, Zach Bogosian has found himself in the perfect position on the roster. He’s been on the bottom pairing, partnered with either Travis Dermott or Mikko Lehtonen. Both are more adept at moving the puck up ice than Bogosian is, which has resulted in a solid pairing that can defend and advance the puck. 

On top of that he has been terrific on the penalty kill. He uses his big frame to box players out, which has helped his goalies see the puck better than they could in years past. He’s been physical and, aside from game #1, where he had a poor start to his season, he’s simply been reliable and steady. 

He’s doing exactly what you want from a 3rd pairing, veteran defender and it’s great to say that considering the revolving door of poor options the Leafs have seen since the departure of Roman Polak.

If you had to pick between Martin Marincin, in his usual call-up-hang-around role, or Tyson Barrie on 1st pair minutes, who do you choose?

To hear Tyson Barrie speak about his time in Toronto is nauseating. He has referenced getting off on the wrong foot, not being used in a role that he was comfortable with, not being placed in an appropriate spot in the lineup and a lot of other nonsense. All of that while making sure to say that “it would be an amazing place to win.”

I think he’s full of hot air, except for the part about this being a great place to win. 

For him to start the year as Jake Muzzin’s defense partner, while getting solid minutes on the 2nd powerplay unit and, simply put, being used exactly how a player with his skill set and overall ability should be used, was absolutely ideal. 

Imagine being a player that has ample experience as a top powerplay quarterback and being asked to tear apart secondary penalty killers, only to fail at it.

Imagine being paired with the best two-way defender a top NHL team has and looking back to say that you weren’t used appropriately in the lineup. 

Imagine thinking that you deserved more minutes and responsibility than a defender that registered over 70pts one season prior and having that same defender approach your coaches to ask that you get bigger minutes to try to help you and the team. 

Then imagine complaining about it all. 

I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again, Tyson Barrie had no respect for the Toronto Maple Leafs, their fans, his teammates, his coaches or the jersey. I’ve never been so critical of a player before and I can’t imagine it ever happening again. 

He never wanted to be here in the first place and we should all be glad that he’s gone. 

Martin Marincin is one hundred times the professional and Toronto Maple Leaf that Tyson Barrie ever was. I take Marincin over Barrie every day of the week.