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Fantasy Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

Scott Cullen
9/17/2013 2:02:28 PM
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After they returned to the playoffs last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are team ripe for regression due to inflated percentages that typically don't carry over from one year to the next. As such, the appeal of some Leafs is likely lower than expected.

Top Picks: In the last two seasons, RW Phil Kessel has 134 points, ranking fifth, and over the last five seasons his 155 goals ranks ninth. Even with plus-minus issues (minus-47 over the last four seasons), he's worth a spot among the top handful of fantasy right wingers.

D Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs' captain, has plenty of critics, but he's productive. In the last three years, he's one of three defencemen to have at least 100 points and 200 penalty minutes (Zdeno Chara and P.K. Subban are the others). If not PIMs, Phaneuf is also a hitter, with 725 over the last four seasons. There are constant questions about whether Phaneuf is worthy of being designated as a number one defenceman for the Maple Leafs, but his numbers indicate he's just fine as a No. 1 defenceman for fantasy owners.

Value Plays: The popular notion, when it comes to C Nazem Kadri, is that he's a young player who scored 44 points in 48 games last season, so he should be on the rise, but it's not quite as simple as that. For one thing, Kadri scored on 16.8% of his shots last season, an inordinately high percentage and, more importantly, those on the ice with him at even-strength scored on 14.44% of their shots, the highest rate for any forward in the league. It's also a clear indication that regression ought to be coming and even if Kadri plays more than the 16 minutes per game he played last season, the odds are in favour of the regression having stronger effect. This doesn't mean Kadri is a bad player; it means he's not necessarily a point-per-game player yet.

While we're beating that regression drum, LW Joffrey Lupul has 85 points in 82 games over the last two seasons, scoring on 15.5% of his shots, which is well above his career mark of 11.5%. As an example of what kind of effect that would have, knocking Lupul's shooting percentage down from 15.5% to 11.5% over the last two seasons, it would give him 28 goals instead of 36. We can also see that, even in his small sample of 17 games last season, Lupul had an absurdly high on-ice shooting percentage that is bound to come down. With regression and injuries both factors in his projection, Lupul likely comes in lower than expected in my projections.

LW James van Riemsdyk had a nice first season in Toronto, his 0.67 points per game representing a career-high, while playing 19:12 per game, four minutes more than he had played the year before in Philadelphia. It's reasonable to expect further development from van Riemsdyk, whose career highs to this point are 21 goals and 40 points.

The signing of RW David Clarkson came with much fanfare, and much concern regarding the length of his contract, but in the last two seasons, only Clarkson and Scott Hartnell have scored at least 40 goals while recording at least 200 penalty minutes. His limited scoring upside makes Clarkson a No. 4 fantasy winger, though he would move up a notch in leagues that include penalty minutes.

Still trying to negotiate a new contract, restricted free agent D Cody Franson had a breakthrough season for the Leafs in 2013, tying a career-high with 29 points, even though he played in only 45 games. If he's healthy and signed, Franson has a chance to be a No. 3 fantasy defenceman, but until he signs, it's tough to place too much stock in his production.

Centering Phil Kessel is a factor that makes C Tyler Bozak worth keeping an eye on, but he hasn't been productive enough to have fantasy value in most leagues. He was one of six forward to play more than 900 minutes last season and finish with fewer than 30 points.

Sleepers/Breakthrough: Stuck in the minors or the press box too often last season, D Jake Gardiner is a tremendous skater who should play a top-four role. He had 30 points in 75 games as a rookie in 2011-2012 and should be able to get back to that level provided he stays healthy.

By going out to acquire G Jonathan Bernier, and then signing him to a new contract that isn't for backup money, the Maple Leafs have indicated their intention coming into the season. While there are many reports from those that think Bernier is due the opportunity to be a starting goalie in the league, he has a .912 save percentage in 62 career games, which only seems okay.

If you really want to dig deep, check out D Paul Ranger, making his return to the NHL for the first time since October, 2009. Ranger scored a career-high 31 points, while playing a career-high 25:13, in 2007-2008

Rookies: He may end up back in junior for another season, but 19-year-old Morgan Rielly could put pressure on the Leafs to make a decision. When he reaches the league for keeps, he's going to produce points, but even if Rielly does manage to stay in the NHL as a teen.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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