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2015 Season Review: Tyler Toffoli

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Give this man more ice time.

Lumenque iuventae purpereum (the purple light of youth)
Lumenque iuventae purpereum (the purple light of youth)
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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Positives

Already playing at a high level last year, Tyler Toffoli took further strides in 2014-15. In fact, you can make a pretty good case that Tyler Toffoli was the best forward on the Los Angeles Kings this season, at least on a per-minute basis. Here, watch me.

To begin with, no King scored at a better rate 5v5 than Toffoli (2.46 points/60). Toffoli is known as a goal scorer, and his .96 goals/60 at even strength is excellent and second on the Kings (only Tanner Pearson, he of the 17.5% 5v5 shooting percentage, did better). Toffoli flashed excellent playmaking skills as well.  His .96 primary assists/60 was 17th in the NHL, just ahead of Sidney Crosby. Not bad.

Whenever I see such gaudy offensive numbers, I immediately suspect puck luck. Fortunately, Toffoli's scoring appears largely sustainable. He had a normal individual points percentage (% of on-ice goals-for that player records a point on, which can randomly affect point totals). He only shot 8.75% personally at 5v5--not a terrible rate for a forward, but given that Toffoli has an excellent shot I wouldn't be surprised to see that percentage tick upward next year. His 9.7% on-ice shooting percentage at 5v5 is a bit high (again, Tanner Pearson's doing); his linemates will probably shoot a little worse next year and cost him a couple assists. But for the most part, Toffoli scored a lot because he was good.

The key for Toffoli is shot volume. After finishing second on the Kings to Jeff Carter in shots/60 last year, Toffoli finished first by a mile in both shots/60 and Corsis/60. He fired pucks at the net at the 11th highest rate in the NHL. Toffoli and his linemates probably have enough finishing talent to turn all these shot attempts into goals at a slightly above-average rate, too.

In the play-driving department, Toffoli continued his good work from last year, posting a solid 2.44% Corsi relative. Six of the seven forwards to play at least 50 minutes with Toffoli did better with him than without (Anze Kopitar being the sole exception). Impressively, Toffoli accomplished this without the favorable zone starts he received a year ago; his zone start% relative was slightly negative this year. No one would call Toffoli's minutes difficult, especially since he spent about three-quarters of his 5v5 ice time with Jeff Carter, but he wasn't sheltered, either.

Finally, Toffoli's penalty killing merits a mention. He only played 74 shorthanded minutes this season, but he made them count. His 5 shorthanded goals and 6 shorthanded points led the NHL, and LA's penalty kill posted its best shot prevention numbers when Toffoli was on the ice 4v5. A nice contribution, but be aware that the sample is small and it's not certain that his shorthanded offense or defense will repeat itself next season.

Negatives

Two things are immediately apparent on Toffoli's HERO chart: first, that Toffoli plays very little for a forward of his quality; second, that he is better at shot generation than shot prevention. I suspect these things are related. Dustin Brown, Trevor Lewis, and Dwight King--all much less impressive wingers--received more 5v5 ice time per game than Toffoli. I'm almost certain that's because Darryl Sutter perceives Toffoli to be less defensively responsible than those players.

It's true that Toffoli is an offense-first player, but his defense is hardly a liability. The Kings concede both shot attempts and goals at about the same rate 5v5 with Toffoli on the ice and off (and of course, their shot attempts for and goals for go way up when he's out there). The Kings can help themselves out next year by giving him more ice time.

Toffoli's apparent late-season fade might be an object of concern. He had 30 5v5 points in his first 51 games but added just six more points in his last 25. I think this is nothing to worry about. Toffoli's underlying numbers were basically identical in both groupings (56.7% Corsi and 3.55 EV shots/game in the first 51 games, 58.5% Corsi and 3.84 shots/game in the last 25 games). Basically, Toffoli played excellently all year, but had great luck in the first half of the year and terrible luck in the second and it all evened out. It's best to look at the season-long totals and ignore the splits.

Highlight

The nicest goal the Kings scored this year, I think. See it in full speed here. Honorable mention to Toffoli's hat trick against Calgary and this picture.

Going Forward

Only 23, Toffoli looks to be a long-term centerpiece of the Kings for years to come. He's now an unsigned RFA. His 2015-16 contract demands are not known, but we can guess that the Kings must decide between signing Toffoli to a long-term deal to save money down the road or signing him to a bridge deal that sacrifices the future in order to reduce his 2015-16 cap hit. If the dire forebodings about the NHL salary cap are accurate, then the Kings might have no choice in the matter.

Grade

I'll give Toffoli an A. You?