Toronto Maple Leafs: Overachieving

Apr 6, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) watches before a face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Air Canada Centre. The Lightning beat the Maple Leafs 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) watches before a face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Air Canada Centre. The Lightning beat the Maple Leafs 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be a great team sometime very soon. But it won’t be next year.

For those thinking that we are one player away, a little experience away, one goal or one save away from going deep into the playoffs, let me remind you of something that is easily forgotten in all the Leaf hype.  The Maple Leafs overachieved this season.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s break it down a little…

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Mitch Marner: Before the season started, half of the world thought that he wouldn’t make the NHL roster past 9 games. Heck, even Mike Babcock had no idea.  He went on to record the most assists of any rookie Maple Leafs ever. Conclusion: exceeded mostly everybody’s expectations (just maybe not Mark Hunter).

Auston Matthews: Not much has to be said about the next Captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Scoring 40 times in 82 games then another 4 in 6 games in the playoffs.  Conclusion: Exceeded the crazy high expectations that we all had for him.

Nikita Zaitsev: An NHL rookie, playing top line minutes most of the season and fair amount of PP time.  He never looked too out of place. Finding a guy for free (KHL) that is solid enough to garner a $4.5M 7 year contract is a pretty sweet pickup by the Leaf organization. Conclusion: Exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Tyler Bozak: Had a career year in points.  Stayed healthy (mostly). Kept up with Marner (again, mostly).  Was a mature voice in the locker room. Conclusion: Considering he only missed 4 games and was even better than normal on the face-off dot, he too exceeded my expectations, a little.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

JVR: Scored 29 times. Showed great hands. Concluded: Met expectations.

Freddie Andersen: Except for the first 6-8 games of the season, Freddy looked solid through and through. Giving the rest of the team the confidence to be able to play their game. The Maple Leafs needed a calming presence in goal and they found it.  Conclusion: Met expectations.

Zach Hyman: A work horse.  A grinder. A babcock favorite.  The head coach even suggested he may be the best forechecker in the league. For a guy that we traded Gregg Mckegg for, he is pretty darn good.  Conclusion: Exceeded expectations.

Connor Brown: 20 goals for a mostly forgotten prospect.  More goals than Mitch Marner. Conclusion: Exceeded expectations.

Nazem Kadri: Nobody but Babcock knew he had the defensive skill that he showed this season.  While he was far from the Selke-like player many thought he was, he was a great force against the oppositions top players. Conclusion: Exceeded expectations.

Toronto Maple Leafs
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William Nylander: Calder contender any other year and two time rookie of the month. Could he be better than Marner?  Conclusion: Met expectations but exceeded them if you only include playoffs AND the IIHF tournament.

Brian Boyle: He was the perfect fit at the perfect time.  I will also say he exceeded expectations, but mostly because of his leadership and timing.  I have no doubt that the Maple Leafs would have missed the playoffs if we didn’t trade for him at the time that we did.

Jake Gardiner: The media talked about as a number-one when Rielly went down to injury.  Clearly he did not live up to that hype, but we was good enough to have us talk about him like that.  He also ate up a ton of great minutes in the playoffs.  Conclusion: Exceeded some expectations.

Hun-lak: Both guys looked like they belonged where they played, on the third pairing.  And that is a lot to say considering last season they looked a little slow at times.  But they were solid and dependable this season. Conclusion: Exceeded expectations.

Mike Babcock: Played up to nine rookies at any one time and made the playoffs.  I mean, are you kidding me? Bab’s system is working like a charm and his message is resonating not only in the Leafs locker room but also on the Marlies.  “Being a good pro”, should be painted on the inside of the locker room walls. Expectations: My pick for Jack Adams…exceeded expectations.

Team: A team that last season finished dead last and had up to 9 rookies dressed made the playoffs.  Not only did they make the playoffs though, but they went to 5 overtimes vs. the President’s Cup Trophy winners. For a team nobody expected to make the playoffs, they definitely overachieved.

Next: Roundtable: Nylander at Center?

Of course I left off the underachievers, like the Laichs, Greenings, Michaleks, Gauthiers etc. but they barely got any ice time. And that is the point. Anyone of the Maple Leafs that had significant playing time either met or exceeded expectations AND stayed healthy. Unless we really upgrade our roster for next season, don’t expect that the recent playoff run (if you can call it that) will be enough to launch them into the 2nd or even 3rd round of the playoffs. This season went as well as it possibly could have.  It was a perfect storm and we should not forget that. The Leafs deserve more patience from us.  Let’s just enjoy that we are ahead of schedule instead of expecting them to keep accelerating.