Are the Leafs Stars Overvalued?
Updated: Mar 1, 2020
A lot of the conversation around the Toronto Maple Leafs and the way that Kyle Dubas has constructed the lineup revolves around the percentage of the cap that they are giving to their top players. A lot of the conversation turns to William Nylander and his $6.962 million contract and how that becomes the one weighing the team down.
As a longtime Nylander fan I've always believed that for the production that he gives you, he is worth every penny of his contract; this led me to do some research. I wanted to find out which Leafs were actually scoring at a pace that made their contract worth it, and which Leafs were "under-performing". While I understand that there is much more to the game than strictly scoring points, I thought this would be the best way to gauge offensive output.
I took each Leafs forward (the defence isn't included because scoring isn't their main point of value) and calculated what percentage of the cap their deals are worth. I then projected how many games they are expected to play this season (this is subject to change based on injury) and used that to project their projected offensive output.
With those numbers in mind, I used the teams projected point total (705.2) to calculate what final percentage of team points each player is set to achieve. I then compared that percentage to their cap percentage to see how far off the two numbers were. This is what I found:
As you can see there are two players in particular that are playing way over their value in terms of point production. Ilya Mikheyev shouldn't surprise many people at the top of this list. The 25 year old rookie came over from the KHL like a bat out of hell and put up 10 points in his first 13 games. He fell off after that, scoring just one point in his next nine games before netting three points in his last three games. While streaky at best, putting himself fifth in rookie scoring on a nearly league minimum deal will inflate his value.
Jason Spezza on the other hand is a benefactor of circumstance. Due to some weird hatred from former coach Mike Babcock, Spezza only managed to get himself into 13 of 23 games under the old bench boss. Spezza made use of those 13 games, scoring seven points in those 13 games (good for 0.54 PPG). Now, under new coach Sheldon Keefe, it seems as though Spezza has a brand new role as the third line center and should see every game for the rest of the year (barring any load management decisions). Couple that with the fact that he accepted a league minimum deal and his value looks incredible for the time being.
The two biggest names that stick out on this list are sitting at the bottom. The lower of the two, John Tavares, is coming off a career best year in which he scored 88 points and was named captain before this season began. He got off to a rocky start before going down with a broken finger. He has yet to find his stride and hasn't been able to score like he did in the 2018-19 season.
The other player sitting at the bottom, Mitch Marner, was sort of destined to be at the bottom of a list like this. Mitch is an incredible talent with the puck and is an elite winger in the NHL. Unfortunately for him, he was handsomely overpaid in the off-season and had a lot to live up to coming into this season. He didn't get off to the greatest start and wasn't playing up to his contract value. The ankle injury certainly didn't help his cause, but it was clear he was struggling to make things work.
Now I know it seems a little unfair given their lower point totals that two of the teams highest paid players are sitting at the bottom. I decided that just for fun I'd average out their PPG numbers over an 82 game season and see how they matched up then. This was the outcome:
While they closed the gap a little bit, it's clear that offensively these two just aren't living up to their deals this season.
Meanwhile, team face of the franchise Auston Matthews is on pace for his best offensive season yet. He is currently on pace for 52 goals and 98 points, both of which would shatter his career highs. Despite this, he finds himself in the middle of the list. I wanted to see if that was a concern, so I matched Matthews up with the 10 highest paid non-Leafs forwards in the NHL using the same formulas. It looked like this:
As you can see, Matthews sits right around the middle of this list as well. While he may not be at the level of guys like McDavid, Eichel or Kane, it is a little more promising to see him earning his contract more than noted scorers such as Seguin, Ovechkin and Kucherov. Could Matthews live up to the contract a little more than he has? Sure, but it's not a big enough difference to be a problem.
Finally, the main reason for my research... William Nylander. Is Nylander the best player or even scorer on this team? Absolutely not. However with Nylander you can't expect him to be playing like a $10 million player. He is currently eighth on the team in terms of scoring in relation to his contract, and is above some of the better players on the team. Considering he is being paid to put up points, it's difficult to complain about those numbers.
I don't need to change anyone's mind on William Nylander, or anyone else on this roster. These are merely my observations on how guys are performing, and a look into where Leaf fans could potentially start distributing blame.