So The Athletic has been writing enough “X of the past decade” pieces to actually fill an entire decade. One they did was Mirtle looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs “roster of the decade”.
I wanted to do it a different way. He looked purely at the idea of the best players who were Leafs, I want to go on a line-by-line and pair by pair basis that takes us through that era.
Line 1: MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin
God damn I loved this line. In 2010/11 Clarke MacArthur had 62 points, Mikhail Grabovski was just shy of 60 points and 30 goals, and Nikolai Kulemin did hit the 30 goal mark. They finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th in team scoring (Kessel was just ahead with 64 points) and were the Leafs’ best line that year. They combined for 177 points that year, and were just a lot of fun to watch on a team that generally wasn’t.
They had mixed success in other seasons, eventually being broken up by a coach and GM tandem that started the trend for hating the Potato and Toaster Man. That’s how sentimental they were to a large segment of Leafs fans, myself included.
They had some magical moments together, but what sticks out the most to me is that game against Boston when Grabbo got concussed by Chara and still scored twice to beat them.
Line 2: JVR - Bozak - Kessel
In 2012/13, this top line came together thanks to one of Brian Burke’s few good moves as our GM before he was fired. In the lockout shortened season they helped the Leafs take and cling to a playoff spot for dear life, and dammit if they didn’t almost pull a passive upset over the Bruins after being down 3-1 in the series and looking outclassed the whole time.
In 2013/14, also known as the first “18-wheeler off a cliff” season, this line had pretty great seasons. Both Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk had 30+ goals, Kessel finished just shy of a point-per-game with 80 in 82 games, and Tyler Bozak had what I think was his best career year. Despite missing 24 games he had the second most total points in any season of his career. If he had played a full season he was on pace for 69 points (nice). This line almost dragged the team to the playoffs again.
Honourary mention: I almost picked the Lupul - Bozak - Kessel line of 2012/13 for this spot. They technically had more combined points in one season than with JVR on it, but they didn’t stick together as long and IMO Joffrey Lupul wasn’t as good as JVR.
Line 3: Kadri - Matthews - Nylander
I am cheating a bit here by putting Nazem Kadri on a line he never played with. I’m doing so for two reasons: 1) because Hyman was included on the next line, and 2) because I couldn’t make a list of best Leafs of the decade and not include Kadri.
The three of these guys really brought the Leafs into the new/current era. Kadri was around for longer, obviously, but his breakout came around the same time. Kadri had his best season by points in this season, and while Auston Matthews and William Nylander had better years in the future they both broke out in big ways as rookies. It was a magical run to make the playoffs after finishing dead last in the league the year before.
The Matthews line was really the team’s “best” line that year, too. Kadri was used more as a shut-down line, while Bozak and JVR with Marner were given cushy usage from what I remember.
What stands out most about them is Game 3 vs the Caps in the playoffs. When they were down early, it was Kadri who was running around like a madman hitting anything that moved... without getting suspended! Then it was Matthews scoring the first goal of the comeback. Then Nylander tied it up. Then Kadri fed Bozak for the OT winner. Still one of the best Leafs games I can remember seeing in my life.
Line 4: Hyman - Tavares - Marner
Don’t need to say much about a line that we just saw dominate last year. John Tavares almost hit 50 goals, Mitch Marner almost hit 100 points, and even Zach Hyman had 20+ goals and his career best in points while missing 11 games.
You might think Hyman doesn’t deserve to be on an “All Decade” team, but I would counter with the fact that the Leafs really sucked and there weren’t many other great choices, and he was on a “top” Leafs line for 3 full seasons (now in his 4th).
They carried the Leafs as the top line while Matthews adjusted to life with a rotation of different wingers not named Hyman and Nylander. Together, they almost did the impossible and beat the Bruins in a playoff series.
Pair 1: Kaberle - Beachemin
We’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel with the Leafs’ defense in the early part of the decade... actually, the whole decade I guess. But! This was actually a decent pairing on a pretty bad team. Tomas Kaberle wasn’t at his peak by this point, but still had 49 points during Franchois Beauchemin’s first year with the Leafs. That was good enough 2nd on the team in total points that year!
Meanwhile, Beauchemin ‘only’ had 26 points, but had a good year for the Leafs. Caveat: I don’t really remember if they played together a lot as an actual pairing, but looking at the rest of the defensemen from that year... I am just assuming.
Pair 2: Gunnarson - Phaneuf
When the Leafs were supposed to be “good” through the Wilson and Carlyle era, this is the Leafs’ “top pair” that sticks out in my mind. Carl Gunnarson was the Dion Phaneuf whisperer, a safe and reliable Swede who is actually more like a ‘stay at home’ defenseman than any of the meatheads with all the maneuverability of a concrete house foundation the Leafs tried in this era (looking at you Mark Fraser).
Couldn’t tell you how good they were from a fancy stats perspective, and don’t even really care to look at their point totals. They were simply the “iconic” top pair for the Leafs in the middle of the decade.
Pair 3: Rielly - Gardiner
I’m technically cheating again, but we can’t talk about the Leafs in the later era of the decade without these two. They were our lights in the dark, two fast and skilled defensemen, albeit in two very different ways. Jake Gardiner was our slick passing Corsi God, and Morgan Rielly was our thoroughbred Ferrari who invented the total hockey activated roamer/4th forward defenseman (until Keefe re-invented the idea this month).
Goalie 1: Reimer
All respect to Andersen, there is no Leafs goalie for the decade I will more clearly see in Blue and White than James Reimer. He came out of relatively nowhere, a 4th round pick of the Leafs, a guy that the Leafs actually managed to develop (or at least not fuck up) into an NHL #1 goalie.
He played in 6 seasons, all of them between 32 and 37 games (lockouts, injuries, splitting time with another goalie). He had three above average seasons of .918 sv% or better, including the year he managed to drag them to the playoffs to avoid having an 18-wheeler season one year early.
He managed to single-handedly drag them back into the playoff series. They were down 3-1, going back to Boston, and posted two straight 2-1 wins, stopping 72 of the 74 shots he faced. He wound up with a .923 sv% that series despite giving up 4 or 5 goals in multiple games — he had to literally be a puck stopping God just for the Leafs to win any games that series.
Goalie 2: Andersen
Steady Freddie, you can set your watch to his seasonal save percentages. Frederik Andersen has his downs, but you cannot argue that he hasn’t been one of the most valuable Leafs in the last 3 seasons and change. That’s usually true for goalies, but considering the Leafs’ style of high octane offense and poor team defense, it’s been even more important for him to be good — and he has been fantastic.
More than that, he is our ginger fashion icon. He helps keep Annie sane during her fashion recaps, and probably helps keep general Leafs fans and coaching sane during the Leafs’ intermittent naps on the ice during games.
What do you think? If you have different ideas for the Leafs’ Team of the Decade, share it in the comments!
What group do you most associate with the Leafs’ decade?
|MacArthur - Grabbo - Kulemin||101|
|JVR - Bozak - Kessel||274|
|Kadri - Matthews - Nylander||74|
|Hyman - Tavares - Marner||34|
|Kaberle - Beauchemin||4|
|Gunnarson - Phaneuf||2|
|Rielly - Gardiner||37|