On the latest MLHS Podcast, Anthony Petrielli and Nick Ashbourne graded the 2023-24 Maple Leafs’ first-half performances at the unofficial midway mark of the season.

Earlier this week, we published the grades for the Leafs’ Core Four forwards as well as the team’s secondary forwards. Now we’ll jump into evaluating the rest of the team, including the head coach.

Note: All of these grades are based on the pre-season expectation level for the individual player (i.e. if Simon Benoit receives a better grade than Mitch Marner, it doesn’t mean Benoit has been a better or more valuable player this season).

Morgan Rielly

7 goals and 40 points in 47 games | 51.7% GF | 46.7% xGF

Anthony's GradeNick's Grade
Morgan RiellyAB+

Nick Ashbourne: I have Morgan Rielly at a B+. The defensive metrics are tough, and you can blame TJ Brodie to some extent for what has gone on with the pairing. I sort of do.

Rielly has been pretty explosive offensively, especially compared to last season. On the power play, I am not super impressed, but he is a facilitator and has been asked to do some weird things such as move down deeper in the zone, where he is not potentially very effective.

If we are using the B grade as the expectation line, he has slightly exceeded expectations for me.

Anthony Petrielli: I have Rielly at an A. I think a lot of the struggles visible in those numbers are due to the circumstances around him. Brodie has clearly struggled. Also, I think Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have fallen short in terms of what the expectations are for driving play.

Rielly has been excellent. He has been an offensive force. In big games against top teams, he has been really good, including the Edmonton game, where he was excellent. He was one of the only reasons they were getting the puck out of their zone.

He can only do so much. He is playing a ton. All things considered, he is still ahead in five-on-five goals vs. against. I don’t know what more he could possibly do. The team needs help defensively, clearly.

Nick: They need someone to play with him, and Brodie simply can’t right now. That’s simply the reality.

TJ Brodie

0 goals and 11 points in 46 games | 50.6% GF | 48.1% xGF

Anthony's GradeNick's Grade
TJ BrodieCC-

Anthony: I have Brodie at a C.

I didn’t think he would be a defenseman we would want in a top-pairing role in the playoffs as of last year, but I did think he would competently get through 82 games this year. He is a veteran. He can still move around pretty well. An 82-game regular season is a different speed.

As Martin St. Louis said, players play at 80%. At 80%, Brodie can coast through 82 games, by and large, but he can’t even do that anymore.

Glaring mistakes are being made. The reason he gets a C for me: I think he is generally okay on the penalty kill. He takes some responsibility in terms of the team’s PK struggles, but I don’t think he has been the problem. He has helped the PK more than he has hurt it.

He needs to play less. It is obvious.

Jake McCabe

4 goals and 17 points in 41 games | 50% GF | 52.03% xGF

Anthony's GradeNick's Grade
Jake McCabeAB+

Nick: I am going to give him a B+.

That may be weighing his recent work a little bit more because he did scuffle out of the gate, but I like what he has done on the right side. He and Simon Benoit have been strangely effective — more than I would’ve imagined — and some of his offensive work is more productive than it has been in the past.

My previous read on McCabe when he came to the Leafs: This is a player who is awfully adventurous for someone who doesn’t produce much offense. He is now starting to justify some of the risk-taking he does at five-on-five.

Anthony: I have McCabe at an A.

He is playing the right side — I don’t know who expected that out of him this year — and it has been huge. He has been productive. He is one of the best open-ice-hitting defensemen in the league right now. He has cleaned up some of the defensive adventures that he would go on compared to last year.

I wish he was a little bit more ahead in terms of goals for vs. against at five-on-five, but by and large, playing the right side as a lefty, he has been productive offensively. I did not expect him to be able to be the best player on his pairing, but he is with Benoit. When you are the best player, it means you carry the pairing and there is more responsibility on you. He has done a pretty good job in that role.

I don’t know what more you could reasonably ask for from Jake McCabe with Benoit as his partner — and I like Benoit a lot, but we have to be honest about it.

Timothy Liljegren

2 goals and 9 points in 30 games | 57.14% GF | 53.6% xGF

Anthony's GradeNick's Grade
Timothy LiljegrenB-B-

Nick: I have him at a B-.

He has solid on-ice numbers, but at the same time, there has not been as much offensive juice as you might hope from a player with his shot and some of his offensive abilities. He has made some strange blunders.

Maybe my expectations are too high, but he has fallen a little short for me.

Anthony: I also have him at a B-.

I don’t think he has played poorly, but I want to see the next step in his career. It hasn’t happened yet. He teases us and flashes it.

Nick: He is living in that fourth/fifth defenseman zone when you want to see him live in the third/fourth defenseman zone. I don’t think anyone is expecting him to become a quality top-pairing defenseman at any point in his career, but we keep waiting for him to solidify himself as the top-four guy, but he is fringey.

Anthony: I keep reminding myself that he hasn’t even played 200 games in the league yet. Some of his development was disrupted by the Covid shutdowns. It plays a role for sure.

I am not as ready to give up on him as others. I think there is a legitimate player here. If you have a right-handed defenseman with his tools, you should extend every possible avenue to see what you can get out of him and what he can become.

Expections-wise, I was hoping he would take a bit more of a step. So far, it hasn’t happened this year.

Simon Benoit

1 goal and 2 points in 33 games | 50% GF | 54.38% xGF

Anthony's GradeNick's Grade
Simon BenoitA-A-

Nick: I went with an A- because he has exceeded expectations to such an extent. He has provided them with legitimate, solid defensive minutes in a tough role in a way that has blown away expectations.

Going all the way to an A would be tough because of his lack of an offensive effect on the game. He sucks up offense at both ends of the ice. He doesn’t have much to give, so I can’t go all the way to an A, but I’ll go with an A-.

Anthony: An A- is fair for Benoit.

A lot of people were quick to pull up an arbitrary chart in the summer and suggest Benoit sucks at hockey without contextualizing the fact that Benoit played on a terrible Anaheim team, was way overplayed, and had a terrible partner.

I thought at the time that they signed him that he could be a bit of a diamond in the rough. He had logged big minutes in the league already. That is how you gain experience even through trials and tribulations.

He is young. He is physical. He provides a lot to like. The A- instead of the A is because I would like to see him really lock in and solidify as a penalty killer. He has been a little bit on the outskirts.

Nick: I don’t think that is his fault necessarily. I think he has played well on the PK and deserves more time.

Anthony: Agreed. I am hoping that happens and he gives them no choice similar to what he did just to get in the lineup in the first place.

For me, it is never going to be about the offensive production piece. You would like to see a little bit more; if he is going to be a regular, you’d like to see him record more than 10 points for the reason while playing 18+ minutes a night. But, if he brings what he brings and adds in being a staple on the PK and helping close games in addition to the physicality, he is a really awesome third-pairing defenseman.

Mark Giordano

1 goal and 6 points in 32 games | 53.49% GF | 49.58% xGF

Anthony's GradeNick's Grade
Mark GiordanoC+C

Nick: I am giving him a C. It is not looking great out there. I don’t like it when he has been given PP2 minutes. It has been ugly.

There have been times when Giordano and Liljegren have worked as a pair, but overall, we continue to see some of the same problems we saw in last year’s playoffs.

Anthony: He is a C+ for me. He has been slightly below expectations, but I don’t know what the expectations could’ve been for a 40-year-old.

I think he could be in and out of the lineup more than he has been. He is still good on the penalty kill, which is probably the thing that is keeping him in the lineup on a nightly basis. He is one of their best penalty killers; he is a warrior and is fearless in terms of blocking shots.

Bizarre to me is how much he is trying to make plays with the puck on his stick. There was a point when he tried to do a toe-drag behind the net against Winnipeg, which was insane. I flagged the 1-0 goal in Vancouver where he skated up on the forecheck for no reason two minutes into the game. There have been some moments that make me wonder how he arrived at the decision. It has been tough to watch.

Otherwise, it has been what I expected.

Conor Timmins

1 goal and 6 points in 16 games | 65% GF | 59.48% xGF

Anthony's GradeNick's Grade
Conor TimminsB-B

Nick: He has the best on-ice numbers on the team but in an extremely sheltered role. He has some jump. He has some dicey defensive moments. I like what he brings kind of helping with the secondary scoring in his own way, but I left it at a B.

Anthony: He is a B- for me in the sense that I really want to see him push for a regular roster spot, but I don’t think he has done enough to do it.

To your point, I don’t think he has necessarily played poorly, and in the overtime win against Winnipeg in Toronto, I thought he was one of their better defensemen in the game. He was effective at moving the puck. It was the kind of performance where I would’ve kept playing him in the next game instead of returning to Giordano.

Nick: I like him with Benoit. McCabe and Benoit have been good together, but it could be a good complement with one offensive-minded player and one defensive-minded one paired off.

The Coaching

Anthony's GradeNick's Grade
Sheldon KeefeB-C

Anthony: I am going with a B-. That means slightly below expectations.

They are still going to track to be a 100-point team. Even if they are slightly off of it right now, I feel generally okay with where the team stands. Coaching can only do so much about the goaltending they’ve received. I think they have legitimately taken strides defensively recently and have evened out some of their play.

The reason why it is a B- for me: One of their biggest strengths going into the season was that they finally have some offensive depth and real talent to spread across three lines. He hasn’t been able to create or build that. He has fallen back on the same things, which offer the team a reasonably high floor but not a really high ceiling.

Keefe might say it’s not his fault and it’s the personnel at his disposal — “How much can I play Nick Robertson and Max Domi?” — but I would say that he can get more out of the group as a whole if he leverages the elite players on his roster to make the players around them better as opposed to pairing up the four of them and having them lap up ice time together. They also haven’t been great together; they have been good, but they haven’t been tilting the ice and dominant.

He could do more from that standpoint, but it is noteworthy that they have made legitimate strides defensively. He does deserve some kudos for that. It is not his fault that the defense isn’t good enough. It is the hand that he has been dealt.

Nick: For me, the reality is that where the Leafs are at as a franchise is somewhere where the floor shouldn’t matter quite so much. It should be more about experimentation.

We have seen these iterations of the team quite a few times now. If you are bringing back the same core, from my perspective, I want to see how the coach is going to make things different and ensure it’s not another chapter in the same story. He hasn’t risen to that.

Goaltending Grades

GoaltenderNick's Grade/CommentAnthony's Grade/Comment
Martin Jones"I've got him at an A-. The expectations were so low, and he was so critical to the one stretch of their season. After years and years of below-average results, I was expecting little, and he gave them 17 games of well above-average goaltending. Way more than I would've expected.""I also have him at an A-. He is coming back to reality, but in terms of the expectations of barely playing or spot starting, he became the starter for a run and smoothed things out. It's way above expectations for me."
Joseph Woll"I'll give him a B+. He reinforced the fact that he is a guy. We don't know where he is going to net out, but he keeps providing evidence that if he is healthy, he is a good goaltender.""I have him at a B-. He has the goods. You can say it is unfair, but he has to show he can stay healthy. He has been hurt basically every year of his career. At some point, the best ability is availability."
Ilya Samsonov "I have him at a C-. He's bounced back lately, but absolutely brutal at the beginning of the year.""Same. C-."

For more of the mid-season Leafs player grades at all positions, check out the latest MLHS podcast:

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