Season in Review: Grading the Buds

Season in Review: Grading the Buds

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Nikolai Kulemin

A member of the A+ club.

The season is over, but the postmortem examination is just beginning. I’ll open this period of speculation, hope and dissection of our favorite hockey team with a piece that grades our entire roster beginning with forwards and ending with the masked men of TO.

Players who played part years like Matt Lashoff were not included because I think most would agree 11 games are not nearly enough to grade him on a seasonal basis, nor is it fair to that particular player. The grading system varies from A+ to D- but there is one exception (guess who?). Everyone likes grades.

Well, what are you waiting for? Do continue.

FORWARDS

Colby Armstrong: B+

Colby had really bad luck with injuries this season and he might not be worth $3,000,000 but the intangibles he brings to the table are undeniable. When he does play the Leafs are a much better team. Be it because he can draw calls like nobody else in the game, be it his offensive kick from the third line, his dressing room presence or his ever present sense of humor, he gives this team a positive spark. At one point of the season when he suffered from blurry vision the Leafs were 20-16-3 with him in the lineup and 3-11-3 without him on the game roster.

Darryl Boyce: B

To me, Darryl Boyce is one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. He fought tooth and nail for every puck and his place in the lineup. Not even that horrific nose injury, courtesy of a camera hole in the glass, could prevent him from featuring in the lineup. He ends the season with a +8 while spending a vast majority of his playing time on the bottom two lines. Five goals, some of them key for major Leaf wins, only add to his claim for a roster spot next year.

Tyler Bozak: C-

I, along with Leaf fans all over the world, hope his play this season was just another example of that famous sophomore slump or a product of Bozak experiencing his first full NHL schedule. A horrific plus minus rating of -29 overshadows a somewhat okay offensive output of 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points. But even that isn’t quite what we expected it to be considering he spent the majority of the season centering Phil Kessel and had a dip in production when you look at his 27 points and eight goals through 37 NHL games in his rookie year. His work on the PK and the fact he’s our top faceoff man brings hope for the future. He could still become a 2nd line center but his future probably lies in him being a 3rd line center with penalty killing acumen on a winning team.

Tim Brent: B+

Played in all but 3 games this season, he’s has proven to be a reliable bottom six player and a shot blocking machine with the kind of character you need to create a winning hockey team. His 8 goals isn’t something to be ignored either.

Mike Brown: B

I admit to being a little biased when it comes to Brown. Can you blame me? He’s a +1 playing on the fourth line and just about every shift this season where resembled a dog on a bone. Great wheels, underrated hands and sublime work rate, Burke really hit the jackpot with him. A perfect fourth line energy player.

Joey Crabb: C+

Much like Boyce, but with a bit less of an impact, he surprised a lot of people when being called from the Marlies. He probably still has a future with the organization, be it as an emergency call up from the AHL. I love his effort this year, love the fact he stuck with the big club but his days are probably numbered. Shame, he really deserves more.

Mikhail Grabovski: A+

He didn’t hit 30 goals but that didn’t stop him from being our best forward/player for the biggest part of the season. He showed consistency on a nightly basis and scored goals that brought us out of our seats while showing a two way game that made him Ron Wilson’s pet student and one of our heroes. 29 goals, 29 assists for 58 points and a +14 rating. Grabovski really improved as a hockey player and we can expect more of the same next year.

Nazem Kadri: +

Yes, just a plus. He featured in 29 games this year but his season is really a tale of two Kadris. 2010 Nazem Kadri turned the puck over, got too fancy on multiple occasions and played a game that was pretty far from NHL standards. The 2011 Nazem Kadri showed poise with the puck, better balance, decision making and played a more solid two way game while scoring and assisting on some vital goals. His two best games coming against Detroit and Buffalo late in the season is indicative of good things to come. His shootout winner over Boston put the finishing touches on the best game of the year for my money. Summer means adding bulk and gaining strength without losing speed. Him making the team next year is now the expectation.

Phil Kessel: B+

His grade falls below A due in major part the scoring slump he endured prior to the All Star break. That said, Kessel ended the season as our top scorer with 32 goals and as our leader in total points with 64. Minus 20 indeed, but to be fair he also showed a major improvement in his two way game after the All Star break. Kessel also proved he can dish the puck, trashing the one-dimensional moniker that had been put on his gamebreaking back. Oh, and one other thing, it’s really time to put the “Kessel deal” talk to bed.

Nikolai Kulemin: A+

What a step forward. Our second 30goal scorer was also a two way beast and destroyed his previous career highs in every major statistical category, ending the season with 57 points. His two way game didn’t suffer, quite the opposite, he was by far our best defensive top six forward throughout the season and should now be considered as one of the cornerstones of this franchise.

Joffrey Lupul: B

Lupul started the season on the slow side of things, being marginalized by Randy Carlyle on the Ducks roster after returning from injury and never really getting a real chance to jump into the swing of things. Then, Brian Burke called. Leaf fans can be pleased with what we got in Joffrey Lupul. A great fit for playing with Kessel, Lupul opened up space for our star player and allowed him to shine, not to mention him being a scoring threat all by himself. For a player who was coming off a career threatening injury and missed 87 games because of it, he looked really good and got Burke’s endorsement as his first line LW going into next season. With proper summer training and a whole season in front of him, it’s only up from here.

Clarke MacArthur: A-

The minus is only due to his little slump towards the end of the year, but other than
that he has been the NHL’s bargain of the year. With 62 points and having a cap hit of
$1,100,000, he earns about 16 129 dollars per NHL point. On the flip side, his former
teammate Tomas Vanek earns approximately 87 671 dollars per NHL point (73 on the
season). His attitude towards the game and emotions he brings game in and game out
make his contribution even more noteworthy. Now the only question is – how much?

Colton Orr: D+

Orr played his role well until that concussion grounded him for 41 games. That said he wasn’t as convincing in tilts as he was during his previous years. The overall impression is that Jay Rosehill can do a good job of filling that role without subtracting that much skill from the lineup.

Fredrik Sjostrom: C-

Decent penalty killer who was almost invisible in all other situations this season. The best way to describe his season would be – didn’t stand out, grey, bleak and unnoticeable. That’s the main reason he’s most probably not a Leaf come next season.

Jay Rosehill: C+

I love Colton Orr, but fact remains this team has looked better with Rosehill in the lineup, and Orr may be among a dying breed of pure enforcers who can’t really play the game. Rosehill did a good job dropping the gloves and protecting teammates as well as making the occasional contribution on the offensive side of the puck with 3 points in 26 games.

DEFENSEMEN

Keith Aulie: B+

Aulie was a rock since his recall in early February. His defensive presence allowed Dion Phaneuf to shine and his size, mobility made each and every Leaf fan salivate over his future. Aulie proved he isn’t shy when it comes to dropping the gloves and him dropping Scott Hartnell goes down as one of the highlights of this Leafs season.

Carl Gunnarsson: C+

It’s been a season of ups and downs for Gunnar. From a healthy scratch to a minute muncher, from horrific giveaways to steady poised plays, Carl Gunnarsson showed some of the form that made him a top four defenseman on the Leafs a season ago but he also seemed puzzling at the moment. More often than not, he did actually play good defense and convinced the coaching staff he is a long term part of this team.

Mike Komisarek: D

Mike Komisarek had a solid end to the year. Unfortunately, when your cap hit is $4,500,000 a solid end to the year just doesn’t cut it. It was good to see him playing physical, more confident hockey again, but it was painful watching him missing defensive assignment after defensive assignment, and making otherwise horrible plays in the defensive zone for most of the season. Hopefully, next year he continues to take steps towards rediscovering form and begins to play like a $2,250 000 defenseman. That would be a start.

Brett Lebda: F

You knew this was coming didn’t you? Well, he was by far the worst Leafs player this season and a healthy scratch for the majority of our amazing playoff chase. I’m not in the business of burring guys so I’ll just stop here.

Dion Phaneuf: B

Since the Kaberle trade, Dion has been a new man, one fully (I said it!) worth his huge salary. Eating up the defensive minutes like crazy, he went on a tear when this team needed him most. Of his total 30 points, he scored only 7 (23,3%) during the 2010. part of the season. This of course means that since January 1st Dion Phaneuf scored 76,7% of all his points (23 points). Still, it’s a B for not playing more like that player throughout a larger balance of season. That said, I think it’s generally understated how tough of an injury he was recovering from in that leg laceration which sidelined him for 16 games (of which the Leafs only won 5 games(. You now get the impression this is finally our captain’s team.

Luke Schenn: A

Our best, most consistent defenseman throughout the season, nothing more to say really. Oh, he led all defensemen in hits and scored 22 points to boot. He’s also one of the ironmen of this Leafs team, featuring in all 82 games.

GOALTENDERS

Jean Sebastian Giguere: C

Not a good year for Giggy, he has rarely resembled that Conn Smythe winner from 2002- 2003 season. He too was plagued by injuries, most notably his groin that is becoming more and more of a problem. He finished the year as backup to James Reimer and if he is to play another season for the Leafs (which is very doubtful) it’s the role he will have to get accustomed to. Not that he wouldn’t be a solid backup option going forward, provided he got the procedure on his groin done. Why? Well, first of all he’s a good mentor. Second, he’s is a veteran on a really young team. Giggy finished the season with a 11-11-4 featuring in 33 games with a SP of .900 and a 2.87 GAA.

Jonas Gustavsson C-

A tough year for Gus, who instead of proving that he was that future No1 NHL goalie ended battling heart issues and being sent down to the AHL. Should he have gotten a better chance to play? Maybe, but with the stellar play of James Reimer and us battling for the playoffs, how do you get him the time? While I’m far from being sold on the kid, he has talent and given the right circumstances he could still end up as being the No1 goalie for the Leafs.

James Reimer: A+

Who saw this coming? James Reimer succeeded in saving Ron Wilson’s job, giving the Leafs a chance to qualify for the playoffs and making himself look like an angel who was sent from heaven as a gift from the hockey gods. The biggest reason why this team even had a chance to get to the dance, he ended the season with a spectacular 20-10-5 record. His save percentage being .921 and a 2.60 GAA. Impressive.

Agree, disagree? Toss your grades in the comments section.

Hi there, I'm Mislav, a hockey writer from Croatia. My weird hockey journey includes the Maple Leafs Hot Stove, covering the Kontinental Hockey League as a Managing Editor at KHL.hr and doing a piece for the Hockey News that one time. This is me on hockey and stuff in between. Enjoy your stay!

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