Home Morning Mashup Making a case for Hardware in TO

Making a case for Hardware in TO

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A Toronto Maple Leaf hasn’t won a major NHL award in an embarrassing amount of years. This year, however, it looks as if there could be a case made for 3 award nominations —major or otherwise, for the Leafs.

The last “major” award was Doug Gilmour winning the Selke Trophy in the 1992-1993 season, 20 years ago.

Dion Phaneuf (Norris)

For me, the player leading the charge, as far as a realistic shot at a nomination, is Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf has racked up points (he currently sits fourth the league in points and 4th for goals among defenseman) with the elite in the league at his position. Dion Phaneuf’s partners for a significant portion of this year were NHL rookies Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer, asking him to be, arguably, the best all-round defenceman in the NHL. When you factor in how bad his start to the season was, his torrid pace since then has been something to behold.

A quick rundown on Phaneufs stats (Michael Stephens has a more thorough post coming on #DionForNorris at noon):

  • 4th in goals for D
  • 4th in points for D
  • 7th TOI for D
  • 4th in hits
  • 26th in blocked shots
  • 20th in shots

Is this an award he could win? It’s an outside shot; the award in recent years appears to favour the “defenseman” that racks up the most amount of points. Regardless if he wins, or is even nominated, Dion has elevated his defensive play, play away from the puck and stopped running around for huge hits — as much as those are exciting – all the while producing at a 50-point (prorated) pace.

Jay McClement (Selke)

Is Jay McClement the less-heralded MVP for the Leafs so far this year? He has been the key contributor on the penalty kill that has taken them from 28th to 3rd (and 1st in March) in the league. That is a simply staggering improvement and he is the main reason for it. As much as Reimer has been fantastic — and he has — the new system and better personel are also major contributors for the improved PK.

Typically, the Selke award winner would have more in the way of point production, but in terms of pure defensive prowess, McClement ranks among the best in his anticipatory skills, his dogged puck battles and puck pursuit, as well as sacrifice in the way of shot blocking and breaking up passes.

Again, will he win it? His offensive output precludes him from nomination very likely, but he is every bit the match for other nominees in this category. In talking with Anthony Petrielli about his, he raised the point he seems to think that his play 5-on-5 isn’t strong enough, but he’s also saddled with McLaren and Orr on his wings, or a not-himself Mikhail Grabovski. Not ideal running mates. The only former winner he would compare to would be a John Madden type shut-down forward in terms of offensive output. Madden managed 38pts the year he won it (2000-2001). McClement is on pace for 31/32 pts this season.

James Reimer (Vezina)

Reimer has had a really good season. While the eras aren’t really comparable, his season is on par with that of Ed Belfour’s last good season with Toronto (2004) which coincides with the Leafs last playoff berth. It’s no secret, good teams need good goaltending.

His stats this season are also entering the conversation for Vezina Nominations. I didn’t think I’d ever be presenting Reimer as a potential winner for anything goaltending related, but it shows you what a black magic the position is. He doesn’t exhibit elite athleticism, he can’t handle the puck well and still gives out bad rebounds some times, but his positioning and mental game is top notch and here we sit with his save % at a stunning .925. It just goes to show how unpredictable the position is.

The Leaf schedule is reasonable soft in the way of competition for the rest of the season and hopefully he keep padding his stats the rest of the way.

Phil Kessel (Hart?)

“The player judged most valuable to his team” - I’ve saw this bandied about on Twitter last night (Cam Charron) and I don’t see it, but what the hell – Phil Kessel for Hart. When Kessel gets hot, he can put up points like few in the league can. He has A LOT of points to put up between now and the end of the season, but he’s the man for the job. I think you could probably make a case for Dion for Hart and also Reimer, if the Leafs have a nominee here. Just some big-time performances from the Leafs‘  best players this season, full-stop.

Randy Carlyle (Jack Adams)

While we are having a Leaf love-in, Carlyle’s turn around of the Leafs has been special, as well. For almost everyone who had the Leafs finishing outside the playoffs this year, and for the most part way down the standings, how can you possibly infer that Carlyle has the team anything but overachieving now?

Montreal has a slightly better season-to-season improvement to the Leafs—so far—and if they can close down the rest of the season as hot as the have been in the last 10-13 games, this is something that will most certainly happen… at least in the way of a nomination.

Yeah, yeah, show me a good coach and I’ll show you a good goalie (please see above) and all that. But watching the same personsel perform in a much more structured  disciplined and detailed manner this year is refreshing. While he doesn’t have the horses to carry out the job to his satisfaction, he’s gotten the most out of them that he can get and for that he deserves recognition. For a coach that relies so heavily on a cycle, he doesn’t have nearly the forwards capable of executing it on a regular basis.

Jonas Siegel had a piece touting the virtues of Randy Carlyle and echoed the same sentiment, more or less.

What say you? Is there a Leaf—or  coach—worthy of nomination on this roster?

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Trophies are all well and good, but everyone here reading along would give any trophy up for a Stanley Cup. Just be happy with the fact that we can have discourse over the merits of our goalie/dman/best player/coach and their worthiness of winning individual trophies.

I am an enormous Pat Quinn fan. I used to listen to this post-game interviews very closely; he was a captivating speaker, presence and a hockey man through-and-through. I also appreciated his take on how psychology worked in the game, etc. How games have a rhythm to them. How players congealed, or didn’t. The one thing that I really took away with me was what he identified as the key components to a championship winning team. As a GM, you go for broke and get the best coach. Next, break the bank and get the best goalie money can buy (see: Joseph, Curtis – Belfour, Ed for more details). You’re going to need a 1a Stud Defenseman. You’ll need a big, durable elite 1C and that was the gist of it. It seems like a simple formula—and it is—but when you look at the elite teams, they have all those pieces.

How close are the Leafs? They check a lot of those boxes of nicely, save for a big—or big’ish—top line center. Could they spring a surprise in these playoffs? Absolutely. The weight of that is reseting squarely on Reimer’s shoulders, however the Leafs can put up goals with any team in the league and have the requisite (insert Brian Burke adjective for toughness here) you need in the playoffs.

There remains glaring needs, but if Nonis and co. can keep building this team up slowly, they are getting closer to a team that can contend regularly.

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