While arguments about who the Leafs should add to their defence corps for next year continue to burn through the social spectrum, a contingent of pre-existing players wait to find out where their future lies with the team.
Scratch Connor Carrick off that list for now, as the 24-year-old agreed to terms with the Leafs today on a one-year extension worth $1.3 million.
The @MapleLeafs announced today that the hockey club has signed defenceman Connor Carrick to a one-year contract
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) June 20, 2018
Carrick is a player that seems to be as polarizing in the community as he is confusing to the various metric sheets. The Chicago-area native doesn’t have baseline numbers that particularly jump off the stat sheet, peaking at a total of 12 points in 47 games last year. His real-time numbers (often used by casual fans to grade defensive play) don’t jump at you either, in the sense that he doesn’t hit much, he doesn’t block a ton of shots, his giveaway-to-takeaway ratio seems iffy if you believe in that, but both his giveaway and takeaway totals don’t look like a guy who has the puck much.
His underlying numbers are a bit more complicated. Since joining Toronto, the Leafs have had a significantly better share of the shots taken when he’s on the ice compared to when he’s off it in games that he’s played, (about +3% in both of his full seasons), and the goals seem to go in his favour too. In the last 25 games of the regular season, he was getting clearly better results in 5-on-5 play than the bulk of his teammates:
Alas, Carrick played less than half of those games, and only a bit over half of Toronto’s games, in general, this year, dressing for just 47 of 82 and not appearing at all in the post-season, even with the above run-of-form in mind. Toronto instead opted to go with a right-side trio of Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, and Roman Polak, who stumbled down the stretch and were outright putrid in the post-season.
That’s not to say that every metric is positive to Carrick. For example, his chippy playstyle leads to a net-negative impact on special teams: in each of the last two seasons, Carrick has posted a deeply negative penalty differential (-9 and -10 respectively). That’s something that Toronto, a team with an inconsistent penalty kill and an extremely good powerplay, would prefer to trend towards the other direction.
As well, micro-stats projects hint at Carrick being a weak option when it comes to transition play and playmaking ability, counter to his reputation with some for being the opposite:
I have some suspicions about Carrick’s drop off’s from 2016/17 to 2017/18. I feel like some of it might be due to the team’s breakout methodology (this year more than ever, the left side is immensely more successful than the right for every single pair, which lines up with the eye test observation of leftward players being carriers/passes while the right side clears), some of it might comes from strength of partner (going from Jake Gardiner as a primary partner to Andreas Borgman / Travis Dermott), and some might come from play style (trying to beat Roman Polak at his own game in hopes of staying in the lineup).
Either way, even a bounceback to his 2016/17 numbers still leaves you with a guy that there isn’t a ton to be excited about in terms of moving the puck from zone to zone or helping with the cycle, though he does like to shoot and, even if it doesn’t go in, generate a rebound. He’s also been surprisingly good in keeping the puck away from danger areas in his time in Toronto, at least compared to his peers:
Given the criticism of Carrick for his size (on the smaller side for defencemen at 5’10, 190 lbs), it’s interesting that he’s been able to keep the puck out the slot, which is typically a serious danger point. The fact he’s done an even better job of it this year, though, potentially comes from more flexiblity in matchups
Already faced with relatively safe competition when playing with Gardiner in 2016/17, Carrick was sheltered even further this year. The trade-off, of course, is that his surrounding teammates dropped off as well, so it’s difficult to say how much that matters.
Regardless, as you go through all of this, you begin to unpack that Carrick is probably a guy who makes your team a little bit better when he’s on the ice, especially when compared to the player he’s been battling with for minutes over the past stretch of months (Roman Polak). Entering prime age, it’s not likely that he’ll end up being much more than a useful complimentary option, but he is at least that, and you have to think that some of his warts can be fixed tactically (I’d like to see him get back to carrying the puck, for example).
Committing to a one-year deal lets the team see what they have in him while continuing to hold his rights afterwards. If he doesn’t play Top 4 minutes or powerplay minutes, I can’t see him coming up with sufficient numbest to make them dramatically regret not committing now, but a year with more opportunity afforded to him will help them figure out what benefits he might or might not have for the team moving forward, and allow for them to dictate the term on his next deal.
Alternatively, if he can’t find a spot early on (entirely possible given a myriad of quality defencemen on the Marlies looking for an opportunity), the contract is low-risk, low-dollar enough to move to other teams, and if he does somehow end up falling flat on his face next season, its in that sweet spot of high enough to clear waivers but low enough to not create a massive dent (Martin Marincin’s was similar this year).
Overall, I think this works out pretty well for everyone involved. Carrick now has an opening in the lineup that he gets first dibs on and gets one more shot to cement himself with the group. The Leafs get a bit more time to see what he is before doing anything drastic. Ultimately, I think Carrick is a guy that, more than most, is not as good as his fans believe he is and not as bad as his critics say, so a bridge for us all to get certainty on that is good.
If nothing else, he’s happy to still be in town.
Go Leafs Go! Going to be an incredible year. Hoagie was a big part of this decision, said the dog park off Spadina was important to him. @Lexsolofs likes the farmers markets downtown. Awesome day. Look forward to the season. https://t.co/QGRgJqZlbe
— Connor Carrick (@connorcarrick) June 20, 2018
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