Well, it is that time again, just after Christmas it is time to hand out grades to the players and management. It has been quite the season, where at one point after losing 6 games straight the Toronto Maple Leafs looked to be out of the playoffs with potentially no first round pick. When have we heard that one before? At one point things looked quite bleak and the season almost lost.
But then somehow Maple Leaf GM Kyle Dubas convinced his seniors such as president Brendan Shanahan the problem was not the on ice product but rather coach Mike Babcock and voila, the inexperienced Sheldon Keefe replaced Babcock as coach and Dubas looked the perverbial genius again.I'm still of the opinion Toronto has to make some changes to win a Stanley cup but I have been wrong before and would love to be again.I have delayed the report this year as coach Sheldon Keefe has a very small sample size and in my opinion had a very favourable NHL schedule to step into.So, here we go.
Former coach Mike Babcock gets a lump coal. His refusal to adapt or change cost him his job as the players tuned him out and clearly quit on him and his ancient style.After losing 6 in a row and having played .500 for about a year he was fired. There was no other possible course of action. Mike was good for the a young team for a couple of years but it just wasn't working out anymore. Grade : D. For the money being spent the performance just wasn't there.Boston even expressed surprised The leafs " Didn't adust" after last years first round playoff loss. In the end Babcock's reluctance to change was his downfall as his schtick ran thin with the players and fans alike.
New coach Sheldon Keefe has been a breathe of fresh air and his upbeat style has resonated with the players, so far. If I'm not mistaken he as to be the youngest coach to hit 10 wins so fast, ever, most certainly for the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. From what I can see Sheldon seems to be able to recognize the strengths and capabilities of his players and manages get it out from them.Sheldon even got the Leaf's backup Hutchinson his first win. Early to tell but Grade : A
Auston Mathews: Auston is scoring like a madman(29 goals in 44 games) which is exactly what he is paid to do. Some feel he lacks consistency, wish he would use his body more and could work a little on his two way game . But that isn't what he got $11 Million per year contract for and it could come in time. Grade A
Mitch Marner: Mitch has now moved up to play with with star Center Auston Mathews giving the Maple Leafs a dynamic duo. Mitch missed some games due to a nasty ankle injury but with 41 pts. in 33 games has played very well. Small sample size and has played a lot better under Sheldon Keefe : Grade A
William Nylander: Prone to floating, avoiding back checking, physical contact but has looked very good playing offensively with Captain John Tavares. Great offensive skills but usually leaves you wanting more defensively. Grade B.
John Tavares: He isn't having a career year by any means and may be starting to slow down a bit. He gets hit a lot due to the fact the Leafs have very little grit to protect their captain but he is still effective. Grade B.
Kaspari Kapanen: Not having a great year so far ,and seems to have lost some of his intensity from last year. A great skater but isn't scoring like he is capable of. Grade C. I think he has more to offer but so far a down year for him.
Morgan Reilly: Perhaps is playing injured or just misses Ron Hainsey but Morgan isn't having a career year so far and is prone to some defensive lapses making many question his number one status. Good offense but his defense is another matter this year. Morgan Reilly recently confirmed he is playing with a lower body injury. Grade C+.
IIya Mikheyev(soup) has quickly became a fan favourite. He has size, can skate, he hits and scores some nice goals. A great pick up having a very good rookie year before he got a serious slashed wrist injury putting him out for upto 3 months. Grade B.
Offensive defenseman, Tyson Barrie came over with Center Alex Kerfoot in the Nazem Kadri trade from Colorado and he is not having a great year. It is a little surprising as he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, usually players have career years at that time . For whatever reason he and the Leafs do not seem to be one with the universe. While many say the Maple Leafs improved powerplay is because of Barrie, I say it is because of Sheldon Keefe and Barrie will not improve the Leafs playoff chances. Dubas would be wise to get something for him by the trade deadline , especially if they can package a winger and get an upgrade on defense.It makes no sense to keep him when you have Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. Grade C-
Alexander Kerfoot has been an effective 3rd line center who isn't afraid to get involved physically and will chip in offensively. Grade B-
Jason Spezza looked all but finished under Babcock but he found his second breathe playing 4th line under Keefe and to me has looked quite good for a veteran who patiently waited for his chance. Given he was signed for free and his age and acceptance of his role. Grade B.
Zach Hyman came in late off injuries but to me is having his best year ever. There isn't much to not like about Hyman's game. He hits, he checks and has netted some nice goals this year. Grade A-
Andreas Johnsson was off to another slowish start when he got injured. He is the most likely to be offered in any trade package once he returns. I can't see the Leafs keeping both him and Kapanen.Grade C.
Jake Muzzin. People say he is slowing down, he never was that fast but I think he has played well and with jam and physicality. He got injured by Washington's Tom Wilson and played on with the injury but eventually had to recover . I think the Leafs would be wise to resign a guy like Jake on a 3 to 4 year deal. Muzzin brings a lot of intangibles to the team, including blueline grit. Grade C+.
Justin Holl: The Maple Leafs got lucky and found a top 4 defenseman out of nowhere really. They promptly gave him a 3 year deal at $2 Million per year. A great find and the real surprise find this year. Grade B+
Pierre Engvall is a former 7th rounder(2014) from Sweden.The winger has payed very well, mostly on the 4th line where he has chipped in with some timely goals. His arrival, along with his size and tools(PK killer) have made others expendable. A true revelation. Grade A.
Frederick Gauthier is a 4th liner who seems to be a bordeline NHL'er and with his size makes many wish he wasn't such a gentle giant.He does check well and can take faceoffs but needs to either score more or get more involved physically to keep his job .Grade C-.
Travis Dermott came into the season late from injury and to me looks to be a future top 4 defenseman who can chip in offensively while playing a physical style, he just isn't quite there just yet. Grade C+.
Dmytro Timashov is a former Mark Hunter 5th rounder who has played well as a 4th line winger, the question is does he have a future in Toronto ? Rumours are Dubas may be looking to move him. Grade C.
Codi Ceci came over from Ottawa in the Zaitsev, Brown trade. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. He is clearly not a top 2 defenseman despite the protests of Leaf GM Kyle Dubas and to me is for the most part not high impact. He is the kind of defenseman you only notice when he makes mistakes. Grade C.
Trevor Moore was playing reasonably well and was one of the Leafs more physical players before his injury. Small sample size. Grade C.
Martin Marincin. Despite being waived this guy hangs around like a bad smell. Grade D. Dubas just resigned him for another year at 700K per year.
Frederick Andersen: He has been for the most part stellar and most nights is the Leafs defense.The Leafs rely heavily on Andersen to make the big saves and then try and just outscore the other team much like the old 80's Edmonton Oilers and Grant Fuhr. So far, he has been the Leafs best player. Let's hope he doesn't burn out or get injured, the Leafs season depends on it .Grade A.
Michael Hutchinson: He got off to brutal start before finally winning a couple of games and was on many nights left out to dry. While he has looked better, he doesn't always make the big saves. Grade C-.
Kyle Dubas. Hard to rate him fairly right now. Will he trade Tyson Barrie or Cody Ceci or will get nothing? Is Jake Muzzin resigning or did he overpay for a rental? Was trading two first rounders wise on a cap strapped team? Has he overpaid the kids? Dubas has a couple of holes to fill before this team wins a cup, namely defense and backup not to mention grit. Grade C+.
Team grade B+: Defense still remains a concern and on many nights the team leaves their goalie out to dry. There is plenty of offense and as long as Frederick Andersen stays healthy they have a chance every night. The problem is the Leafs are getting injured and the playoffs are a different animal than the regular season. This style is fun to watch and works now but it may wear thin as the games get tighter and the NHL playoffs approach. Will the changes be made that are needed? Does Dubas even have the chips? I don't think another first round playoff loss will be received well.
Player to watch: Rasmus Sandin looks to be a future star defenseman.
Honourable mention: Timothy Liljegren, a 20 year old Right handed defenseman and a former first rounder should soon get a good look in the NHL, he seems close to being ready.
Wouldn't you know it, release report, Leafs go on a 3 game losing streak , including an 8 to 4 ass whoopin to Florida. Dubas better wake up, this team is heading for another first round exit. Something anyone could do, especially with all the money spent.Should leafs accept failure at this point? The answer is no. Anyone could guide this team to a first round playoff exit..anyone.