Morgan Rielly is commonly regarded as the Toronto Maple Leafs #1 offensive defenseman. He has been the team’s highest-scoring defenseman for the past six seasons, with the exception of last season when Tyson Barrie earned that spot. However, Maple Leafs’ fans will remember that Rielly either missed games because he was injured while he was playing.
In the end, although Barrie scored the most points, Rielly held a slight edge in points-per-game (0.57 points-per-game) compared to Barrie (0.56 points-per-game).
In this post, I’m once again collaborating with long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith to ask the question “Who’s the Maple Leafs’ best offensive defenseman? Which defenseman generates the most offense? As you can tell from the title of this post, the answer is not Morgan Rielly. It is Jake Muzzin?
If you were surprised, we were, too.
This Season’s Scoring by Maple Leafs’ Defensemen
Comparing total scoring during the 2020-21 season, Rielly led the Maple Leafs’ defense this season with 35 points; Muzzin scored 27. However, if we track both players’ points 5-on-5, Rielly had 18 points in 1,050 minutes played, while Muzzin had 20 points in 940 minutes played. Doing the math, Muzzin’s production works out to 1.28 points per game, while Rielly’s works out to 1.03.
Looking at the Numbers More Deeply
What if we look deeper into the numbers? Using the following advanced “On-Ice” offensive statistics from naturalstastrick.com (a) Corsi For (CF), (b) Shots For (SF), (c) Scoring Chances For (SCF), (d) High-Danger Scoring Chances For (HDCF), (e) Goals For (GF), and (f) Expected Goals For (xGF) and tracking these per 60 minutes for each Maple Leafs’ defenseman who played at least 100 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey, here’s how the defensemen ranked for each statistic.
How All Seven Maple Leafs’ Defensemen Ranked Per 60 on Offense
Offensive Comparison One: Corsi For
|Rank||Player||CF Per-60 Minutes|
Offensive Comparison Two: Shots For
|Rank||Player||SF Per-60 Minutes|
Offensive Comparison Three: Scoring Chances For
|Rank||Player||SF Per-60 Minutes|
Offensive Comparison Four: High Danger Chances For
|Rank||Player||HDCF Per-60 Minutes|
Offensive Comparison Five: Goals For
|Rank||Player||GF Per-60 Minutes|
Offensive Comparison Six: Expected Goals For
|Rank||Player||XGF Per-60 Minutes|
Overall rating for 5-on-5 Offensive Generation by Defensemen
|Overall Rank for 5-on-5 Offense |
2020-21 Findings About the Maple Leafs’ Defensemen and Offense Generation
Using the advanced statistics above, by the numbers Muzzin was the Maple Leafs best offensive defensemen during the 2020-21 season. Surprisingly, Rielly wasn’t even second. He was fifth, behind Sandin, Bogosian, and Brodie.
Obviously, other circumstances must be considered for players like Sandin and Bogosian. Their minutes were on the third-pairing, playing with bottom-six players and against bottom-six players. Sandin only played 111 minutes, so it was a small sample size. Both Rielly and Brodie played a lot more minutes and a lot tougher minutes than either Bogosian or Sandin.
Interestingly to us, Brodie – a player who was supposedly brought in to handle the tough defensive duties and to allow Rielly to concentrate more on offense – actually finished ahead of Rielly in the offensive rankings.
2019-20 Findings About the Maple Leafs’ Defensemen and Offensive Generation
When we ran the same numbers, last season’s statistics are also surprising. The offensive rankings for the defensemen with at least 100 minutes played can be seen below.
|1st (tied)||Morgan Rielly|
|1st (tied)||Jake Muzzin|
It’s also interesting that, for a good portion of last season, Rielly was either injured or, when he wasn’t on the injured list, he was playing injured. As a result, last season was regarded as a bad season for him. Still, he finished tied for first in offensive team statistics.
On the other hand, this season he was healthy for the full season; and, the season was considered to have been much better for him personally. However, his underlying numbers and his ranking among other Maple Leafs’ defensemen was not nearly as good.
Numbers Don’t Tell the Entire Story
Obviously, Maple Leafs’ fans know that individual numbers and advanced statistics don’t tell the whole story of how good a player is or that player’s value to the team. Hockey at the NHL level remains a team game, played by humans with different skills, talents, training, and personalities.
However, using advanced statistics offers fans a different window to see what’s happening on the ice. As such, it gives us food for thought.
And, here’s what we’re left to chew on by the numbers. Last season’s best Maple Leafs’ offensive defenseman was Jake Muzzin.
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