As of right now, the Toronto Maple Leafs are at the officially official halfway point of the season at 41 games played. There are only 4 players who have played all 41 games: Captain Dion Phaneuf, sniper Phil Kessel, awesome guy Joffrey Lupul, and struggling Nikolai Kulemin. Then, with 40 games it’s Luke Schenn and Carl Gunnarsson. As for the Leafs as a whole, it has been a up and down year. They began very well in the first few months, then in around mid-November they began to struggle. This lasted until around, well, now I guess where the Leafs have seemed to re-find their groove from earlier in the year, winning their first 3 games in 2012. Back to the players (who are probably the focus of this article). There have been surprises, both good and bad. Some players have played the way we expected. So, let’s begin to hand out the Toronto Maple Leafs’ midway report cards.
Colby Armstrong: Incomplete.
The one they call “Armdog” has had some terrible injury luck this year. You remember how I just talked about who has played the mos games? Colby Armstrong is nowhere near there. He’s played all of 9 games so far, which matches the number on his jersey. When he actually is in the lineup, Armstrong is clearly a great presence for the whole team. I hope he gets back soon!
Darryl Boyce: Incomplete.
Same grade as Armstrong, much different situation. Armstrong has missed games solely based on injuries. Boyce has only played 8 games because of injuries to guys like Armstrong. I love Darryl Boyce’s style of hockey and would love to see him stay with the team after the injured guys return.
Tyler Bozak: B+.
Last season, Tyler Bozak was bad. There is no way around it. He was bad. in 82 games he had 32 points and was a -29. One positive was his FO% which was 54.6%. This year, however, he has been pretty good. Through 35 games he has 25 points and is a +4 with a 50.9 FO%. He developed great chemistry with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on the #1 line before getting injured, as well.
Mike Brown: C.
I was debating giving Brown an incomplete seeing as he hasn’t played half of the games (he’s played 19), but I decided to give it to him. What Brown does doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Most of the time. Brown is fast and physical. He’ll fight, if needed. He’s a team guy and it seems like the locker room loves him.
Tim Connolly: B+.
Tim Connolly is currently 6th in team scoring with 22 points. He has played 29 games. If Connolly had stayed completely healthy, he would have 31 points. That would put him in 3rd for team scoring. That, my friends, is the story of Tim Connolly’s career. The man could have had much better numbers throughout his career if it wasn’t wrecked by injuries.
Joey Crabb: C+.
If you watch the Leafs at all, you know Joey Crabb does nothing special. He’s good defensively and chips in with some points here and there. But, if you watch the Leafs at all, you know that because he doesn’t do one thing really well, that’s what makes him valuable.
Mikhail Grabovski: B.
Mikhail Grabovski is either really good, or very unnoticeable. At the beginning of the year he was the latter of the two. But, he has began to show signs of last year’s Grabovski. One thing he has improved is his FO% which currently stands at 49.4%.
Nazem Kadri: Incomplete.
I would love to give Nazem a grade, but he’s only played 11 games. I think he’ll be a Leaf for the rest of the year (barring a trade). He’s showing that he really wants to be a full-time NHLer by improving some of his earlier flaws like his defensive play and decision making with the puck. One of his best traits is his ability to draw penalties. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s his speed, dangles, whatever, he seems to draw a lot of penalties.
Phil Kessel: A+.
This should come as no surprise. Phil has been the Leafs best player, and one of the NHL’s best players as he is tied for 2nd in league scoring with Claude Giroux and is only 1 point back of league leader Henrik Sedin with one game in hand. Kessel is also 2nd in the NHL’s goal race with 24 (4 back of leader, Steven Stamkos). Many (including myself) didn’t think Kessel could do this for this long at the start of his hot streak. Well, he’s shut me up that’s for sure.
Nikolai Kulemin: C-.
I don’t want to rip into Kulemin too much because I can’t really get mad at him. He’s been in a huge slump for pretty much the entire year. I call it a slump because he’s still getting a lot of scoring chances, whereas someone who is struggling may not get a lot of scoring chances because they aren’t moving their feet, being aggressive, etc. Kulemin is doing all of these things, the puck just isn’t going in.
Matthew Lombardi: C.
Matthew Lombardi isn’t a scorer, we all know that. What he does is kill penalties and be very fast. He was hurt for a good chunk of the year so that might have hurt his grade because sometimes he’s not that noticeable all the time so I can’t really get a good read on him.
Joffrey Lupul: A+.
To me, Joffrey Lupul has been the surprise of the season. For the entire NHL. He got traded to Toronto along with Jake Gardiner for Francois Beauchemin last year. In my opinion, he was kind of a contract dump at the time by the Ducks so Toronto could get Gardiner. Well, he’s much more than a contract dump now. He’s tied for 3rd in league scoring (2 points back of the lead) and has gelled EXTREMELY well with Phil Kessel. These two are, in my opinion, the 2nd best duo in the NHL right now (behind the Sedins of course) though a case can be made that they’re the best duo.
Clarke MacArthur: C+.
Clarke MacArthur has been very… average. He stands out in some games, he plays ok in others. He’s usually noticeable, so that’s good, but his game is such that he’ll never be invisible, but sometimes he might not be a stand alone player like last year.
Jay Rosehill: D+.
What more do I need to say about Jay Rosehill? In fact, I don’t need to say anything on my own. To take a page from Itchy and Scratchy from “The Simpsons”: “He fights, he fights. He fights, he fights, he fights. Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight.” Yep, nothing more to say than that.
David Steckel: C+.
Hands up if you thought that David Steckel would have 7 goals at the halfway point? Steckel was brought in at the end of training camp for pretty much one thing: win face-offs. And he has done that pretty well with a 57.1 FO%. But he’s also added 7 goals. That’s obviously not a lot, but for him, it’s much more than expected.
Matt Frattin: B-.
“But if he was so good, why did he get sent down?” Two things. 1. Other people outplayed him. 2. I base my grade, not on stats alone, because Frattin was doing so many good things. He created chances for himself and teammates, he was a physical player. He just couldn’t bury a lot of those chances. Frattin basically drew the short straw to be sent down so some injured guys could return.
Keith Aulie: Incomplete.
We start off the defense just as we did with the forwards, an incomplete grade. But, unlike Armstrong, Aulie wasn’t in the lineup because there were just too many defensemen ahead of him. So he went to the Toronto Marlies to hone his skills. Now, with some injuries and good play, Aulie has been able to stay in the lineup recently.
Cody Franson: C+.
Cody Franson started out his Maple Leafs career in the press box. Then, when he had chances to play, he didn’t play so well. But after another stint in the press box, Franson has been a consistent player for the Leafs. His defensive game isn’t always great, but his offense (more specifically, his shot) has been pretty darn good.
Jake Gardiner: A-.
If you read my posts, you know just how much I have been impressed with Jake Gardiner this season. His stats don’t jump off the page (10 points [all assists] in 37 games) but he’s definitely one of those players you need to watch to know how good he really is. I’ll start with his defensive game. Gardiner is known for his offense mostly, but his defense doesn’t get enough credit. He is very solid in his own end and makes the right read most of the time. Now, offense is where Gardiner impresses me a lot. Again, his stats don’t show it, but his offensive skills are really good. He’s very calm and relaxed when moving the puck up the ice, whether it be on powerplays, 5-on-5, 4-on-4 or even on the PK sometimes too when he needs to handle it. And that concludes my Gardiner love fest for this post (maybe).
Carl Gunnarsson: A-.
This is another player you need to watch to notice just how effective he really is. Gunnarsson isn’t spectacular at either offense nor defense. But he is pretty good at both. The offensive stats aren’t always there, but he does a good job with his decision making with the puck in the offensive (and defensive) zone. He may be, the best defenseman on the Leafs in terms of positioning and shot blocking. He leads the team in shot blocking and always seems to be in the right place to make a play.
Mike Komisarek: B.
Mike Komisarek was just awful in his first few seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was hurt a lot, he tried to do to much on offense and defense and took dumb penalties all the time. This year, it seems Komisarek went back to playing a simple, defensive, physical brand of hockey that made him popular in Montreal.
John-Michael Liles: B+.
Before hi injury, I though Liles had a good shot at becoming an All-Star. That probably won’t happen now, but he was still very good before suffering a concussion. In fact, he was just heating up with 4 points in 3 games (not counting the game he got hurt in). Let’s hope when he returns he can start from where he left off.
Dion Phaneuf: A.
Phaneuf is the only one of the Leafs’ blueliners to play in every game, and that’s huge, because as a captain, to be a good leader you need to be there night in and night out helping the team win. Dion is currently 5th in defenseman scoring with 33 points and has logged huge minutes for the Leafs every night. It was kind of scary seeing him get hit by the puck in the face vs. Winnipeg, but he didn’t miss a game playing 2 days later vs. Detroit (and he played rather well, I may add).
Luke Schenn: B.
Luke Schenn was horrible in is first few weeks or so. I mean he was REALLY bad. He was getting pretty much 4th liner ice-time to show for it. But, up until the game vs. Detroit, he was pretty darn good. He was getting solid minutes and gelled with whoever he played with (Gardiner, Gunnarsson, Liles). I don’t think the game vs. Detroit means anything. Or, at least I hope not.
Jonas Gustavsson: B.
Coming into training camp, Gustavsson was pegged right away as the back-up to James Reimer. He took it well, but, obviously, wanted the #1 job. An injury to James Reimer occurs, Gustavsson get his first chance. He doesn’t do too hot splitting time with Ben Scrivens. James Reimer returns, end of Gustavsson’s chance. Well, not exactly. Reimer struggles mightily. Gustavsson has now reeled off 3 straight wins and should play tomorrow vs. Buffalo. Keep winning, keep playing, Jonas.
James Reimer: C.
James Reimer’s stats wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the PK. His stats are horrid when the team is down a man. To me, he hasn’t looked the same since coming back from the concussion. He got off to a solid start but, since returning has been awful and isn’t even the starter anymore. I would love to see Reimer do well, I love the guy, but I want the team to do well first, and if Gustavsson is going to be the guy who wins, then that’s fine by me.