After completing 22 games this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have secured 12 victories, endured 6 losses, and faced 4 overtime setbacks, accumulating a total of 28 points. This places them in the 4th position in the Atlantic Division, with a mere two points away from the second spot. Unsurprisingly, the Boston Bruins lead the division with 37 points. As we approach the one-third mark of the season, it’s time to assess the team’s performance with our first-term report cards.
Ilya Samsonov: Samsonov’s journey as the starting goalie last season began somewhat unexpectedly when Matt Murray was sidelined due to injury. Despite stepping into the role under these circumstances, Samsonov had a commendable and consistent season, and provided superb goaltending as the Leafs beat Tampa in round one of the playoffs.. Unfortunately, his momentum was disrupted during the Florida series when an injury led to his replacement by Wall, who many believe is a superior goaltender. This season, Sergei’s performance has seen a decline, with observers noting a lack of sharpness and apparent struggles to maintain focus. Reports suggest that personal difficulties may be affecting Samsonov, who candidly admitted to feeling less than great during an interview with Sportsnet on October 27. Sweating from the team’s practice, he acknowledged his challenging circumstances but expressed determination to fight through it. Publicly thanking his coaches and teammates for their support, Samsanov has sought solace in articles on mental strength, leaned on his wife Mariya and family, and spent considerable time with goalie coach Curtis Sanford, who emphasizes a positive mindset. Reflecting on his current situation, Samsonov emphasized the importance of his team and family, considering the Leafs as his second family. As a new dad who underwent arbitration with the Leafs over the summer, failing to secure the desired multi-year contract, he finds himself once again on a one-year, prove-it deal, set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2024. Despite the challenges, Samsanov remains focused on the big opportunity at hand, showing resilience in both his personal and professional life. C-
Joseph Woll: Slowly gaining the trust of Leaf Nation, Woll may in fact be the chosen one. The one who brings balance to the force. After 55 years, he might be the hero capable of leading the Leafs to a celebratory parade down Yonge Street. Despite his defense’s shortcomings, Wall deserves a solid B this term. With additional support on the back end, an A by the end of the year seems plausible. B
Morgan Rielly: Rielly has been a pivotal player for the Leafs. The acquisition of Klingberg was intended to ease Reilly’s workload on the first power play, but Klingberg’s disappointing performances and subsequent long-term injury have led to a reevaluation. Since sidelining Klingberg, the Leafs’ power play has notably improved as well as their won-loss record. Rielly, often playing close to half the game, has emerged as a superhero defenseman, showcasing exceptional play and determination, earning him an easy A. If he keeps up his current play, he could be nominated for a Norris Trophy. A
John Klingberg: In the earlier stages of his career, Klingberg showcased brilliance as an offensive defenseman. However, a persistent hip injury has transformed his on-ice performance, making him appear disoriented. Three or four years ago, he and Rielly might have formed a formidable duo. Presently, it seems likely that Klingberg will require season-ending surgery and may follow Jake Muzzin onto the Long Term Injured Reserve List for the remainder of his playing career. This unfortunate situation merits a grade of E.
Timothy Liljegren: Liljegren‘s season was progressing well enough until an unfortunate can-opener collision with Brad Marchand resulted in injury. Adding to the frustration was the lack of support from his teammates when he was down on the ice. Despite some inconsistency in the few games played, his performance in Sweden prior to the injury showed promise. Overall, a C+ reflects his season to date.
Jake McCabe: Although often described as a heart-and-soul teammate, McCabe falls short of instilling fear in opponents or evolving into a solid number two defenseman. While he possesses the capabilities of a three or four defenseman, the necessary mean streak and skill set are lacking. Despite commendable effort, success in the big leagues requires more. C
Mark Giordano: At the age of forty, Giordano is a much trusted blueliner for the Leafs until a recent injury. He’s excelled as a penalty killer, adept in breakouts, and consistently contributes to solid defense. Though not the Norris calibre player of his Calgary Flames days, Giordano’s veteran presence and strategic use of experience compensate for some loss of speed. Giordano is a true student of the game. B.
Simon Benoit: It appears Simon Benoit might be on those players who spends his career shuttling between the NHL and AHL While contributing positively in short stints, he may not be a long-term solution for a team with championship aspirations. D
William Lagesson: Lagesson serves as a fill-in and emergency replacement for the team. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear to possess the qualities of a solid NHL defenseman. Struggling in his own end and lacking intimidation despite his size, Lagesson doesn’t seem to offer a substantial solution for the team’s defensive challenges. His contribution is akin to a temporary fix for the beleaguered blue line, warranting a grade of D.
Conor Timmins: Despite facing constant rehabilitation from injuries, Timmins showcases commendable effort on the ice. Displaying glimpses of a skilled offensive defenseman with some defensive capabilities, he may not be a Norris Trophy contender in the near future. However, if he consistently aids the Leafs in breaking out of their own zone, Timmins holds value and could emerge as a crucial depth player in the playoffs. B
T.J. Brodie: Brodie stands out as a player possessing the necessary skill, experience, and defensive acumen to make a significant impact every night. Capable of penalty killing, facing top-line opponents, and contributing to a shutdown pair, Brodie is considered the real deal. Despite facing challenges this year, particularly with injuries impacting the team, Brodie is expected to excel in the second half of the season as injuries heal. His overall performance a third of the way through the season warrants a grade of B-.
Matthew Knies: Envisioning a Calder-type season for Knies, playing alongside Marner and Matthews, would be ideal. Unfortunately, his rookie season follows a more typical trajectory. While displaying flashes of brilliance, scoring impressive goals, and showcasing adept play along the wall, Knies falls short of being the Michael Bunting replacement many hoped for. Anticipation remains high for his potential development into a prolific goal-scorer, but for now, he navigates the expected growing pains. C+
Mitchell Marner: Addressing Mitch Marner, it’s noted that his joyous summer wedding videos were posted all over social media and suggested a well-deserved celebration. His dancing skills were certainly entertaining. However, there’s a lingering feeling that a part of Marner hasn’t fully returned from the honeymoon. Only recently, after a puck deflected off his face, has he begun resembling the crafty Marner of old. The hope is that the dance continues, but this time it unfolds on the ice. B-
Auston Matthews: Being Batman is challenging when Robin isn’t at his best. Recalling Matthews’ impressive debut against Ottawa in his rookie season, with four goals heightened expectations for a swift Cup arrival. However, factors such as the Sweden trip, Marner’s performance dip and Bunting’s departure to Carolina, may have impacted Matthews’ game. Matthews came out of the gates on a tear and while not consistently dominant every night, is reminded that even Connor McDavid faces challenges. A grade of B- recognizes the hurdles he’s faced.
William Nylander: Reflecting on Nylander’s journey, he has demonstrated significant growth despite encountering numerous growing pains. Recognized for his exceptional skills and skating ability, Nylander embarked on an outstanding start to the season with a 17-game point streak. However, since returning from Sweden and joining Matthews’ line, his performance has seen a decline. Whether attributed to time differences or the adjustment to new linemates, Nylander remains a standout on a team with mixed performances, earning him the distinction of being the only A+ player on the roster at this juncture.
Ryan Reaves: Renowned for toughness and the kind of play Brian Burke admires, some have expected Reaves to be like a Corey Perry or at least reminiscent of Chris Nilan. However, this season the winger has been disappointing, as he appears to lack the defensive prowess and protection for teammates he was brought in for. D
Max Domi: Max Domi, son of Tie, a beloved Leafs player, was anticipated to bring the tenacity and truculence reminiscent of his father. Despite being a skilled player with shades of Nazem Kadri’s intensity, so far this season he has not lived up to expectations. D
Nick Robertson: After overcoming years of injuries to join the big team, Robertson has managed four goals in twenty games, projecting to a potentially modest 15-goal season. While recognizing that it’s not entirely his fault, there’s a sentiment that he, along with Domi, have not appeared competitive on most nights. A fresh start with a new team is proposed, and a trade might be beneficial. The grade assigned is a D-.
Kelly Jankork: Described as a utility player with the ability to perform up and down the lineup, Jankork is acknowledged for being a solid penalty killer and playing a smart defensive game. His consistent performance is recognized, earning him a grade of B.
John Tavares: Despite Tavares slowing down a touch, he remains effective on the powerplay and excels in the offensive zone with his vision, tenacity and stick handling. Tavares is commended as a tremendous leader by example, and his unwavering effort is unquestionable. B+
Tyler Bertuzzi: Initially expected to be Zack Hyman’s replacement, the third wheel for Marner and Matthews, Bertuzzi has struggled to find chemistry with the superstar duo. However, upon being moved to the second line with Nylander and Tavares, has begun to rediscover his game. Over the last month, Bertuzzi has shown significant improvement and appears poised to be a force the Leafs have hoped for in the upcoming playoffs. B-
David Kämpf: Players like Kämpf are deemed invaluable for their ability to take crucial draws, handle tough defensive assignments, and excel as a skilled penalty killer. Seen as a team player with a deep desire to win, Kamf is considered underrated, often viewed as the glue that binds a team together. B
Noah Gregor: Since making the team on a training camp tryout, Gregor has been an exciting player to watch, showcasing explosive speed and a deceptive shot. While it’s suggested he could benefit from higher placement in the lineup to explore his potential as a consistent goal scorer, he exhibits traits reminiscent of players like Steve Sullivan and Jaden Schwartz. Limited ice time is cited as a hindrance, warranting a grade of C.
Sheldon Keefe: While Keefe is recognized as an excellent coach, concerns have been raised about his perceived loss of the locker room. Refusing to assert authority over the core four and relying on them for a significant portion of the game has led to questions about the team’s readiness and tendency to spot the opposition a two-goal lead. A grade of C- reflects these concerns.
Brad Treliving: Treliving, seen as more old-school compared to Dubas, has faced criticism for his management of the Leafs. The dismantling of a decent Flames team and questionable decisions, such as overpaying Kadri in Calgary and the underwhelming additions of Klingberg and Domi in Toronto, contribute to a grade of D. Speculation arises about Treliving’s potential replacement by September or sooner.
Brendan Shanahan: The handling of what could have been a Stanley Cup-contending team has turned into a disappointing scenario, leaving the Leafs more as pretenders than contenders right now. While I comprehend Dubas’ desire for your position, there might have been an opportunity to elevate him to Vice President, securing his desired compensation, while allowing you to retain a pivotal role. Dubas, with his winning track record at various levels, appears poised to clinch a Cup at the NHL level in due time. If the Leafs fail to make a significant impact in the playoffs this year, it raises concerns about the potential for a change in leadership come summer.
by Myles Shane