The Toronto Maple Leafs and Kyle Dubas have been extremely busy over the past week. Some moves were made entirely based on need and others he had his hand forced on. The Nikita Zaitsev trade is certainly more of the forced hand move.
However, Dubas has recently inked the main piece in the trade, Cody Ceci, to a contract that looks like he was more certain about the move than many fans were. Now, please, I understand there seems to be a lot of negativity surrounding this player, by no means am I arguing he deserves this contract. I will however look to argue that in Ceci, the Toronto Maple Leafs have acquired someone that could potentially be rehabilitated.
When breaking down Cody Ceci its important to go right back to the start. In speaking with Will Scouch of Scouching.com I was heavily advised to begin with the year Ceci was drafted to have a real understanding of what may have gone awry. As Will mentioned in his tweet below, Ceci was a very promising young defenceman coming out of his D+1 year. He put up 64pts (19-45-64) in 69 games in his final season of junior.
The following season he was immediately thrust into a top-4 NHL role playing alongside Chris Phillips. Across his 6-year NHL career thus far, Ceci has been paired with the following players; Chris Phillips, Jared Cowen, Patrick Weircioch, Dion Phaneuf, Mark Borowiecki, and Max Lajoie. Not one of these defencemen would, at the stage of their career they played with Ceci, be considered a top-4 worthy defenceman.
Throughout his NHL career, Ceci has consistently been a negative possession player on his team. He is contently outshot, out chanced and outscored by his opposition both in comparison to league averages and his team’s averages. It is very difficult to deny that when Ceci is on the ice his team has a more difficult time than when he is off it. Cody’s numbers don’t look good with a Corsi of 44.1 (-1.9%rel) and a Fenwick of 43.9 (-3.0%rel). Whilst only 4 of the 10 defencemen for Ottawa had positive relative numbers (10 game min.), Ceci has only once had positive relative numbers in his NHL career.
Cody Ceci also hasn’t been the best at preventing high danger opportunities in his career. Especially over the past two season the Senators in general have seen a well above league average number of shots between the slot and the crease. Ceci had the second worst numbers on his team in terms of high danger chances against per 60. Probably the worst stats of his 2018-19 are that he ranked 10thin NHL defencemen in goals against per/60 and 1st in chances against/60. Whilst none of the Senators defenceman looked good in these numbers, it’s a concern that Ceci was literally the worst of all of them in some departments.
Although the Ottawa Senators were outperformed by the opposition when Cody Ceci was on the ice in 5v5, he was a bigger factor on the penalty kill. Ceci ate up the most minutes of all penalty killers in Ottawa in 2018-19. His numbers certainly weren’t fantastic, but they were above a horrible Ottawa’s team average. They also seemed to concede less shots from the danger areas on Ceci’s side of the ice compared to the left side.
Does Ceci have a role with the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Given Cody Ceci’s career to date it is very difficult to argue that he is a $4.5M, top-4 defenceman in the NHL. He has been shelled in his own end through the entirety of his 6-year career. The numbers up the other end don’t do much to take the edge off his defensive game either. However, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, with one of the best analytics departments in the NHL, made a move for him and gave him a contract. Dubas has gone as far as saying he will likely pair Ceci with one of Jake Muzzin or Morgan Reilly for the upcoming season. There may be something that has been missed in terms of Cody Ceci’s upside, that Dubas is aware of.
As Will Scouch and I discussed, there are some underlying attributes and numbers that may bring a pause to the negativity. Whilst Ceci has consistently been outshot, in the earlier days of his NHL career there was a strong trend of those shots coming from the left side of the ice. In fact, it wasn’t until last season that Ceci’s shot maps started appearing with so much red in high danger areas. This correlates with the timing of Ceci moving from second pairing minutes to clear top pairing usage. Also, worth noting is that with the slightly better numbers whilst playing a second pairing role. Ceci was still consistently paired with a defenceman who certainly wasn’t worthy of second pairing usage.
There is a clear trend in the last two seasons where Cody Ceci has been relied upon as a top pairing defenceman. As his role has increased his play has decreased, showing he clearly isn’t able to play that top pairing role. However, with proper sheltering from the tough matchups and playing alongside a very competent partner in one of Muzzin or Reilly.
It is hopeful that a 2019-20 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs could see an improvement in Cody Ceci’s game. Playing alongside one of the aforementioned will allow Ceci to be the complementary player on a pairing. That’s something he has never had the chance to do in the NHL.
I am by no means saying that Cody Ceci will turn into a top-4 shutdown defenceman, but there are some reasons for more optimism than has been shared. If nothing else, I hope this can at least give fans a reason to allow a player who clearly lacks confidence to find his feet before getting the treatment he did in Ottawa.