This year's team finished the season with 100 points, good for third in our division, fifth in our conference and seventh overall.  By the way Leaf fans have been reacting, you would think we missed the playoffs and traded our first round lottery pick (I'm looking at you and laughing Ottawa).  


Morgan Rielly  (A+)

Last summer Leafs Nation was complaining about our defence after watching them fall apart in the third period of game 7.  Nobody was blaming Morgan Rielly, they saved that for Gardiner.  But a lot of Leaf fans were complaining we don't have that stud number one Dman.  Then Morgan Rielly took it upon himself to become that number one stud Dman.  We needed him to raise his game and he took it to a level nobody expected.
Mitch Marner  (A+)

What a great year for Mitch Marner.  Couldn't come at a better time for him, being a RFA, he is going to cash in this summer.  And he deserves to.  He consistently finds more open ice than any other Leaf and his passes have given Tavares an easy 47 goal season.  His attitude on the ice is infectious, the team feeds off it and when he is on top of his game, the team is usually playing well.
John Tavares  (A)

Johnny Toronto had a great season.  He decided to come home and he made the right choice.  He put up career numbers with Marner on his wing and he is exactly what our core of young talented kids needs.  They need a good influence like Tavares.  He shows up for every game, he works his ass off every shift and he practices as hard as he plays.  Without being on his line, Matthews will benefit from just being on his team and watching his approach to the game.

Auston Matthews  (A)

Matthews had a great season.  Considering his linemate didn't sign until the end of Dec. he was very productive.  He helped Kapanen and Johnsson take their games to another level and he reached a career high in goals and assists in an injury shortened season.  Leaf fans crap on him every time he hits a bit of a slump and yet we also demand he is the next capatain.  I hope our fans don't chase him out of town one day.  I can't see them turning on him like Gardiner, Sparks, McCabe, Murphy but I could see him looking at the shit we put our players through and saying fuck it, and signing somewhere else when he becomes a UFA.

Kasperi Kapanen  (A)

Here is another guy who is going to get paid this summer.  He hit 20 goals on the last game of the season but it's not how many, it's when and how he scores his goals that makes me love Kapanen.  The first time I saw him kill a penalty on the Marlies, he scored a shorthanded breakaway goal and with his speed, I thought to myself, he is going to be an important part of the Leafs future.  He scores big goals, game changing and game winning goals.  I would not be surprised if he eventually scores the most important goal in our franchise history.
Andreas Johnsson  (A)

Who knew this kid could compete for a job on Auston Matthews left wing?  
I did, and so did anyone else watching the Marlies last year.  Johnsson is tenacious and he never stops moving his feet.  He forechecks hard and uses his speed to turn over pucks in our opponents end.  He too is a RFA in the summer and deserves a decent raise.  It will be interesting to see if Dubas can keep all this talent on one team.
Zach Hyman  (A)

Everybody loves a Toronto boy who works his ass off every shift.  Zach Hyman is this teams workhorse.  He may not be a tough guy who knockout the other team's goon but he will stand up for his teammates and he wins his battles for the puck.  He deserves to stick around for the Cup years.
Freddy Andersen  (A)

Freddy started the year strong but got injured in December.  At the time, I thought it might be good for the Leafs.  Give Freddy some time off so he is fresher going into the playoffs and I thought that Sparks would benefit from a few games in a row while we had a good cushion of points.  Freddy's numbers haven't been as great since he came back but our defence hasn't been as good either.  If Marincin is in the lineup, the other team is going to score, doesn't matter if Brodeur or Hasek are in net.  So Freddy should be given a little slack for his numbers in the second half of the season.  He will be ready for the playoffs and I predict he will have a better series that Tuka Rask.
William Nylander  (B)

Leaf fans love to have a whipping boy, they need a scapegoat to blame every loss on.  They feel like they have to point a finger at someone every time we lose.  After holding out for a contract that he deserved and will be considered a steal in a couple years, Willy finally signed.  But by then the fans had turned on him.  We were playing great hockey without him and we needed something to complain about, Willy's hold out gave us that opportunity.  I believe everyone that crapped on him this season should be forced to admit their stupidity when he scores an OT goal in the playoffs.  I was at the game in Boston a few years ago when he scored a hat trick.  He's found his game, I wouldn't bet against him comig up big in the post season.
Jake Gardiner  (B)

Look, I’m not blind, I saw him fall apart in the third period of game 7 last year, I see the holes in his defensive game, but I can also see the good things he brings to the team.  Unlike a lot of Leaf fans, I was able to appreciate his contributions to the Leafs before he got injured and we saw what life is like when you replace Gardiner with Marincin.

I understand he has to go and if it was up to me, I probably would have moved him at the deadline.  I was thinking we might get a second rounder for him and if we did, I would have been willing to part with a third round pick to get Adam McQuaid (he went to Columbus for a fourth and seventh).  That would have cost us our second pairing lefty for a second pairing righty and we would have traded our third round pick for a second. I thought it made sense at the time and I am sure once Dubas saw Gardiner and Dermott get injured down the stretch, he was kicking himself for not doing it.  I didn’t want the Leafs to be buyers at this year’s deadline, but I wasn’t opposed to bringing in some insurance on D if they were capable of standing up to the Bruins. If we aren’t going to get into the market for a rental player, why rent our own? If you think you aren’t re-signing him, move him at the deadline, unless you are ready to go all in. Think about how much JVR and Bozak contributed to last year’s first round loss to the Bruins. In hindsight, wouldn’t it have made sense to trade JVR and Bozak at the deadline. Sure, maybe we lose in 5 or 6 games, but we probably could have come out of it with a handful of decent picks and still ended up losing a close series. So when I say I would have moved Gardiner, it is not because I don’t trust him against the Bruins this year, it is because we are losing him for nothing in the off season.  Those of you saying good riddance, I get it, he was frustrating to watch some nights. But if he goes to another team and is used properly, I hope Leaf fans look at the way we treated him and learn something from it. I could see him having great success on a team like the Penguins or the Panthers. Before you judge him, remember, Gardiner was a winger his whole life and learned D at the pro level from coaches like Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle. When Babcock got here, Gardiner was a defensive disaster, it’s easy to crap on him but if you look at his career in Toronto, he has come a long way under Babcock.  He’s not perfect but nobody is, if we had Bobby Orr played for the Leafs back in the 70’s, Leaf fans would have complained he was always out of position. When Gardiner moves on Zaitzev will become our next whipping boy until we run him out of town and turn our attention to someone else.
Tampa Bay just tied the record for most points in a regular season, they have weaknesses too.  Every team does, it’s the nature of the salary cap era, that’s what is so impressive about the Lightning this season.  They did it with an imperfect team. Every team has a player making more money than they should, every team has a player making less than they should, every team holds their breath when they have to dress a call up because one of their regulars got hurt.  Every team has a Jake Gardiner playing somewhere in their lineup. Maybe he is a forward with tons of skill but he is being used to kill penalties and not on the power play. Maybe he is a backup goalie taking over the starter role because of an injury or a slump to their number one.  

Every team has a player being asked to play beyond their capabilities.  The Leafs are no different.

Nazem Kadri  (C)

Naz hasn't had the year I was hoping he would have.  I'm sure it wasn't the year he was hoping to have.  It's not that he played poorly, he just didn't have much luck this year.  He would heat up for a few games here and there and when he was on fire, he looked great.
It almost seemed like he was trying to figure out his role now that Tavares is here.  His role should be the shut down centre.  I am hoping Babcock plays him with Hyman and Kapanen in the playoffs and challenges them to shut down the Bergeron line.  Nobody is going to shut down that line completly but if Kadri makes it his mission, he could make Bergeron and Marchand pretty miserable out there.

Playoff edit....once again Naz proved his heart can get him into trouble in the playoffs.  This year, he was defending a cheap shot hit on Patrick Marleau.  I love Naz for standing up for his teammates but he has to learn to pick his times better.

Garrett Sparks  (C)

What do you call a backup goalie that never lets in a soft goal?

A starting goaltender.

What can I say, I love Sparks.  I’m a Marlies season ticket holder, I have seen what he is capable of.  Leaf fans haven’t seen that yet. I believe there are 2 reasons we haven’t seen the best of Garrett Sparks yet.  

First and foremost, Mike Babcock is notoriously hard on his back up goalies.  Most coaches would give the back up the easier game of the back to backs, hoping the number one might steal a game if he is playing with a tired team in front of him.  Not Babcock, he plays Freddy in the first game hoping to get the 2 points so if they lose game 2, they at least got 2 points. I suppose this makes sense on some statistical level, but there is something to be said for helping a young goalie find his confidence at the next level.  Babcock hasn’t made it easy on Sparks but maybe it will help him be mentally tougher in the long run. Babcock probably wanted to keep McElhinny over Sparks because he fit in with the team and did a great job for us last year. He has had a great year for Carolina this year too. In a perfect world, we could have left Sparks and Picard on the Marlies this season and kept Mcelhinny with the Leafs. Unfortunately, the rules did not give us this option. We were going to have to waive 2 of our 3 backups. I think Dubas did the right thing, maybe not the best thing for this year, but the best thing in the long run. It’s all about asset management. You don’t let the 25 year old AHL goalie of the year (that you just spent 5 years developing) walk away to keep a 36 year old lifetime backup, you just don’t. If you are crapping on Dubas for this decision, ask yourself what you would be saying about Dubas if Sparks got claimed by Carolina and they played him properly with a good defence and he went on to take their starter job?  You would be shitting on Dubas for wasting a valuable asset. You still haven’t seen what Sparks is capable of at this level. When Andersen went down with an injury in December, Sparks should have had his opportunity to get comfortable at this level. Instead, he got hurt too. We ended up getting Hutchinson out of it and he’s been pretty good on the Marlies but to all those Sparks haters demanding we send him down and bring up Hutchinson, trust me, Hutch isn’t dominating that league the way Sparks did the last couple years.


In September, Dubas had 3 capable NHL backups and he could only keep one.  Every other GM knew this. I’m pretty sure they were all hoping he would be dumb enough to waive Sparks so they could get a shot at a free asset with a huge upside.  No Gm was going to give Dubas anything for any of our backups because they knew we would lose 2 to waivers anyway, so it’s not like Dubas was going to get any value in return if he tried to trade the AHL goalie of the year.  He had to keep him.


The Leafs spent 5 years developing Sparks into the AHL goalie of the year.  He did everything the organization has asked of him, he has earned a fair shot.  How would it look to all the other kids working their asses off on the Marlies to see their goalie raise his game to the level Sparks did and then never be given a chance?
Especially to just get waived? You want your prospects to know they have a chance so they keep progressing. Nothing slows development more than feeling like what you do doesn’t matter.
Curtis McElhinny has had a great year with Carolina and I am happy for the guy. He was a great backup for Freddy last year and he has been a great backup for Mrazek this year. He is good in the second half of back to backs, that is a valuable skill for a backup goalie to develop. But that is his ceiling. He is a 36 year old career backup goalie. There is nothing wrong with having a guy like that on your NHL team, unless you have a 25 year old AHL superstar who is ready to make the jump and his AHL contract is up. If we wanted to keep him, we had to promote him and let's face it, he earned his opportunity. Some goalies don't hit their prime until 27-30. Spraks is 26, he should be finding his ceiling soon, but as long as he is only playing the second half of back to backs, we may never see what he is capable of. Help the kid find his game Babcock. It's in your best interest in the long run.


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