Toronto Maple Leafs: Daniel Winnik Earned His Return Ticket


Toronto Maple Leafs: Daniel Winnik Earned His Return Ticket

Some guys have the right attitude and play hard enough to stay. Other guys are shown the door for the exact opposite reasons. That’s the new reality in Toronto these days and it’s essentially the difference between Daniel Winnik and Phil Kessel.

Feb 14, 2015; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Daniel Winnik (26) celebrates his goal against Montreal Canadiens with teammate defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) during the first period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the off-season, I figured Kessel’s days with the Toronto Maple Leafs were numbered. From a disastrous relationship with the media to a questionable work ethic, the proverbial writing was on the wall. The moment Kessel insisted he wasn’t a “coach killer” the vicious circle had been completed: he was no longer a viable players in hockey’s biggest, toughest market.

On the other hand, I gave absolutely no thought to the possibility of Winnik’s return. It simply didn’t register with me.

This isn’t to say Winnik doesn’t deserve a curtain call – it simply reflects the fact that all the attention heading into the off-season was squarely focused on who didn’t work in Toronto last season. Few people, including myself, took the time to ask who did work. If we asked this question, Winnik’s name would’ve been one of the first names to cross our minds.

In 58 games last season with the Leafs, Winnik tallied 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists). These aren’t spectacular numbers, but they were good enough to see Winnik float between the top and bottom lines on the team. This type of versatility should be seen as an asset and welcome.

Winnik also lead the entire team in +/- for the season. I know this is a controversial stat and many people now dismiss it, but it does hint towards Winnik’s prowess as a defensive-minded forward. In other words, few people would question his commitment to playing a two-way brand of hockey. On a young and rebuilding Leafs squad, this is probably the type of lesson the team wants Winnik to share.

To give you a different perspective on this point, the NHL has Winnik at -35 for Shot Attempts (i.e., Corsi) and -32 for Unblocked Shot Attempts (i.e., Fenwick) last season. These numbers may sound low, but it’s important to remember that Winnik played the majority of the season for the Leafs – a team that was regularly outshot by a wide margin. (In fact, these number don’t include the time Winnik spent with the Pittsburgh Penguins where he went +60 in Shot Attempts and +73 in Unblocked Shot Attempts.)

Nov 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Daniel Winnik (26) and forward Phil Kessel (81) watch as goaltender James Reimer (34) covers up a loose puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Now let’s look at Kessel’s numbers: -193 in Shot Attempts and -154 in Unblocked Shot Attempts. That’s quite the difference and an unjustifiable one given Kessel’s importance to the team. He was the heart of the offence but regularly saw himself out hustled by the opposition. There’s no other way to put it.

Winnik’s new deal will see him earn $4.5 million over two years. That’s not a heavy price to pay for someone who brings versatility to the lineup and understands both sides of the game. It also underscores the value now attached to players like Winnik by the team and why players like Kessel are no longer welcome in Toronto.

The Leafs want to become a respected franchise once again. This is a move in the right direction.

Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson