Analytics Mailbag: Did Maple Leafs lose the Tyson Barrie trade?

New York Rangers centre Mika Zibanejad (93) tries to chase down the puck from Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Tyson Barrie (94) during second period NHL hockey action in Toronto, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019. (Cole Burston/CP)

It’s analytics mailbag time, and as the YouTubers say, ‘let’s just jump into it’. As always, some questions require longer answers, and if you don’t see yours here it might turn into an article of its own — like this week’s investigation into what hurt P.K. Subban’s game this season.

@RobMcGregor35: Are the Islanders less fun to watch under Trotz?

This one is tough to answer because entertainment is subjective, right? Are wins more entertaining than losses? If so, then the Islanders are far more entertaining under Trotz. I think what most people mean when they ask this is whether the team became lower event. Are entertaining plays like scoring chances happening less often? The entire league has trended toward more scoring chances over the past five seasons, but what about the Islanders?

On a pure numbers basis, the Islanders under Trotz have posted the two highest scoring chances per minute totals of any Islanders teams over the past five years, and are averaging 37 per cent of their total shot attempts from the slot — a five percentage point improvement over the previous three seasons.

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With that said, remember that the entire league has trended in a similar direction, and this season both the percentage of total shot attempts from the slot and slot shots overall are down compared to last year’s Islanders.

@grahamr_9: Analytic comparables for Brett Pesce?

Brett Pesce is a pretty rare breed as a highly effective defensive defenceman who can move the puck as well. The closest comparable to him this season is a young player on the Pittsburgh Penguins named Marcus Pettersson. Pettersson has been the better puck mover this season, but both players excel without the puck.

Other players Pesce has compared well with in recent years are Michael Kempny, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Jensen and Brian Dumoulin.

@seanandrewdance: Was the Tyson Barrie trade worth it for the Leafs? You can put a (COVID-19) spin on this or not.

Barrie didn’t quite fit in how the Maple Leafs had hoped, and at times they definitely missed having a third line centre with Nazem Kadri’s blend of skill and drive, but I think Barrie’s struggles have been a little overblown. His on-ice impacts have been fine, he just hasn’t been great either.

This is a question that isn’t really involving analytics anymore. It’s much more difficult, because there’s a good chance we don’t see any playoffs to culminate this season. From the perspective of never having a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, all rental trades like the Barrie part of the return would be huge mistakes at this point, though you can’t fault anyone involved here.

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What I keep wondering as time drags on with no hockey is what will the NHL do about this, if anything? You could argue that the season being suspended is a similar result to acquiring a player at the trade deadline only for them to suffer a season ending injury, tough luck. However when every team that loaded up has the same ‘tough luck’, I wonder if the league will think of some sort of compensation if the playoffs don’t happen. A team like the Islanders that bought at high prices would likely be very happy.

@SnipeSwigRepeat: I don’t know if this is something you’d have, but which teams have been the best and worst at recovering rebounds in the defensive zone this season? Would this be an effect of the goalie handling it well, defense being in the right position, or luck? Or all the above?

All those factors you mention are important. Yes, we can control for the rate at which goaltenders control their rebounds and look at solely what percentage of the total rebounds a team recovers them in their own zone.

The worst team this season wasn’t a big surprise, with the Detroit Red Wings recovering a league-low 54.8 per cent of the rebounds their goalies create. Contrast with the best team in the NHL at recovering rebounds in the St. Louis Blues, who recover 65.2 per cent of their rebounds, and it’s clear the Red Wings goalies have a tougher job overall.

If we look at it purely by volume of rebounds that are recovered by opponents, the Rangers are the worst; allowing nearly 9 rebounds recovered by opponents every 60 minutes at 5-vs-5.

@RedRawkit: How come the Habs had good underlying numbers but were out of the playoff hunt?

That’s a complicated question to answer, but I think the biggest reason is a lack of shooting talent. The Montreal Canadiens suffered some injuries to important players, they dealt with some defensive and goaltending struggles, and there was certainly some unfortunate losses in games they deserved to win, but looking at how they played this year, I can’t look away from the unfulfilled promise of their shooting.

At the point the season was put on pause, the Canadiens were second in total inner slot shots after only the Hurricanes, third in slot shots overall behind the Hurricanes and Golden Knights and first in shots overall. Despite all that, they only recorded the 13th-most goals.

There’s definitely some bad luck in there, but when you look through the Canadiens’ roster there’s only one player who has 30-goal potential in Brendan Gallagher, and he gets it through volume, not a high finishing rate. The Canadiens have built a strong team overall with a lot of very good middle-six players, but they don’t have enough pure shooting talent to make good on all the work the team does as a whole. Sounds like a good situation for Cole Caufield to jump into when he’s ready though.

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