The Leafs are meeting expectations for most. They’re winning games, scoring goals, and near the top of the standings.
They doing it though without William Nylander and for the last while, Auston Matthews.
That certainly wasn’t expected.
Most thought the Leafs would rack up points, but have issues on D. That pretty much has been the case. They’ve also seen Freddy Andersen pick it up and help fill the void by having two of their top players not playing.
It gives GM Kyle Dubas some food for thought. Is there a world where neither Nylander nor Matthews have a long term future with the team? That may sound crazy, but then again so might be giving both players 8 year top dollar contracts. Matthews now has a history of injury and there were those strange rumblings that resulted in coach Mike Babcock’s highly reported visit to Matthews in the offseason. If Matthews wants Tavares money now can you imagine the haul Toronto could get for him?
It also highlights that besides D and and long term goalie solution, the team needs a Tom Wilson like player or two. Someone that can play hockey and has some size and sandpaper. Star players need talented deterrents, even in this pinball age where the league doesn’t seem to want manly men to play the manly sport of hockey….I digress….and I love Tom Wilson. He could play for any team I ever would plan for. I bet the Leafs would love him too.
As for Nylander, not showing up is never a good thing. While I understand his position he clearly is putting his position ahead of the Leafs and that’s not a good thing long term. You don’t have to go full Kadri, but what if his not playing actually hurt the team? Again, do you want to go top dollar and term on Willie? I know this writer wouldn’t, especially with Tavares locked up.
I don’t want to pay $8 to 10 million for my 2C if I can avoid it. Neither Matthews or Nylander are Malkin, not yet anyway.
And now it’s report card time.
John Tavares has done everything expected of him and done it well. A+ I know I could go on and on, but there are others far more gushy than I.
Auston Matthews started hot and then went down with a shoulder injury. I don’t like shoulder injuries in scoring forwards. They frighten me long term. A
Mitch Marner really needs some protection. He’s a talented forward and even reads CFN (Hi Mitch!) He’s a keeper and gamer and I have a hunch will really have a great career in the post season. He’s earning his 8 year contract. A +
Nazim Kadri made a commitment to wanting to be a Leaf by taking the contract he did. He’s worked hard to become a very strong player on a Cup contending team. He’s a guy a coach can count on when the tough games go down. His +/- isn’t where it should be now, but that should even out. A-
Patrick Marleau provides veteran support, flexibility, and can play hockey although he his showing his age. It should be interesting to see what kind of playoff he has this year as his legacy is starting to really come into focus. B
Kasperi Kapanen may be making Nylander be expendable which would be a huge plus for the team. He needs to shoot a bit more, but the season is early. B+
Zach Hyman is a plugger, but he’s not getting the goals. He’s not a top six player. C+
Connor Brown slipped last year and isn’t improving much numbers wise this year. He has to step it up if he wants ice time with the big boys. C
Par Lindholm is winning faceoffs and playing D. He’s a perfect bottom six support forward. C+
Tyler Ennis has been given opportunity by the coach, but sadly hasn’t done enough with it. D
Josh Leivo is not making the most of his chance with the Leafs. Not sure he’ll finish the season with the big club if he doesn’t pick it up. D-
Freddy Gauthier seems void of Offense. That won’t work, even as a 4th liner. D-
Morgan Reilly has improved over last season so far. He’s by far the Leaf’s best D man. He’s leading the team with 23 points in 18 games. Toronto has him locked up for 3 more seasons at $5M each. A++
Jake Gardiner is kinda struggling in his contract year. It’s a bit bewildering and he’s improved of late, but he needs to find that extra gear if he’s going to stick with the team. B-
Ron Hainsey is leading the team in +/- at 37. His minutes need to be trimmed down a bit so he has something left in the tank for the postseason. B
Travis Dermott has moments where he really looks good, but those moments haven’t been transferred to meaningful numbers yet. When the Leafs acquire D help it might hurt him if he can’t elevate his game. For nearly 18 minutes a game he needs to do more. C+
Nikita Zaitsev only has 2 points in 18 games. That has to improve. While he’s there for more D than offense if you’re going to play 20 minutes a game you need to chip in. C
Frederik Andersen simply has put up great numbers this season, far better than his career averages. That’s great for the Leafs and great for Freddy! A+
Garret Sparks has only had 3 starts so it’s not quite fair to grade him such a small pool of work.
Coaching – Hey, I like Mike Babcock. I like what the Leafs have been doing. A
Kyle Dubas and the Leaf management team clearly realize their cap situation. How they navigate it will be powerful steps in their own careers. It’s a luxurious position to be in, but at the same time you don’t want to mess up. And you really don’t want to pull a Marc Bergevin and punt a major asset.
The Leafs splurged on John Tavares and it makes sense. He’s proven. He’s a Toronto boy and he’s a key player in a key position. It’s where you want to spend your dosh. How the rest of the team rolls will be interesting. The Leafs need TWO D men; not one as many media pundits blather about. They have assets, but you don’t want to squander them in the cap age. Asset management is King in today’s NHL.