I’ve always admitted that many of the readers of my THW’s Toronto Maple Leafs’ posts have (a) been Maple Leafs’ fans much longer than I have and (b) know so much more about the team than I do. In fact, over and over again, I find myself in awe of your knowledge as readers and I’m sent to the Internet to discover more about some interest you’ve tweaked in my curiosity.
Although I realize I’ll probably not achieve my goal, I’m trying to catch up. One result of that catching up started this project to increase my own knowledge about the rich history of the team I’m covering. As well, I thought there might be a few other stats geeks like myself who might find the numbers interesting. As always, I invite readers to weigh in on them as well.
A Caveat About Comparables
It’s curious to compare statistics over the many seasons the Maple Leafs have played. Hockey’s the same game, but it’s also been a different game over the years. Rules change; equipment is modified; training techniques are improved; and, a variety of other contextual changes shape the game of hockey season after season.
Comparing current Maple Leafs players to the old timers is fraught with issues. In addition, teams are stronger or weaker so it’s difficult to compare seasons. In the end, they simply aren’t equal comparisons. Specifically, today’s young Maple Leafs’ stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are difficult to compare to former great Mats Sundin. All that aside, deep-diving statistics does offer some surprises that I hope readers find interesting.
The Thread in this Post
In this post, I’ve focused on an insight I gained as I studied statistics from Maple Leafs history. It jumped out at me tha the current team has a number of players who, unless they leave the team, will likely challenge all-time leaders by the time their careers end.
In this post, I’ll look at the statistics they’re putting up. Then, I’ll compare these numbers to the all-time leaders in Maple Leafs history. What I found – and readers correct me if you see it differently – is that several current Maple Leafs’ players might soon surpass the greats of Maple Leafs’ history.
One last comment. I’ve delimited my focus to Maple Leafs’ skaters (not goalies) so I can make my analysis manageable. Goalies are a different kettle of fish altogether, and if readers find this post interesting I’ll likely follow with a similar post about Maple Leafs’ goalies throughout history.
Statistical Comparisons Among Maple Leafs’ Skaters: All-Time and Current
The Maple Leafs are an Original 6 team founded in 1917 and were known as the Toronto Arenas. In 1919-20, the franchise was renamed the St. Patricks and finally the Maple Leafs in 1927. In this post, I’ll look at those skaters and try to pull interesting facts from the team’s history to compare with current Maple Leafs’ players.
Interesting Comparison #1: Mitch Marner Is Moving Up the Games-Played List Quickly
Mats Sundin leads all Maple Leafs skaters in games played with 987. Darryl Sittler is second with 916 games played. However, 24-year-old Mitch Marner now sits in 25th place with 358 games played during his five seasons with the team.
Interestingly, that includes two COVID-19-impacted seasons where Marner played only 59 games in 2019-20 and 55 games in 2020-21. During the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, he played all 82 games. Should he play 82 games next season, he’d move into 17th place, one game behind Wendell Clark’s 441 games played.
Interesting Comparison #2: Auston Matthews Is Already in the Top 15 in All-Time Goal Scoring
If you want to know how well Auston Matthews has played during his five seasons, look at his goal scoring. He has 199 goals, which already places him in 14th place. If he scores 40 goals during the 2021-22 season, he’d move into the top 10 of all-time Maple Leafs goal scorers – behind Bob Pulford.
Related: Do You Know Your NHL Goalie Trivia?
The Maple Leafs’ all-time leader in goal scoring is Mats Sundin, who’s scored 420 goals. Sundin’s the only player in Maple Leafs’ history to score more than 400 goals. Darryl Sittler’s second with 389 goals; Dave Keon’s third with 365; and, Ron Ellis is fourth with 332 goals. No one else has scored more than 300 goals.
Interesting Comparison #3: Matthews Is Ranked First in Face-off Percentage for All Current Players
Relying on what I saw during this past season, I believed Jason Spezza would place high on the all-time list of Maple Leafs’ face-off percentage. To his credit, Spezza has won face-offs at a high percentage of 55.62 percent, which puts him in first place for all current players with over 400 face-offs. He’s also fifth all-time. However, John Tavares isn’t far behind Spezza with 54.92 percent.
However, over the course of his career with the Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews is the current player who’s won the most face-offs (2336 won, with 2182 face-offs lost) for a rate of 51.70 percent. That number of face-off wins ranks Matthews fifth all time, with Mats Sundin ranking first with an incredible 9886 face-offs won during his Maple Leafs’ career. As far as face-off percentage, Yanic Perreault, who played five seasons off and on with the Maple Leafs between 1993 and 2007, won an incredible 62.36 percent of his face-offs (1463 won and 833 lost).
Interesting Comparison #4: Only Two Current Players Have More than 1000 Shots on Goal
Dave Keon is the Maple Leafs’ all-time leader in shots on goal with 3586 shots. Darryl Sittler ranks second with 3142 shots, followed by two Swedish players – Mats Sundin (3104) and Borje Salming (2487). In comparison, only two current players have registered more than 1000 shots on net during their careers: they are Auston Matthews (with 1229 shots) and Morgan Rielly (with 1211 shots). Matthews ranks 22nd in shots all-time and Rielly ranks 23rd.
In shooting percentage, Matthews has scored at a strong rate of 16.2 percent. However, that doesn’t even rank him in the top 10 for the team all-time. He’s in 12th place. The only other active player in the top 50 all-time in shooting percentage is John Tavares, who’s percentage is 14.2. However, he’s taken only about half the shots (646) during his Maple Leafs’ career as Matthews has taken.
Interesting Comparison #5: In Goals-per-60-Minutes, Matthews Is the Maple Leafs’ All-Time Leader
Per 60 minutes in all situations (power play, even strength, and penalty kill) Matthews is the Maple Leafs’ all-time leader with an average of 1.860 goals-per-60-minutes. Surprisingly, Tavares ranks third all-time with an average of 1.447 goals-per-60-minutes.
The next current player on the all-time list is William Nylander, whose average is 1.039 (he’s ranked 17th all-time). These are the only current players who have averaged over 1.0 goals-per-60-minutes.
Interesting Comparison #6: Highest Assists-per-60-Minutes – That’s Marner
Per 60 minutes in all situations, Marner is the all-time Maple Leafs’ leader in assists-per-60-minutes with an average of 2.260 assists. The only other player in Maple Leafs’ history with an average over 2.0 was Jason Allison who played only one season with the Maple Leafs in 2005-06 and scored 17 goals and 43 assists (for 60 points) in 66 games.
Also interesting is that, throughout Maple Leafs’ history, exactly half the top eight assists-per-60 minutes all-time leaders for the Maple Leafs played last season. Spezza ranks fifth all-time with an average of 1.765; Tavares ranks seventh with an average of 1.667; and, finally, Nylander ranks eighth with an average of 1.614.
A Surprising Conclusion: The Maple Leafs Have Some Great Players – Right Now
After my initial look at the all-time statistics and compared what I found to current players, I was surprising how well current Maple Leafs’ players were performing. Is it that times are different and things have changed? Or, might it mean that these current young Maple Leafs’ players will, by the time their careers are over, rank high in the history of the Maple Leafs’ all-time greats?
I’m thinking the latter.
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The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf