Maple Leafs After Season Report: Top Six


John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs season is over, as they exited with a whimper, losing 12 of their last 14 games. As part of the end of season roundup we’ll dissect how each player performed this season. Grades associated with each player are based on how they did in regards to expectations of what they would provide coming into the season as well as player growth and development. With all that being said, here’s the Maple Leafs top six forwards.

Phil Kessel

Kessel signed his new contract extension earlier this year, putting him in place with the Toronto Maple Leafs until 2022, when he’ll be 34. While Kessel gets knocked around in the media a lot for his often times lackadaisical attitude and his defensive game, his scoring is what really matters to the Leafs.

Kessel tied a career high in goals this year with 37. He was the second highest scoring right winger in the league behind Corey Perry, who beat him by two points. He finished tied for sixth in overall scoring.

This is hardly a one time fluke. Over the past three years Kessel is tied with the second most points in the NHL.

So that’s pretty great. Kessel is still young at 26 and has scored at least 30 goals in five of the last six years, only missing out on the lockout shortened season last year where he still got 20 in 48 games.

He’s also incredibly healthy, having not missed a game since 2009. Leaf fans can clearly count on him to net between 30-40 goals every year for the foreseeable future.

He did however appear to run out of gas near the end of the year, as the Leafs top line had been relied on very heavily. Over the final 14 games of the season where the Leafs dropped off the face of the earth, Kessel had only seven points.

In terms of this year, it was right on par with what Kessel has done in the past and should continue to do into the future. He’s a top tier NHL scorer but he still needs to work on his defensive side.

Grade: A

Tyler Bozak

Bozak answered some of his critics this year. His career high of 18 goals and 47 points in 2011-12 in 73 games were all broken this year, in far fewer games.

While he did battle injury he is what he’s been for several years now, a two way centre who plays on the PP and PK, chips in with some offense and plays a decent defensive game while taking very few penalties.

Bozak has four years at $4.2-million per left on his deal, but will need another solid season next year to keep his doubters at bay. That won’t be easy if the Leafs bring on another centre.

The knock against Bozak is still there, he’s not a number one centre, he doesn’t score like a number one centre and this article from last year is still valid. The argument can be made that he doesn’t elevate his linemates at all, that he actually brings them down.

That being said, Bozak is a solid piece of the Leafs core. He finished fourth on the team in scoring and at the age of 28 is in his prime. If another centre was brought in Bozak as a second or third centre would be pretty good.

The worry though is Bozak may be due to regress at some point. This year his shooting % is over 21 per cent. Bozak has always been a low volume shooter with a high per centage (over 16 per cent in his career) but a drop of even five per cent would see him drop to around 12 goals a year.

Also troubling is Bozak, a supposed faceoff specialist, actually loses more draws then he wins. He finished 61st this year at 48.7 per cent among full time centremen.

He’s still got a lot to work on, more offense, better defense, better in the circle, etc, but he is still improving. A diminished role may actually help Bozak, rather than hurt him.

Grade: B+

James Van Riemsdyk

Brian Burke doesn’t get enough credit for the fact that he got JVR from Philadelphia for Luke Schenn. What an amazingly one sided trade that turned out to be. It’s also a perfect example of why you don’t abandon young talent. The Flyers traded a 23 year old coming off of 24 points in 43 games, unhappy with his progress and his flashes of brilliance followed by streaks of bad play.

Since coming to the Maple Leafs, Van Riemsdyk had 32 points in 48 games last year, good for .67 ppg, and 61 points in 80 games this year, which works out to .76 ppg. He also reached the 30 goal plateau for the first time this year.  Offensively you have to be happy with his development.

Defensively he’s still a bit of a work in progress, though he’s certainly improved from when he first arrived. He’s spent some time on the PK, even contributing two shorthanded goals this year.

He’s also shown real chemistry with Phil Kessel, something Team USA noticed when keeping the two forwards together in Sochi. As a younger piece of the Leafs core, signed for $4.25-million until 2017-18, Van Riemsdyk was another bright spot for the Leafs this year. His improvement in tight to the goal was very noticeable and added something the Leafs have needed for years.

While still very young, Van Riemsdyk is a key cog in the Leafs future and should continue to develop and get better over the coming years.

Grade: A

Nazem Kadri

What was that about abandoning young talent? It’s very possible that no athlete in Toronto faces as many attacks from fans as Nazem Kadri. He’s constantly attacked in the media, on call in shows, over twitter, everywhere. Every day someone says the Leafs should trade him.

Trading a 23 year old who just set a career high in goals and points, in his first full season in the NHL, is a perfect example of stupidity. Just how bad is it? Well let’s take a look at other players around Kadris age.

John Tavares is 23, a centre, drafted six spots above Kadri in 2009. He put up 66 points for the Islanders this year before being sidelined by an injury at the Olympics.

Matt Duchene is 23, a centre, drafted four spots above Kadri in 2009. He has 70 points this year, which is a new career high.

Evander Kane is 22, a left winger, drafted three spots above Kadri in 2009. He has 41 points this year, his fourth full NHL season. He’s also been a healthy scratch this year.

Brayden Schenn is 22, a centre, drafted two spots above Kadri in 2009. He has 41 points this year, a career high, in his first full NHL season. His 20 goals are also a career high.

Scott Glennie is 23, a centre, drafted one spot behind Kadri in 2009. He’s played one NHL game.  He has 28 points in 49 AHL games this year.

Based on that, Kadris 50 points and 20 goals seems to be better than several players taken above him. So what is everybody so upset about? The fact that Kadri won’t ever be as good as John Tavares or Matt Duchene? How unrealistic is that?

Truthfully, Kadri had an excellent year last year putting up 44 points in 48 games. Somehow fans and media took that to mean that Kadri was now magically a point a game player, which is ridiculous, and are now upset when he has regressed to the norm.

Perhaps Bryan Hayes of TSN sums it up the best.

Kadri does have a lot to work on still. He has bad defensive lapses and his faceoff ability is among the worst in the league for those with at least 650 faceoffs (75th out of 80).

He’s still rounding into form offensively but has shown enough flashes of brilliance that you can see he’s moving in the right direction.

Kadri is a key piece of the Leafs future and trading a 23-year-old who scored 50 points in his first full season is asinine. Go ask the Flyers how that worked out, or ask Dallas if they’ll take the older Loui Eriksson and his 37 points over Tyler Seguin and his 84.

Grade: B

Joffrey Lupul

While he managed to avoid major injury and played the most games (69) since he had 79 in 2008-09 for the Flyers, Lupul is clearly trending downwards.

The 30-year-old winger had 44 points, .64 ppg, this year, a clear drop from the over 1.0 ppg he had last year in very limited action, or the year before where he had 67 points over 66 games. Part of that is the emergence of James Van Riemsdyk filling the number one left winger role, so a drop is to be expected.

That being said, Lupul is still an incredibly important piece of the Leafs core. Signed through 2017-18, Lupul is responsible for the secondary scoring that any team needs. While his numbers may not be eye popping, it’s worth noting that Lupul finished 30th in scoring for left wingers. The much hyped Matt Moulson finished 24th, with seven more points in six more games.

Lupul still has a lot he can work on with his game. Defensively he’s poor at the best of times, sometimes dropping to horrific. That’s not going to get better as he gets older and slower.

When his contract runs out he’ll be 34, turning 35 before the next season starts. That makes Lupul one of the few ‘top six’ pieces that could be moved at some point over the next few years as he can add scoring depth to any team he’s on. He’s a five time 20 goal scorer with 385 points in 600 career NHL games.

In fact there’s a real risk with keeping Lupul, which is why trade talk has already begun to heat up. He’s 31 this summer and has played just 228 of his teams 376 regular season games since 2009-10. That’s just over 60 per cent. Contrast that with someone like Kessel who has missed 12 games in the same time period.

Due to the injury concern and the poor defensive side, Lupul may become a key piece in a trade this summer.

The key for Lupul moving forward is to stay healthy, continue to score and try to improve defensively.

Grade C+

David Clarkson

Is Clarkson even a top six piece for the Leafs? The truthful answer is no, but based purely on the size and length of his contract I’ve included him here.

First off many have clamoured to buyout the winger and get rid of him. While that shows an incredibly poor signing by management, here’s where it gets much worse. You CAN’T buyout David Clarkson. James Mirtle wrote about it here and Tyler Dellow wrote about it here.

The obvious reason to buy anyone out is to save money on a player not deemed to be valuable so you can spend it elsewhere. That being said, a look at capgeek’s buyout calculator here shows the Leafs would save only $555,556 in four of the six years. That’s not enough to pay an AHLer to take Clarkson’s spot.

What’s more, because of the majority of the money being in signing bonuses, you can’t even trade Clarkson to a team looking to get to the cap floor since he actually costs more than his cap hit until 2018-19. Even then he has a modified no trade clause (he has to give a list of 14 teams) and has a no movement clause, so you can’t bury him in the minors.

Long story short, we should all sign up with Clarkson’s agents at Newport Sports Management Inc. because they wrote perhaps the best contract for their client in the entire NHL. So for those hoping for a buyout, or for Clarkson to be traded, it’s not going to happen.

What’s more, the good people over at Leafs Nation pointed out the Clarkson is like a black hole to his linemates. Lupul and Kadri have noticeably better numbers when Clarkson isn’t on their line. That’s bad, especially in Lupul’s goals/60 and Kadri’s points. Kadri produces TWICE as many points when Clarkson isn’t on his line.

The good news is Clarkson is nowhere near this bad…right?

Not only is this a career low for Clarkson in terms of points, it’s also a career low in shooting per centage. Just 4.9 per cent of his shots are going in this year, well below his career average of 9.1.

His shots are also way down. In his career year he had 228 shots on net, this year he had 102.

So while the Leafs were looking to toughen up after the game seven collapse against Boston last year, they added an overpaid, long term signed, unmovable, non-scoring winger who fights. When you put it that way it sounds like a very Maple Leaf style move.

Oh and in case you were curious, Clarkson missed more games due to suspension (12) then points scored this year (11).

He was also outscored by SIX Leaf defencemen this year.

The only hope for Clarkson and Leafs fans going forward is that Clarkson manages to bounce back, at least a little. Clearly there is a lot of room for improvement and maybe Clarkson can recapture some magic and at least grind out 20 points while being difficult to play against.

His lone bright spot was his ability to be a sandpaper style player. His 159 hits were fourth on the Leafs this year and he was tied with Frazer McLaren with the most fights for a Leaf this year with nine.

Grade: F

Coming up tomorrow on the Maple Leafs after season report will be the bottom six forwards.