Travis Yost: All eyes are on Toronto’s second line

What will the second streak look like in Toronto this season?

It’s one of the more intriguing questions facing a supposed Stanley Cup team this season. The Maple Leafs lineup is deep, talented, and frugal in goal-shooting Flameout – which must be acknowledged as Risk taking in good faith at this point – They should walk the postseason. Simply put, there is so much firepower to score across the list that they just can’t miss it. That result would be in line with what we’ve seen in recent years, with the Maple Leafs scoring more points than any team not playing in Colorado, Boston, Florida or Carolina.

But font collections and general publication still need to be sorted. We have reasonable confidence that Coach Sheldon How will play regularly Michael Banting and Mitch Marner with Auston Matthews On the top line, why not? It’s an impressive blend of agility, playmaking and checking bet on the wings of perhaps the best shooter in the league. A few lines have produced the Matthews group over the years, and it’s clear that Toronto has something running here.

behind them, John Tavares You’ll play in the middle, but the wings are a question mark. William NylanderAlex Kerfoot Erinkrock StreetNick Robertson and Pierre Engvall All are reasonable names. Which one makes more sense remains a debate.

Count me as someone who believes Toronto will turn into a tried-and-true unit, with Nylander and Kerfoot on the Tavares wing to start the year off. There has been quite a bit of negative reaction to this streak patching, in part because it means Toronto is running a lineup that looks strikingly similar to the one they disappointed at match time.

But it’s hard to get out of this group, too. Among other things, it will be very difficult to take one of the most productive strikers on the team in Nylander and take him to the third line. And despite the inconsistent play, the wider group (with Kerfoot) produced.

What is a statistical argument? Consider the last three seasons in Toronto with equal strength, as we’ve seen this trio play over 700 minutes together. There have been disappointing stretches, but they generally outperform their competitors when they are together.

The great thing is that we can take a look at every possible combination that Toronto has tried with this one and see where the negative performance issues manifested themselves. Here is the data:

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If you look at the trio who have played more than 700 minutes together, they have about 53 percent goal share and their basic metrics for territory control – whether you use shots or shots adjusted for quality (expected goals) – are in line. This is a strong indication that their aim advantage is built into play control, which tends to be a reliable predictor of future outcomes.

If we want to know which straw moves the drink, we can isolate a group of different player groups to see what worked, and what didn’t. For example: the combination of Tavares and Kerfoot, without Nylander, might outperform the combination of Tavares and Nylander without Kerfoot. It’s in less time overall, about 400 minutes of movement, but this tandem played well together. And while we might consider Nylander to be one of the best wingers in the team and more firmly established in the second streak than Kerfoot, so far it is Kerfoot who has done better in relative terms with Tavares.

Less surprising is the fact that the weaker group is Nylander and Kervot when playing without Tavares. That’s based on 300 minutes of work, so a relatively smaller sample size, but it’s in line with what we’d expect – the weaker positions at the bottom of the lineup do less for Kerfoot and Nylander than Tavares does, and therefore, the results suffer.
Toronto has a lot of options here, and if they want to flatten their lines a bit and replace some third-line talent, we could see someone – probably Kerfoot – change the line-up. But while panicking with this group from time to time, it’s important to step back and acknowledge that they have generally done their job.

This does not mean that there is no room for improvement, or that another group cannot overtake this group as soon as next season. But it does mean that the cap has to be crossed, when choosing to change this lineup, Keefe and the coaching staff must be high up, and it’s going to take some great work in the training camp and prep for the season from one of the lower six wings to break the team’s second streak.

Data via Natural Stat Trick, Evolution Hockey, NHL.com, Hockey reference