I missed Damien Cox’s December 1 blog posting about the state of the Leafs, but after having it pointed out to me last night I couldn’t resist making comment on it, simply because he makes some interesting statements.

He suggests that it’s impossible to think any more that Jason Blake is just in a slump; did anyone seriously expect him to score 40 goals again? In three years before Blake hit the 40-goal mark and cashed in as a free agent, he’d scored 25, 22 and 28 goals. Last year he scored 25. It was patently obvious that’s what he was when he was signed, and it’s patently obvious now. If on the other hand Cox means this season, where Blake has just two goals in 26 games, he’s dead wrong. Here are Blake’s shooting percentages by season, since the lockout:

  • 2006-06: 9.2%
  • 2006-07: 13.1%
  • 2007-08: 4.5%
  • 2008-09: 8.3%
  • 2009-10: 2.5%
  • Career: 8.0%

Blake’s 2007-08 mark represents the low point of his career to date. That 13.1% mark, miles above anything else he’d ever done in his career, came during his 40-goal year; unfortunately for the Leafs, they were the suckers who thought it might be sustainable. In any case, at some point Blake should go back to doing what he normally does, what he did last season: scoring at about an 8.0% clip, or just over three times as often as he has to date this season.

But the most interesting comment Cox makes is about Alexei Ponikarovsky, a chronically underappreciated winger who, just one game before Cox tossed him under the bus, recorded four points and a plus-3 rating in a game against Florida. Ponikarovsky’s currently on pace for 28 goals and 47 points, but here’s what Cox had to say about him:

No one would seriously suggest that Alexei Ponikarovsky [is a] bona fide top-six forward in the NHL.

Let’s do some basic number crunching. There are 30 teams in the NHL. They each have six top-six forwards. That means there are 180 top-six forwards in the NHL. Let’s pretend for a moment that points are the best way to measure top-six forwards, and see how Ponikarovsky does versus his peers in the NHL.

  • Since the lockout: 194 points, tied for 99th in the NHL
  • Since 2006-07: 156 points, tied for 96th in the NHL
  • Since 2007-08: 111 points, tied for 93rd in the NHL
  • Since last season: 76 points, tied for 62nd in the NHL
  • Just last season: 61 points, tied for 54th in the NHL
  • Just this season: 15 points, tied for 108th in the NHL

Since 180th is the dropoff point for top-six forwards, by any post-lockout time period one chooses to measure, Ponikarovsky is a top-six forward. He’s actually a rather good top-six forward too; since 1-90 are first line forwards and 91-180 are second line forwards, he’s consistently been among the very best second-line forwards in the NHL, by points production.

Of course, there are other things to hate about him. His small stature (6’4″, 229lbs) means that he’s undersized… or not. No, he’s a big-bodied top-six forward. Perhaps his poor defensive play might be cited; except for the fact that in a nine-year, 442-game NHL career spent entirely with the Leafs, Ponikarovsky has only once (minus-1 in his rookie year) had a negative plus/minus. For his career, he’s a plus-56. In short, Alexei Ponikarovsky is the very model of a modern top-six forward.

So perhaps Cox wouldn’t suggest that Ponikarovsky’s a bona fide top-six forward. But that doesn’t reflect poorly on Ponikarovsky; no, it only shows that Damien Cox doesn’t know what a top-six forward is.