Maple Leafs Must Draw More Penalties

For the third consecutive season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in danger of finishing last in the penalties drawn department. Through 30 games this season, the Maple Leafs have drawn only 184 penalty minutes against. This is a far cry from the league-leading Colorado Avalanche, who have drawn 349 penalty minutes against their opponents.

The Maple Leafs are trending in the wrong direction year-by-year. In 2017-18, they ranked 31st in the league by averaging 6.9 penalty minutes per-game by the opposition. Last season, they also ranked dead last by averaging 6.7 penalty minutes per-game by the opposition. Things have regressed to an all-time low this year, as they rank 30th in the league, averaging a putrid 6.2 penalty minutes per-game by the opposition. The top five teams in the league in this department all draw all least 10 penalty minutes against per-game.

To make matters worse, Nazem Kadri, who led the Maple Leafs last season with 27 penalties drawn, is no longer wearing the blue and white. As well, Andreas Johnsson, who leads the team with 11 drawn penalties this season, was put on long-term injured reserve.

Who is Doing the Best Job?

Johnsson averages 1.3 penalties drawn per 60 minutes, which ranks second on the team. Trevor Moore, who is working his way back from an injury, ranks first in this category, creating 1.43 penalities per 60 minutes. To make up for these losses, other Maple Leafs need to put an emphasis on creating penalties and getting their lethal power-play unit on the ice.

Andreas Johnsson Toronto Maple Leafs
Andreas Johnsson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Jake Muzzin ranks second on the Maple Leafs in total penalties drawn this season with nine. He is one of the few players on the team who plays with some edge to his game, leading the Maple Leafs in hits with 66. While there is no simple solution to drawing penalties, playing the game with more grit likely increases your chances of retaliatory penalties. Both Moore and Johnsson rank top-10 on the Leafs in hits, and they are among the best at drawing penalties for the team.

The player that currently leads the league in penalties drawn this season is Brady Tkachuk, who has drawn 19 calls with the Senators. He is the type of player who has a well-rounded game, and ranks fifth in the league in total hits with 113. He is a feisty player who enjoys stirring the pot against the opposition.

Brady Tkachuk Ottawa Senators
Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Players who throw their weight around are more likely to irritate the opponent and create some selfish penalties against. Brandon Tanev and Tom Wilson, who are near the top in penalties drawn, are also top-five in hits this season. They are the types of players that are a pain to play against.

Using Speed and Skill to Help

While physical play appears to be a contributing factor in generating penalties, skill and speed certainly cannot be overlooked. Ranking in the top-10 in penalties drawn this season are Jack Eichel (18), Elias Pettersson (17), and Connor McDavid (15). All three of these players rank in the top-15 in points this season and are known as supremely skilled offensive players. Their combination of skill, speed, and craftiness on the ice creates a lot of obstruction calls against the opponent when they are penetrating the offensive zone.

Blessed with a unique combo of size and skill that few players possess, Matthews can become among the league’s elite in this category. It is up to him to add more sandpaper to his game and use his incredible skill to generate more penalties. He ranked fifth on the team last season with just 14 penalties drawn through 68 games. This season, he ranks 15th on the team in penalties drawn per 60 minutes, at an average of 0.39.

Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews Columbus Blue Jackets' Anthony Duclair
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews keeps the puck away from former Columbus Blue Jacket Anthony Duclair (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

If we look at who has led the league in drawing penalties over the last three years, we see stars such as Johnny Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon, McDavid and Brad Marchand in the top 10. Matthews is one of the strongest players on the puck, and there is no reason why he can’t tire out the defense and attempt at creating more penalties for his Maple Leafs.

Keefe Realizes Importance of Issue

Coach Sheldon Keefe is adamant about fixing the Maple Leafs’ issues. When asked about the team’s struggles to create penalties, he responded saying, “We’ve got to figure that out. The natural thing for me is to say we’ve got to get the puck to more dangerous areas, and we’ve got to attack the middle of the ice a lot more”. He understands that while they do not take many penalties, his Maple Leafs need to do a better job of generating them.

It’s not only up to the coaching staff, but the players need to take the initiative to outwork the opponent and start driving to “hard areas” of the ice more. The team general manager Kyle Dubas constructed must use their skill and finesse to their advantage, and add more grit to their game at times. Averaging 6.1 penalty minutes drawn per game is not going to help their chances of getting their potentially potent power place on the ice.

Leafs’ Power Play Needs More Reps

The Maple Leafs have only had 84 power-play opportunities, which ranks 27th in the league. So far this season, they rank 14th in power-play percentage, clicking at a 19 percent rate. The amount of offensive firepower on this Maple Leafs’ team should be enough to wreak havoc on any opponent’s penalty kill.

Sheldon Keefe
Sheldon Keefe (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Keefe has done some juggling with the first unit power play since taking over coaching duties. He has moved Tyson Barrie to the first unit, in efforts to get him going. Under Mike Babcock, the Leafs were struggling on the power play, as back on Nov. 6, they were in the midst of a 3-for-33 slump. (from ‘SNAPSHOTS: Maple Leafs vow to fix power play,’ Toronto Sun, 11/08/2019) With some tweaks made and a healthy Marner back in the mix, it is up to the players to create their own opportunities and get more power-play time.