Season in Review, Player-by-Player

Season in Review, Player-by-Player

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    Now that the 2008-09 regular season has officially ended, it’s time to take a look back over the roster to assess each of the Maple Leafs‘ players.

    Note that I’m only including players who finished the season with at least one game played for the Maple Leafs, and am excluding those traded away during the course of the season.

    Statistics for those who were acquired mid-season reflect games played as members of the Maple Leafs only.

    SKATERS

    Jason Blake, W (78 GP, 25 G, 38 A, 63 PTS, -2 , 40 PIM)
    This season was much more successful than last for Blake, who showed he still has plenty of speed to burn and the hands to score 20+ goals with ease.   He was also surprisingly solid defensively, posting a -2 rating on a team that allowed the most goals in the league.   Blake faded somewhat after linemate Dominic Moore was traded, which suggests that he needs to develop a certain chemistry with his centre in order to be successful.  If the team can find another centre with whom he can click, his $4 million per season is, in comparison to many similar deals around the league, not all that bad in terms of his production.   However, the length remaining on the deal (3 more years) will continue to scare potential suitors away given Blake’s age (35).   Expect him to remain a Leaf and be good for another 20 – 25 goals next season.

    Andre Deveaux, C/W (21 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT, -3, 75 PIM)
    Called up from the Marlies to inject toughness into the lineup, and (briefly) add size to the PP unit, Deveaux had limited success early on in this role, before disappearing altogether.  Not exactly fleet of foot, he struggled to keep up to the play, and his lack of offensive acumen clearly showed.  Deveaux is a restricted free agent, and given the influx of collegiate signings may not receive a qualifying offer to remain in Toronto.

    Boyd Devereaux, C (23 GP, 5 G, 6 A, 11 PTS, +3, 2 PIM)
    Comeback player of the year, even though he only played the last quarter of the season?  The savvy veteran has got my vote.  Stuck in the minors all season, Devereaux made the most of his call-up, injecting the lineup with his usual fine defensive play and a surprising amount of offensive production also.    Devereaux can still be effective in a 4th line/PK role, and it would surprise few if he were to be retained on what would likely be a two-way deal.   He will probably be gone, however, if he is offered a one-way contract by another team.

    Jeff Finger, D (66 GP, 6 G, 17A, 23 PTS, -7, 43 PIM)
    Many writers have suggested that Finger is overpaid at 3.5m for what he brings to the team, and I tend to agree with that sentiment – but with a caveat: at least he was effective, and was a much better player than many had anticipated he would be.  Finger is a very good shot-blocker who possesses a better point shot than he is given credit for, and his 136 hits were second on the team.   While he may never live up to the dollar figure in his contract, he is nonetheless a positive contributor on the back end. Expect to see him in the second or third pairing, and as a regular on the PK, for the foreseeable future.

    Jonas Frogren, D (41 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 8 PTS, even, 28 PIM)
    A solid player in his own zone, the injury-prone Frogren never was able to stay in the lineup for an extended period of time.   When healthy, however, he proved to be every bit the force in front of his net that he came advertised as.   Arguably the Leafs‘ most fearless shot-blocker, Frogren also showed a nasty-edge when clearing the front of the net.    A limited skater, Frogren’s future lies in the 3rd pairing and on the PK.  He is a Burke/Wilson favorite and will most likely be back in the blue & white next season.

    Mikhail Grabovski, C (78 GP, 20 G, 28 A, 48 PTS, -8, 92 PIM)
    Grabovski was a revelation, proving to be well worth the future 2nd round pick invested in him.   One of the few players to exude maximum effort on a game-to-game basis, playing with grit and energy nearly every shift, Grabovski’s aggressive style fit perfectly into Ron Wilson’s forecheck-heavy gameplan. He has a definite future as an effective second-line centre in the league, and will only continue to improve as more talent is injected into the roster.   A key player on this team, moving forward.

    Niklas Hagman, W (65 GP, 22 G, 20 A, 42 PTS, -5, 4 PIM)
    One of the most effective Leafs‘ signings in years, Hagman earned his contract with steady, reliable two-way play.   Not a physical player, Hagman’s success comes from smart positioning in all three zones and a keen understanding of the mechanics of the transition game.   Look for him to continue his dependable two-way play as Grabovski’s winger for a few seasons to come.

    Jeff Hamilton, C/W (15 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 6 PTS, +2, 4 PIM)
    Rescued from minor-league oblivion and offered a chance to resurrect his NHL career, journeyman Hamilton responded well to the challenge.   Steady and smart with the puck, his sure puckhandling led to some shootout success.   While he probably will not be retained by the rebuilding Leafs, Hamilton has nonetheless played well enough to give himself a legitimate chance at finding an NHL home elsewhere next season.

    Christian Hanson, W (5 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, -1, 2 PIM)
    The first of several college free agents to sign with the Maple Leafs this season, Hanson did not look out of place in his first big-league action.   Although the jury is still out on his immediate NHL future, he showed signs of being effective in the offensive zone. However, he needs to use his size more to his advantage in order to maximize his chances of sticking in the NHL, especially in his own end.   Look for him to spend time in both the NHL and AHL next season.

    Jay Harrison, D (7 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT, -2, 10 PIM)
    Signed from the Euro leagues, Harrison showed in his second tour of duty in Toronto that he can be an effective depth player at the NHL level.   Not the most blessed of skaters, Harrison relies on strong positioning and solid physical play to maintain his spot in the lineup.   Whether the pending RFA is re-signed by the Leafs will depend on how they view their depth on defense, but if he is re-signed, expect him to spend the bulk of next season in the AHL where he will remain near the top of the Leafs’ call-up list.

    Ryan Hollweg, W (25 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, -7, 38 PIM)
    Acquired to add tougness to the lineup and fear to hearts of opponents, Hollweg did neither in his stint with the Maple Leafs.   Instead, fans were treated to dirty play, lacklustre fighting, and an absence of puck skills.  A restricted free agent, Hollweg will in all likelihood not receive a qualifying offer to remain with the Maple Leafs.

    Tomas Kaberle, D (57 GP, 4 G, 27 A, 31 PTS, -8, 8 PIM)
    The Leafs’ all-star defenseman endured his most difficult season to date, dogged by trade rumours, injury, and inconsistency all season long.   Kaberle’s defensive woes, well-documented in the past, were highlighted by the lack of talent around him this season.   Easily the Leafs’ best trading chip, the question arises as to whether or not his rare offensive skill set can be replaced on their blueline, and at what cost.   Kaberle is a definite candidate to be moved during the draft, or later in the offseason … but  only if the price is right.  The odds are just as likely that he will be on the Maple Leafs’ roster come the start of the 2009-10 season.

    Pavel Kubina, D (82 GP, 14 G, 26 A, 40 PTS, -15, 94 PIM)
    One of only two Leafs to play in all 82 games, Kubina averaged 22 minutes per game, and was on the ice in all crucial situations.   His +/- statistic took a nosedive, partially due to the lack of talent on the team, and partially due to his propensity to get caught out of position far too often.   A below-average skater, Kubina can struggle to recover if caught up ice.  However, his excellent point shot makes him a serious powerplay threat, and he is more than willing to throw the big hit, or lay down in front of a shot.   Although he can be dealt freely over the offseason, a 5m cap number for a player who is not considered a star is extremely difficult to move.   If Kaberle is dealt, expect Kubina to remain with the Leafs; otherwise, expect the Leafs to try to move him but don’t be surprised if they are unsuccessful in this venture.   The question is whether or not the Leafs’ brass feels his experience and leadership are more valuable to a young team than the second-round pick they are likely to be offered for his services.

    Nikolai Kulemin, W (73 GP, 15G, 16A, 31 PTS, -8, 18 PIM)
    Widely considered to be the Leafs’ top forward prospect heading into the season, Kulemin produced exactly the numbers most expected to see: fifteen goals in what was primarily a checking-line role.   Although he battled several bouts of inconsistency, Kulemin at times showed signs of developing a physical, two-way game.  He needs to use his size more, and play with more of an edge, but when he was on his game he played with an energetic style not dissimilar to Grabovski.   If he can do that more often, he could be a very effective 2nd/3rd line player in the not-too-distant future.

    Brad May, W (38 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, -5, 61 PIM)
    Acquired to add toughness, grit, and leadership to the roster following the failed Ryan Hollweg experiment, the veteran May was a solid role player for Ron Wilson’s youthful squad.   While he won’t do much with the puck from an offensive standpoint, May is not a liability with it, either, and can still hold his own as an enforcer when necessary.   A favorite of GM Brian Burke, May (who is UFA) will likely be offered a contract in the off-season to return as a 4th line energy player with a leadership role on the team.   That is, if he doesn’t decide to call it a career at age 37.

    Jamal Mayers, C/W (71 GP, 7 G, 9 A, 16 PTS, -7, 82 PIM)
    Acquired prior to the season to add grit to the roster, Mayers was somewhat effective early in the season, inconsistent throughout the bulk of the season, and near-invisible toward the end of the season.    With one year and 1.4m salary remaining on his contract, he is a prime candidate to be bought out as the Leafs look to create roster openings for younger players.  (Buyout math: 1.4m salary remaining x 2/3 value = 933k, 1 year remaining on contract, therefore buyout = 466k per year for 2 years.)

    John Mitchell, C (76 GP, 12 G, 17 A, 29 PTS, -16, 33 PIM)
    The new Dominic Moore?  In time, he might be.  John Mitchell impressed early and often during his rookie campaign, giving a relentless effort with every shift.  Although he endured several defensive lapses, he is a smart player who showed an ability to learn quickly from his mistakes. Mitchell also made intelligent decisions with the puck, posting a respectable point total in limited duty.  If he can improve the defensive aspects of his game, he could have a real future as a checking-line forward on the team.   Look for Mitchell to continue his development in a 3rd or 4th line capacity again next season.

    Kris Newbury, C (1 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, even, 2 PIM)
    One game, five minutes of ice for Newbury this season.   A productive AHL player, Newbury has not been able to duplicate that success in 44 games over 3 seasons with the Maple Leafs.   An unrestricted free agent, the gritty forward could seek a fresh start with another organization.

    Ben Ondrus, W (11 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, -4, 34 PIM)
    The Marlies’ resident tough guy and team captain has been called up in several seasons with the Maple Leafs, and although he hasn’t been a factor offensively, he hasn’t been a liability in his limited role.    But with the Maple Leafs re-stocking the prospect cupboard, there may no longer be room for Ondrus, who is a pending UFA.   If he is re-signed, it would be a two-way deal that would see him continue to suit up as a role player with the Marlies.

    Phil Oreskovic, D (10 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, -2, 21 PIM)
    The big defenseman took major strides in his AHL development this season, and was rewarded with a call-up when injuries struck the Leafs’ blueline.   Oreskovic surprised many with his hockey sense and his willing physical game.   An intelligent player with a limited skill set, Oreskovic looks to have a future as a number 6 or 7 defenseman for the Maple Leafs, and should see action in both the AHL and NHL next season.

    Alexei Ponikarovsky, W (82 GP, 23 G, 38 A, 61 PTS,  +6, 38 PIM)
    One of the more productive Maple Leafs this season, Ponikarovsky established career highs in goals, assists and points while seeing top line minutes for much of the season.   Most impressive, though, was the +6 rating he recorded on a team that allowed more goals than any other.   Roundly criticized for a lack of physical play despite his large frame, and a tendency to disappear for long stretches, Ponikarovsky may not be considered a good fit on a Burke/Wilson team.   Expect his name to come up often in trade talks during the offseason.

    Luke Schenn, D (70 GP, 2 G, 12 A, 14 PTS, -12, 71 PIM)
    Showing he belonged from the outset, last year’s first round pick justified the Leafs’ decision to trade up for him with a fine rookie season.   His improving physical game, positional play, and excellent hockey sense rightfully give Leafs fans hope for the future of the blueline.  Schenn is an essential building block for the future, and one of the keys to the future success of the team.  Expect him to continue his rapid development while receiving top-pairing minutes next season.

    Jamie Sifers, D (23 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, -4, 18 PIM)
    Recalled from the Marlies as an injury fill-in, Sifers did not look out of place with generally solid play in his own zone.   Sifers is strong positionally and will usually make the safe play with the puck instead of the risky pass or rush.   A restricted free agent, he may generate some interest around the league.  He is highly valued by the Marlies organization, however, so expect the Leafs to match any offer sheets that do not involve draft pick compensation.

    Matt Stajan, C (76 GP, 15 G, 40 A, 55 PTS, -4, 54 PIM)
    A point-per-game player over the first half of the season, Stajan faded down the stretch.   Thrust into first-line duty for much of the season, Stajan proved that he can hold his own in a scoring-line role.   One of the more versatile Maple Leafs, he is able to play effectively on any line in either a scoring or a shutdown capacity, although his true value lies on the PP and PK units.   The only knock on Stajan’s game would be his lack of physical play; but for a centre this is generally less of an issue than it would be for a winger.   Due to his intelligence, leadership, versatility, affordability, and youth, expect Stajan’s name to come up in trade talks during the off-season.  However, those are all reasons the Leafs may wish to keep him on the roster, also.

    Tim Stapleton, C (4 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 1 PT, -3, 0 PIM)
    In a brief cup of coffee with the big club, the Marlies’ sensation scored a memorable shootout goal in his first game.   Although his offensive skill set is undeniable, Stapleton’s defensive game requires a lot of work and his lack of a physical game will likely continue to hold him back from regular NHL duty.  However, he could be a very useful call-up in an injury situation.   Stapleton is a restricted free agent and is bound to receive interest from other teams due to his offensive skill set.  Similar to Sifers, expect the Leafs to match any offers for the popular Marlie that do not involve draft pick compensation.

    Lee Stempniak, W (61 GP, 11 G, 20 A, 31 PTS, -9, 31 PIM)
    Many people tend to forget that Stempniak had 13 points in 14 games when he was acquired from St. Louis early in the season.  However, he struggled to match that pace in Toronto, often disappearing for long stretches.  And when he’s not scoring, there is little else to his game.   A hot streak at the end of the season raised hope that he might yet be an effective player for the Maple Leafs, but with only one year remaining on his contract it is possible he could be a buyout candidate to open a roster spot.   (Buyout math: 3.5m salary remaining x 2/3 value = 2.33m, 1 year remaining on contract, therefore buyout = 1.17m per year for 2 years.)

    Anton Stralman, D (38 GP, 1 G, 12 A, 13 PTS, -2, 20 PIM)
    It was an up-and-down year for the highly-touted Stralman … literally.    With every return trip to the big club, Stralman’s confidence was visibly improving.   Although his offensive skills have never been in question, Stralman’s positional game and shot blocking are still a work in progress.  However, he continually showed improvement throughout the season, and has a bright future ahead of him.   Look for him to finally crack the Maple Leafs’ lineup on a full-time basis next season … provided a roster spot opens on a somewhat crowded blueline via trade, buyout, or injury (currently Kaberle, Kubina, Schenn, White, Finger, Frogren, Van Ryn remain ahead of him on the depth chart).

    Jiri Tlusty, C/W (14 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 PTS, even, 0 PIM)
    Perhaps rushed to the NHL too early, Tlusty struggled to find his game in three separate stints with the Maple Leafs during the past season.   However, during the second half of the year, he tore up the AHL, finishing with 66 points in 66 games with the Marlies.   Tlusty is learning how to use his size to his advantage, to which his coaches credit his rapid offensive development.  Expect him to be ready earn a place on the Maple Leafs roster next season.

    Mike Van Ryn, D (27 GP, 3 G, 8 A, 11 PTS, +2, 14 PIM)
    At times the Maple Leafs’ best defenceman last season, Van Ryn is unfortunately an injury waiting to happen, and cannot be relied upon to remain in the lineup for any stretch of time.    As such, his trade value is negligable, although he could be a buyout candidate to open a roster spot for a young defenseman.  (Buyout math: 2.9m salary remaining x 2/3 value = 1.93m, 1 year remaining on contract, therefore buyout = 966k per year for 2 years.)

    Ian White, D/W (71 GP, 10 G, 16 A, 26 PTS, +6, 57 PIM)
    What more can be said about Ian White’s resurgence?  From the press box to logging top minutes on the team, White earned his stripes with his positive attitude and tremendous work ethic this season.   His solid defensive play (+6 despite awful goaltending) and his ability to play forward in a pinch should help ensure his role as a key player for this team next season.   Look for White’s offensive numbers to continue to improve as the Leafs add more talent around him.

    Jeremy Williams, W (11 GP, 5 G, 2 A, 7 PTS)
    Williams continues to be an exercise in frustration.   Although his offensive abilities (namely his shot) are undeniable, he has not managed to stick in the NHL due to his lack of development in the non-scoring areas of the game.   An injury cut short his productive stint in the NHL this season, and he was unable to work his way back into the NHL lineup thereafter.    A restricted free agent, the Leafs may choose not to make a qualifying offer, as he does not appear to fit into their long-range plans.

    GOALTENDERS

    Martin Gerber (12 GP, 6 W, 5L, 3.23 GAA, .905 SV%)
    Although it seemed like Gerber rebounded in Toronto, his GAA was actually worse than in Ottawa (where it was 2.86), and his SV% only marginally better (.899 in Otw).   The biggest difference for Gerber was Toronto’s offense got on a roll at the end of the season, whereas in Ottawa he rarely had a good offense in front of him to take the pressure off.   Still, his decent showing in Toronto, coupled with his experience in the league, should be enough to land him a job in the league next season.   There is a chance he could return to the Maple Leafs as a backup, but the question is whether or not he is willing to take a significant enough paycut for that to happen.

    Curtis Joseph (21 GP, 5 W, 10 L, 3.57 GAA, .869 SV%)
    Although he at times showed flashes of his old self, Joseph looked to have slowed down significantly last season.  He is no longer reliable as a starter in the league, and even in a backup role he was inconsistent at best backstopping an error-prone defensive team.   Joseph has suggested that he would like to play another year, but league-wide interest is expected to be minimal.  If he does return to the Maple Leafs, it is far more likely he will do so in a coaching capacity, than as a player.

    Justin Pogge (7 GP, 1 W, 5L, 4.35 GAA, .844 SV%)
    It was a harsh learning experience for Justin Pogge, who faced a trial by fire in his first taste of NHL action and got burned.    At times, he showed flashes of his immense talent, but is clearly not yet ready to put it all together to compete at the NHL level.   His abilities, and his potential, are far too great to give up on him yet, as he is still quite young (22).   A restricted free agent, he will likely be extended a qualifying offer by the Maple Leafs, in the hopes that he may develop later than expected (on average, goaltenders do not fully develop until about 26 or 27, so time is on his side).    While it is possible he could win the backup job with the Maple Leafs next season, it is more likely that he will continue his AHL apprenticeship next season, and only see NHL action in the event of an injury.

    Vesa Toskala (53 GP, 22 W, 28 L, 3.26 GAA, .891 SV%)
    Expectations were very high for Toskala, following his brilliant play in the second half of last season.   However, Toskala never looked like he was quite himself during much of the campaign, reacting much more slowly than usual and becoming susceptible to far too many soft goals.   It came as little surprise when he was finally shut down for the season due to nagging hip and groin injuries.    If he can come back healthy next season and be the Toskala of early 2008, goaltending will not be a major concern for this team.  However, if his play does not improve substantially, look for Toskala to be dealt as a rental at next year’s Trade Deadline.

    So, who impressed you this season, and whose game needs more work?  Who do you think stays, and who do you think goes?

    I should mention that while I suggested several buyout possibilities, I imagine that only one buyout might actually occur, given that the team is still paying for Tucker and Raycroft.

    Then again, the GM happens to be Brian Burke, so I suppose anything is possible.

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