Things are rolling for the Toronto Maple Leafs as of late. They sit comfortably at the top of the North Division once again and are currently on a five-game winning streak. I’m in the mood for celebration, so let’s dive into one of the biggest improvements made this season: reliable defensive depth. While much has been made of the offensive struggles Travis Dermott has endured, and many balked at the Zach Bogosian signing this offseason, the two have formed a third pairing that’s offered stability not seen in years past.
In Defence of Travis Dermott and Zach Bogosian
Why the Criticism?
Needless to say, Dermott and Bogosian haven’t exactly been juggernauts offensively. With both of them mustering just four points each this season, there’s concern about their performances. After all, on a team with such high-flying offence as the Leafs, shouldn’t Dermott and Bogosian at least end up with a couple more assists to their names?
Well, probably. They do have the lowest xGF/60 of any Leafs’ defence pairing with at least 50 minutes together this season with 2.66. When extrapolating that number to the rest of the league, however, it’s really not that bad. In fact, Dermott and Bogosian would rank first among all defence pairings on the Detroit Red Wings in terms of xGF/60. Their best pairing, Patrik Nemeth and Christian Djoos, ranks first on that team with an xGF/60 of 2.52.
Why the Defence?
So, great. We’ve established that Dermott and Bogosian aren’t substantial comparative offensive threats within their own team, but are still skilled enough in a vacuum to be better than the alternatives on some of the league’s basement dwellers.
Yet, the point of this piece isn’t to laugh at Detroit. Sorry about that. Rather, it’s to contextualize and rationalize Dermott’s and Bogosian’s performances this season in order to appreciate them in an unconventional way.
That is: the point of hockey isn’t to score goals. It’s to score more goals than the other team. Are Dermott and Bogosian accomplishing that, even if they aren’t chipping in much on the scoresheet? Yep.
Out of the Leafs’ three pairings, Dermott and Bogosian’s xGA/60 demonstrates their defensive skill. Their 2.16 xGA/60 is lower than both Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl‘s 2.2 and Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie‘s 2.37. Their overall xG percentage is 55.2. While that’s a tad worse than the Muzzin and Rielly pairs, it’s still extremely respectable. And after all, for a combined cap hit of around $1.87 million, how much more can you really expect?
Through a Historical Lens
It’s always a good reminder to count our blessings every once in a while. Having Dermott and Bogosian excel to this level this season has been an extremely underrated part of Toronto’s success as a whole. This becomes evident quickly when looking at a small history of Toronto’s depth/third pairings over the past few seasons:
Surprisingly enough, none of these pairings got absolutely dunked in terms of possession quality. They were average, but not enough to make up for porous defensive mistakes being made across the rest of the lineup. Yet this still accentuates just how valuable Dermott and Bogosian have been, albeit in a limited role. They’ve been better both offensively and defensively than their predecessors, and, along with virtually every other area of the Leafs’ lineup this year, mark a significant improvement in team accountability throughout.
Down the Stretch
One can expect Dermott’s and Bogosian’s role to increase down the stretch as the Leafs prepare for a playoff run. With the elite offensive threats that the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets could pose in the first two rounds of the playoffs, all hands will be needed on deck in order to siphon quality away from their stars. With sports betting in Canada heating up, more people are throwing financial assets behind the Leafs and their prospective success. Deep teams tend to get out of the first round. With Dermott and Bogosian helping Toronto achieve the highest degree of defensive depth in recent memory, they could prove instrumental in a successful year for the Maple Leafs.