Maple Leafs Not Getting What They Need From Muzzin or Holl

Despite the fact the Toronto Maple Leafs have been one of the best teams defensively in the NHL to this point in the season, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl have come under scrutiny for their poor play so far. Holl was even a healthy scratch for six games.  

Related: 5 Maple Leafs’ Defensemen Next in Line for NHL Playing Time

In this post, we want to take a look at the underlying numbers to see whether the criticism the former shutdown defensive pairing is coming under is warranted. Specifically, if we look at the underlying numbers, do they agree with the old-fashioned test of our eyes as fans? Have Holl and Muzzin been playing worse this season than they have in the past? Could the Maple Leafs be getting more from this pairing?

Looking at Jake Muzzin’s Analytics

If we compare Muzzin’s three previous seasons with the Maple Leafs to this season over six categories, we see the following five-on-five on-ice statistics. 

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Let’s take a look at Jake Muzzin’s analytics.

Jake Muzzin By the Numbers

% of  Shot AttemptsPrevious Three Seasons 
52.6%  
This Season
50.8%
Percentage of Difference
-1.80%
% of  Actual ShotsPrevious Three Seasons 
54.5% 
This Season
49%
Percentage of Difference
-5.5%
% of Scoring ChancesPrevious Three Seasons 
54.7%
This Season
52.6%
Percentage of Difference
-2.1%
% of High Danger ChancesPrevious Three Seasons 
54.5%
This Season
51.7%
Percentage of Difference
-2.8%
% of Actual GoalsPrevious Three Seasons 
58.1%
This Season
44.4%
Percentage of Difference
-13.7%
% of Expected GoalsPrevious Three Seasons 
56.0%
This Season
54.7%
Percentage of Difference
-1.3%

Adding Muzzin’s numbers together, the average for this season is 50.5 percent, whereas the average for the previous three seasons is 55.1 percent, for an overall average difference of -4.6 percent. His production is down.

Now let’s take a look at Justin Holl’s analytics.

Looking at Justin Holl’s Analytics

Comparing Holl’s previous three seasons with this season over the same on-ice five-on-five categories, we see the following.

Justin Holl By the Numbers

% of  Shot AttemptsPrevious Three Seasons 
50.4%  
This Season
49.8%
Percentage of Difference
-.60%
% of  Actual ShotsPrevious Three Seasons 
51.3% 
This Season
48.7%
Percentage of Difference
-2.6%
% of Scoring ChancesPrevious Three Seasons 
52.6%
This Season
50.5%
Percentage of Difference
-2.1%
% of High Danger ChancesPrevious Three Seasons 
52.9%
This Season
47.1%
Percentage of Difference
-5.8%
% of Actual GoalsPrevious Three Seasons 
54.1%
This Season
45.8%
Percentage of Difference
-8.3%
% of Expected GoalsPrevious Three Seasons 
53.8%
This Season
52%
Percentage of Difference
-1.8%
Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Adding Holl’s numbers together, the average for this season is 48.9 percent, whereas the average for the previous three seasons is 52.5 percent, for an overall average difference of -3.6 percent. He’s also down in his production.

The Analytics and the Eye Test Confirm Similar Findings

The numbers confirm the eye test. The Muzzin/Holl pairing is not performing to this point this season the same as they have the previous three. Muzzin’s overall average dropped from 55.1 percent to 50.5 percent. He is still on the positive side of things (anything over 50% is positive), but just barely.

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Holl, on the other hand, has dropped from 52.5 percent to 48.9 percent. He has gone from a positive to a negative. His decline this season is slightly less than Muzzin’s, -3.6 percent to -4.6 percent; but, his overall numbers were lower than Muzzin’s to start with.  

Conclusions and Hypothesis about Holl and Muzzin

It’s pretty clear why Holl has been a healthy scratch for six games. In watching the games by the eye test, the Maple Leafs’ defense was better with Dermott in and Holl out. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of Dermott’s analytics compared to Holl’s.  

Travis Dermott Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenseman Travis Dermott (AP Photo/John Locher)

Muzzin has definitely been struggling. It begs the question, are his age (almost 33) and the way he plays the game taking a toll on him; or, could it be a result of his injury in the playoffs last season. We have no way to know how badly he was hurt or how much training he missed during the offseason. It also was a shortened offseason with less time to recover. It will be interesting to see how he progresses going forward. 

Both players have seemed to be playing better over the past dozen games or so. However, if they were playing as well as they have in the past, the team would be even more improved.

Other Thoughts About the Defense

Because of how well Sandin and Liljegren have been playing together, Dermott has been a healthy scratch. However, his overall game hasn’t seemed that bad. It is obvious that Muzzin’s play carries the Muzzin/Holl pairing. 

Related: Remembering Borje Salming: “King” of Maple Leafs’ Defensemen

We would like to see the Maple Leafs try Dermott alongside Muzzin for an extended stretch. Dermott is five years younger and signed for $500,000 less for one more season. He’s also a hometown boy from Newmarket and a Maple Leafs’ draftee.  

As it is right now, and for as long as the salary-cap numbers work, Maple Leafs’ head coach keeps switching the young defensemen in and out – Dermott, Sandin, and Liljegren. It’s a good position to be in having an NHL-ready defenseman in the wings in case of injury.

However, given our look at the numbers, it might be that the in-and-out trio could be expanded by one. Why not add Holl to the musical chairs of defensemen. It would give more chances to the younger players to hone their games.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]


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