Welcome to my post/offseason rankings! In my midseason rankings (which were written in DECEMBER), I highlighted the, in my opinion, Toronto Maple Leafs' best performers, 5 Forwards and 3 Defenseman to be exact. This will be a re-grading and re-ranking of those same players, plus there might be some new editions? We shall find out shortly. First let me say once again that I take all my advanced stats off of www.naturalstattrick.com, so check them out! I also put some of the awesome work of Sean Tierney from www.chartinghockey.ca in here, go check this great website out too!
A quick reminder, here are the rules: Every player gets a Grade from A to F; depending on expectation before the season, and how they have done throughout the season. Seems easy enough, right? Let's get into it then.
Top 5 Forwards
Expectations were high at the start of the season, but had really been kept low by December, mainly because of Mike Babcock and the performance he got out of his team. And yet, the Leafs were on a winning streak after Sheldon Keefe took over (yes, all of that happened this season).The Leafs were expected to make the playoffs without much of a problem, and that hope rested on the shoulders of their star players. Now that we know how that weird play-in thing went, let's get into re-grading...
1 Auston Matthews Mark: from B+ to A
Let's be real here, he should've scored 60 this year, and could've broken the record of most goals in a season by a Leaf, and in a season where not much worked out, and there were few bright spots, Matthews really shined. I pulled up all kinds of stats last time around to say that he's not truly elite yet, and all those claims still stand with the numbers of the full season, but he improved even more defensively after Christmas, so I can't not up his grade.
2 John Tavares Mark: from B- to B
As was said in my midseason rankings, statistically, Tavares had a down year. But that is mainly due to the hand injury and his lacklustre start under Babcock. After that JT pulled himself together and was the same old JT, elevating the play of his linemates (such as William Nylander), and being a responsible 1B Center on this team. All the advanced stats suggest he played a really good season, he controlled more than 50% of GF, HDCF and CF, so that's all really great. He was also 2nd in points and assists, while being 3rd in team goal scoring, so while it was a down year, he was still really good. Sadly, he was also the captain of the team, and the team underperformed, so that makes him only a B.
3 William Nylander Mark: from B to B+
As I said in the midseason rankings, Nylander had a really bad year in 18/19, and his 19/20 was considerably better. He was one of the best goal-scorers in tight (https://www.chartinghockey.ca/shot-maps/,) , and basically shut up most of the trade-talk surrounding him. All of his advanced numbers are as good as 2017 too, and he even improved to 31 goals from his previous career high, which placed him 2nd in team goal scoring, only behind Auston Matthews. He could still be better defensively and along the boards in my opinion, but he's really found his game. Is he ever going to be in the Leafs top 2? Likely not, especially if the man in 4th finds his form...
4 Mitchell Marner Mark: staying at B-
It should come to no one's surprise that the Leaf's top 4 forwards are pretty much set in stone, and Mitch gets the 4 spot this year. While he was arguably number 2 last year, he started the year out pretty rough (as did everybody), and never really lived up to the 1 million dollars he was paid. Now that's not to say that he wasn't good, but his number were not as spectacular as you would have hoped. He also had a great year last year, hence the huge contract, and expectations were sky- high after that whole saga. Now Mitch picked himself up after Christmas and was on pace for 90+ points again, but we cannot oversee that he hasn't really improved ompared to ome other players, like William Nylander, so that's why he lands at 4th.
So that's rough. Engvall decided he just didn't want to play good hockey after he signed his contract extension after Christmas, and therefore is nowhere near 5th at the end of the season.
Andreas Johnsson is no longer on the team, and was injured for basically all of the rest of the season anyways.
Well, onto the actual Number 5. (Hot Take incoming)
5 Alexander Kerfoot Mark: A
Yes, its Alexander Kerfoot. Did anybody expect anything good out of Kerfoot? No, we certainly did not, he was basically a throw in in the now dreaded Tyson Barrie / Nazem Kadri. And yet, at least statistically, he was the 5th best player on the team with being top 5 in CF% and FF%, on top of leading a sub-par bottom six (which included Kasperi Kapanen) as the only good bottom-six forward. Thats the Hot Take. He was no kadri, but he was still on pace for 35 points and was defensively responsible. He did not stick in the top 6, but he didn't really get an opportunity to, and other players like Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev, who are the honourable mentions for this 5th spot, had much more favourable circumstances, and filled their roles, but that was to be expected. And you may quote me on this, but Kerfoot is staying, and he's going to be even better in the new look bottom-six next year.
Top 3 Defensemen
I really don't want to do this. I had pretty low expectations for the defence from the start, but since the best defensemen before the Sheldon Keefe era was probably Rasmus Sandin in his very limited time and role, I'm going to value the time under Sheldon Keefe more than the time under Mike Babcock. That said, after Christmas there were really only 2 good defensemen, you can probably guess who they are, so we'll see who ends up at 3.
1 Jake Muzzin Mark: A
We got exactly what we wanted from Jake Muzzin. He is the best actually defending defenseman on the Leafs, plays with an edge, uses his body well, and has great numbers too. HE plays well on the PK, is a great presence in the locker-room and can mentor the Leaf's younger defensemen. He is not getting younger, and when basically all of the Leafs defence was injured, he had to take a huge load up on himself and struggled at times, only having a 48% corsi over the whole season for example, but that shouldn't be a detriment to how important he was to a struggling Leafs team this year, and how important he will be in the future.
2 Morgan Rielly Mark: B
Even tough he was injured for a significant amount of time, once he came back, it was evident what the Leafs had missed over that period of time. He was a team leader, his stats were as good as ever, and he provided some much-needed offensive help from the backend. He only played 47 games but still had 27 points, and he was on pace for about 50 points in a full season, which is a down year, but would've certainly improved. He was not great in the play-in tournament, but no one was, so I don't really take away from his season for that.
3 Nobody Mark: F
Potential Hot Take? In m opinion, thats how bad the season really was. Finished 17th in the standings, and there were only two good defensemen on the team. Cody Ceci and the huge disappointment that was Tyson Barrie (I said he could turn it around in my midseason rankings, I was SO wrong) are thankfully off the team (good luck Pittsburgh with Ceci). Players like Sandin and Dermott were fine, although the Leafs needed more out of them, Justin Holl seemed to have a bet with Pierre Engvall on who could be worse after signing an extension, and Martin Marincin had one good rush against Vancouver, which earned him, you guessed it, an extension (to be honest, that goal was awesome). So I think I am at the very least not far off the truth with putting a blank at Number 3.
So that's it! I hope you enjoyed reading, let me know if there were any piping hot takes that you disagree with ;). You can find me on Twitter @theForester26. A big thanks to HardevLad for writing about my last article, I really appreciated that!
I also have another article planned for next weekend, so stay tuned for that!