The calls will be there to fail the lot of them.
After a 3-13-0 finish to the season that led to the Toronto Maple Leafs sinking from ninth in the league to 23rd in the span of a month, that’s understandable, even if not everyone involved had an equal hand in the collapse.
The reality was the Leafs actually received some strong performances this season, with the top line producing at an elite level most of the year and Jonathan Bernier emerging as a very good goaltender in his first season as a starter.
Keep in mind that these grades are based on expectations, salaries and roles for the players, meaning a fourth line plugger making league minimum has to do a whole lot less than a top pairing defenceman who is one of the highest paid players on the team.
According to most, expectations for the Leafs coming into the season were that they’d be a bubble team and finish in the 95-point range. Their poor start meant they wound up with just 84, despite winning a franchise record nine games in a shootout.
Consider this report card an attempt at apportioning blame for falling short of even that modest goal.
Phil Kessel: A. Up until the Olympic break, Kessel was an A+, earning plaudits from around the league and on pace to finish second to only Sidney Crosby in league scoring with what would have easily been career highs. Like the rest of his teammates, he faltered down the stretch, with only six goals and 15 points in his final 22 games as he ran out of gas and opponents found ways to shut down the overworked top line. Despite his defensive limitations, Kessel remains a dynamic, dangerous player, one who lived up to expectations despite a limited supporting case and was the team’s co-MVP despite the ugly finish. And he did it earning only $5.4-million, in the last year he’ll come cheap.
Key stat: He had 30 first assists, seventh best in the NHL. He’s not just a shooter.
James van Riemsdyk: A-. The 24-year-old winger easily shattered his career high in goals and points, becoming an even better complement to Kessel in their second season together and showing terrific creativity and growth in tight to the goal. JVR became such a workhorse than he ultimately led all forwards in ice time with more than 21 minutes a game, but a late season injury – believed to be his back – hampered his effectiveness. The fact he didn’t record a single point on the power play after the Olympic break stands out.
Key stat: 279 shots on goal, top 10 in the league. He and Kessel combined for nearly one-quarter of all of the Leafs shot attempts (just shy of 1,000) – another sign of just how much pressure the team’s lack of secondary scoring put them under.
Tyler Bozak: A-. In the first season of a controversial new five-year contract, Bozak also delivered a career year offensively, surprising many by scoring at a 70-point pace despite battling two separate injuries. The tough part in evaluating Bozak is that his line continues to struggle in its own zone and, as the centre, a considerable portion of that naturally has to fall on him. Coach Randy Carlyle piled a ton of difficult minutes on the 28-year-old and he still produced, but the fact remains he would be better suited for a less onerous role. His work on the power play and penalty kill also left something to be desired.
Key stat: An 11.6 per cent on-ice shooting percentage, tied for third highest in NHL. This indicates his production will regress next season, likely to just below the 60-point range.
Joffrey Lupul: C. Part of the problem with Lupul is simply expectations. He had been a surprisingly productive player in his first 110 games in Toronto – with 45 goals and 103 points spread over parts of three seasons – and his charismatic personality had many wanting him to be the captain. Lupul, however, was always most productive when playing with Kessel and his fall into the 50-point pace range on the second line isn’t as unexpected as it looks. But if you add up the injuries, the contract and his lacking defensive game, it’s no wonder there’s talk he may be on the move this summer.