See Part 1 here.
Today: we look at individual performance of the Leafs at the halfway point of the 2014-15 season.
(5) What player has been the biggest surprise so far this season?
SCOTT: We all knew Parenteau was still talented, but after the year he had last year I don't think any of us expected Babcock to take such a liking to him or him to score like he has.
FIDDY: Leo Komarov.
ELSELDO: Komarov has legitimately played like a top 6 forward when given the chance, and fully deserves to be the Leafs All-Star rep.
FIDDY: I know some of it is high percentages and playing on the top line with Nazem Kadri, but raise your hand if you expected a guy with 12 career goals before this year to be on a 30-goal pace this season.
ACHA: Phil Kessel. I’m sad he’s not having the amazing season all the Leafs fans hoped for him, and that he was unable to stick on Crosby’s wing.
JP NIKOTA: Brad Boyes has probably been the most under-appreciated of the Leafs so far this season, but I’ve been quite impressed with what he’s contributed for the money the team is paying him. Komarov is probably a bigger surprise however, in that I don’t think even his most ardent supporters would have guessed he’d pot 20 goals this year, which he almost certainly will. He’s been a great fit alongside Kadri too, and I’m not sure anyone expected that.
SCOTT: I’ve liked Shawn Matthias’ game as well, but I wouldn’t say it’s surprising.
(6) What player has been the biggest disappointment so far this season?
JP NIKOTA: Grabner has been something of a letdown, but no one tops Bernier’s unfortunate season. Bernier can probably bounce back to an extent next season, and the Leafs had better hope so, because no one is trading for him now.
SCOTT: No question. He’s been given every chance to succeed, and hasn’t.
ACHA: I always took him off the hook because I figured there was no good system playing in front of him, but when he was unable to turn around even with Babcock’s defensive system, I realized it was due to his own lapses in concentration.
SCOTT: Others who have struggled haven’t been given that kind of opportunity consistently.
ELSELDO: Hopefully this is a blip, not a trend.
FIDDY: He’s starting to turn a corner now, but a sub-.900 SV% at this point in the season is, any way you slice it, pretty bad.
ACHA: Maybe being a new dad is making him tired (it’s genuinely exhausting to have a newborn), but he definitely needed the rehabilitation with the Marlies.
(7) What returning player on this season’s roster has made the most promising improvement under Babcock?
ELSELDO: Komarov, again. I liked him, but now I love him.
KATYA: James van Riemsdyk, you know, until he broke.
SCOTT: I think Jake Gardiner’s game has developed beautifully.
FIDDY: I think you were starting to see Gardiner turn it around a bit under Horachek last year; for him, it’s not so much Babcock as getting away from Carlyle. Carlyle’s brand of "play not to make mistakes" really stifled his talents.
SCOTT: He’s not taking as many risks as he did on Carlyle, but he’s playing more sound defensively and has really blossomed into a wonderful two-way defensemen.
ACHA: Kadri. I adore his increased rattiness. Babcock is excellent at special teams, so he needs someone to draw penalties to make those come into play, and Kadri has become the perfect Marchand-lite.
JP NIKOTA: It’s been a pretty fantastic year for Kadri in that he has succeeded in a new role as a shutdown player while continuing to produce a few points – and his shooting percentage is still coming around. He’s been great to watch.
FIDDY: Bozak or Phaneuf, simply for being used properly. Tyler Bozak is not a 1C. Dion Phaneuf is not Duncan Keith or Zdeno Chara. Babcock has realized this, is using them in more suitable roles.
(8) The Leafs have three goalies appear for them this year, and some tough choices ahead. James Reimer is a UFA, while Jonathan Bernier has a year remaining but, despite looking much better recently, has had consistency issues. Garret Sparks, impressive on both the Marlies and Leafs, also needs a new contract as he’s in his RFA year.
With that in mind, fill in the blanks: based on their performances this year and beyond, I want the 2016-17 Leafs goaltending tandem to be ____________, and I would achieve that by __________________.
ELSELDO: Bernier/Reimer, by staying put.
KATYA: only one of Bernier/Reimer, by trading the other one.
SCOTT: Bernier and Sparks, by trading James Reimer.
FIDDY: Reimer and Sparks, by extending Reimer and trading Bernier.
ACHA: Sparks and Madore, by trading Reimer and Bernier.
JP NIKOTA: Reimer/Bernier, by begging Reimer like crazy to stay.
FIDDY: Huh. Some difference of opinion here.
ELSELDO: I don’t think anyone would trade for Bernier, and Reimers play has been great. Bernier would be easier to move as a pending UFA so give them until the first half of next year to prove they’re your guy. Sparks is young, more time with the Marlies as #1 can’t hurt.
FIDDY: Some teams need goaltending enough to take on Bernier, like Calgary. Bernier and Reimer have been about the same statistically in their career, but I think you can sign Reimer for cheaper.
ACHA: I love the way Rob Madore plays in goal. He’s small, but athletic and smart, and has amazing hockey vision. There is no way on earth he’d make the Leafs lineup, but if he did, I think everyone would be happily surprised. I also want to see Sparks play more for the Leafs, and not in a backup capacity.
(9) You’ve uncovered a genie in a bottle that looks auspiciously like Lou Lamoriello. This genie has said he will grant you one wish in the form of an unconditional request: you are allowed to make one (and only one) change to the Leafs roster. Mike Babcock will be unconditionally bound to do whatever you ask him to do (for the purposes of this exercise, demoting someone and calling up a replacement will be considered one move; otherwise, one actual move only).
What do you do, and why?
SCOTT: Demote Froese and bring up Arcobello permanently. Even if Arcobello doesn’t have enough time left to up his trade value, he’s still a useful and gifted forward who deserves more of a look in the NHL.
FIDDY: Trade Polak.
JP NIKOTA: I would love to see Corrado play more through the end of the year, and if that has to come at the expense of Polak, that’d be great. If this can only happen after Polak is traded, that’s cool too. Wouldn’t want to entirely destroy Polak’s trade value.
SCOTT: Babcock's usage of Roman Polak and over-use of Byron Froese has burned the team a few times.
FIDDY: It gives Frank Corrado and Scott Harrington a better opportunity at being the 6D.
KATYA: Put Joffrey Lupul on LW where he belongs and play him with a decent offensive centre who shoots at a high rate, so not Holland.
Coming up Wednesday: Part 3, The Future