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Potatoes and perception: Toronto’s divisive offseason

Aug 8, 2013, 10:07 PM EDT

potatogetty Getty Images

Depending upon whom you ask, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ offseason ranks as either a shrewd reboot or a baffling series of missteps.

At its core, the debate seemingly pits fans who rely upon “advanced stats” against those who base their opinions on gut reactions, win-loss records, intangibles or other more “traditional” factors.

The most succinct way to summarize the divide probably comes in the perception of GM Dave Nonis.

Against Nonis: 71 percent of voters at popular Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets voted that potato would have had a better offseason than Nonis.

For Nonis: Conversely, Leafs ownership gave him an emphatic stamp of approval by way of a five-year contract extension.

Lupul lets loose

In most hockey markets, the stat-loving crowd tends to argue in less mainstream circles, even as deeper analysis appears to be making in-roads to NHL front offices. In Toronto, the debates are prominent enough that Maple Leafs players are addressing them directly.

For one thing, Joffrey Lupul took to Twitter in July to lambaste the use of Corsi numbers, which essentially track shots in a similar way to how plus/minus tallies goals for and against.* (Click here for a more sophisticated explanation.)

It’s unclear what specifically left the 29-year-old so steamed, although many wonder if his strong 2013 results were fluky, as he connected on a staggering 26.2 percent of his shots on goal during the regular season.

Bozak vs. Grabovski

Still, the Lupul debate is a mere whisper compared to the divide between how the Leafs and some of their stat-leaning fans view centers Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski.

Members of the number-crunching community argue that Phil Kessel is the reason Bozak is a first-line center and many praise Grabovski’s puck possession skills. Conversely, the team gave Bozak a big extension and bought out Grabovski, who’s still looking for NHL work.

These rumblings prompted a public response, too. The discussions were widespread enough that Bozak addressed his critics in mid-July, stating that he’d gladly follow his coaches’ opinions rather than Twitter commentary.


Leafs fans are divided on a significant chunk of this summer’s moves, including the additions of David Clarkson and Jonathan Bernier.

Still, considering how long they’ve been waiting to see the Buds bloom into a legitimate contender, it’s likely that most of those fan-critics would be glad to be wrong. For the most part, anyway.

* – Although Corsi includes shots that miss the net and so on.

  1. canucks30 - Aug 8, 2013 at 11:05 PM


  2. dueman - Aug 9, 2013 at 1:50 AM

    First off, Pension Plan Puppets is not a popular Leaf fan site. It’s a site for people that like to insult the Leafs. Secondly, Bozak didn’t “address his critics”, he answered a reporters question is all. There is a reason that Bozak was kept over Grabo, and that is because Bozak is better on that line. Grabo has played on that top line and it just didn’t work. Those “puck possession skills” of his are great except when he’s on a line with one of the best snipers in the league. Puck possession skills is just a fancy term for being a barb. Kessel needs someone to feed him the puck, not a center that’s going to keep it himself. The “advanced stats” people need to spend more time watching games, and less time watching stats.

    • kyzslew77 - Aug 9, 2013 at 2:23 AM

      Man, this is so good, it’s impossible to tell whether this is a troll or just an extremely stupid person.

  3. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Aug 9, 2013 at 3:29 AM

    What the Leafs are doing is working for them. For the first time in a while they have a plan and a system and are trying to actually build a team. Whoever doesn’t like the direction they’re going in just wants to complain about something.

  4. Lupy Nazty Philthy - Aug 9, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    It’s typical Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s always going to be a large group of haters that will make any move Toronto does out to be the worst move of all time. Nothing is ever the right move for Toronto.

    My favorite display of this was the “Evolution of Brian Burke”. When the rumours started that Toronto wanted him, people were saying stuff like “Leafs fans are stupid if they think a GM THAT good will leave the Ducks for a garbage team”

    Then he left the Ducks for Toronto, suddenly he became the most overrated GM ever. The biggest blow hard. “He inherited the team in Anaheim” “Nonis did more to build the Canucks than Burke”

    Then Burke hired Nonis as his assistant again. “Nonis is a bum!”

    The entire time Burke was in Toronto, haters were talking about how bad he was. Every trade was a loss for Toronto. Every draftpick was ruined by the pressure. Leafs were stupid for not firing Burke.

    Then they fired Burke and suddenly Burke is back to being one of the best GMs there is. Nonis was just a useless puppet. Yadda Yadda. Now people completely ignore what Nonis did in Vancouver. He suddenly has no credibility as a GM.

    Any players Nonis gets are now overrated and/or overpaid too. It will never change. Haters gotta hate.

    • scotloucks - Aug 9, 2013 at 6:11 PM

      Well said and exactly right.

      I might add that Toronto has more than it’s fair share of idiot fans as well. Fans I like to call Leaf Nation types, Leaf fans, not hockey fans.

      These people tend to put a much higher value on players than the rest of the league.

      Some examples of that would be Tucker and Domi, fan favorites who were given ridiculous extensions by JFJ …. on orders from above.

      I think Grabovski falls in that category as well. Note that he is yet to be signed by another team … and that Bozak had other suitors ….. but hey, what do hockey GM”s know?

      I like what Nonis did this summer … I liked what Burke did during his time here, especially the importance he put on rebuilding the “Pipe line”.

      Leaf haters are just terrified that the Leafs (and obviously their fans) are going to see success over the next decade.

      Too that I can only smile.

      • Lupy Nazty Philthy - Aug 10, 2013 at 9:47 AM

        Every team has the a similar ratio of smart fans and idiot fans. Leafs have the biggest fan base in the league, so their population of idiots is pretty big. I call them “the Phaneuf boo-ers”. There’s enough of them that Toronto has troll havens for them. The Toronto Star, Pension Plan Puppets, there’s a radio station in TO that does it too, all they do is attack the Leafs at every chance.

        Totally agree about Grabovski. He hasn’t done anything since his “big” season of 58 points. Yes he hustles, yes he can stick handle, but where’s the results? If he’s not putting it in the back of the net, then he’s just useless. Plus after hearing his rant it was obvious he’s not a team player. Too busy sulking about his lack of ice time. Same reason Montreal got rid of him, he sulked because he was stuck behind Koivu and Plekanec.

        No offense and even worse defensively, just not worth the 5.5M. I’d much rather pay Clarkson 5M. He at least wants to be on the Leafs. He wants to be as Wendel Clark like as he can. How bad could that be? Sounds better than Grabovski’s attitude.

        Burke and Nonis have done great work. All you have to do is look at the roster when Burke took over. It’s scary bad. Top like was Ponikarovsky – Stajan – Blake, Kaberle – Kubina, Toskala in net. The team’s looking pretty good right now. Mike Gillis has been taking credit for their work in Vancouver for years. Toronto is in good hands.

Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. P. Kessel (1954)
  2. P. Kane (1492)
  3. P. Datsyuk (1373)
  4. M. Richards (1239)
  5. M. Giordano (1207)