Every fanbase has someone that they worship to a level that may seem unwarranted by an outsider as well as one that they villify to no end. While Leaf fans sometimes get painted as ones that go to further extremes than any other fanbase, that’s ludicrous. All fanbases are crazy.
Since everyone can always use some advice about whom to lavish their love/hate upon the staff at LeafsNation have compiled their choices for stars and goats for the upcoming season. Of course, this operates from the expectation that James Reimer cannot fall from grace and that there is no way Mike Komisarek will play his way out of the doghouse.
PPP’S STAR AND GOAT
STAR: MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI
The majority of Leafs fans do not appreciate Mikhail Grabovski nearly enough. I’ll write more about this later but his production has been consistent over his three seasons with the Leafs. The big change is that he has taken on more ice-time and more responsibility in facing the opposition’s best players while outscoring them. The Means of Production Line with Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur will be counted upon to carry the load offensively for the buds. Note: I own his jersey so I might be biased.
GOAT: RON WILSON
Oh, you thought that it had to be a player? Nope. Ron Wilson’s tenure as the Leafs’ coach has seen almost non-stop roster turnover. It is a truism that you cannot make chicken salad out of chicken shit and Wilson’s tenure has certainly seen a hearty helping of the latter don the blue and white. However, after three seasons of watching his special teams flail about his excuses have run out. He no longer has Jean-Sebastien Giguere or Vesa Toskala in net, he has a group of forwards with the necessary penalty killing pedigree, and he has a new coaching staff. The team’s failures saw Tim Hunter and the ever-present (somehow) Keith Acton lose their jobs while Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon were brought in to revive a moribund penalty kill. He is entering the final year of his contract and GM Brian Burke is eager to make the playoffs. The only problem with this pick is that if he earns the role then we’ll have to pick a new goat before Christmas.
CHEMMY’S STAR AND GOAT
STAR: JOHN-MICHAEL LILES
I’m taking the road less travelled; no one reads prediction posts to hear that a team’s best player (Kessel or Grabovski) will be the hero all year. Liles looked great in preseason and should bring it from the blue line like nobody we’ve seen since the departure of Tomas Kaberle.
GOAT: JOFFREY LUPUL
I don’t think Lupul is healthy enough or talented enough to skate with Tim Connolly and Phil Kessel. He’s an offense only player who doesn’t bring a ton of offense and skates like he replaced his blades with anvils. The good news is that if Frattin can handle the third line role and Grabovski’s line is taking the toughest assignments the "first" line may be able to handle the addition of Nazem Kadri.
JP NIKOTA’S STAR AND GOAT
GOAT: CODY FRANSON
A young defender on a good team, playing in front of a good goalie, getting a ridiculous .943 SV% while he was on the ice, not to mention playing within a very tight defensive system is going to look good. Oh, and he had a PDO of 1021. That same, young, mistake-prone defender is going to look a lot more exposed behind offence that isn’t as great at puck retrieval, and a pair of young, unproven goaltenders. I know he’s not Lebda, but Al Iafrate he ain’t, neither.
STAR: MATTHEW LOMBARDI
OK, so maybe he won’t push for anything beyond the third-line center role, but he’s been cleared for contact, skates like the wind, and doesn’t have bad hands. He could well be the steal of the Lebda deal. Lombardi adds real depth to the lineup – if he can remain healthy. Here’s hoping to see him in a couple exhibition games.
67SOUND’S STAR AND GOAT
STAR: DION PHANEUF
His shooting percentage has to turn around eventually, right? Off-season additions Liles and Connolly should help the power play and with it, Phaneuf’s offensive numbers. The Captain also seemed to be growing into his newfound role as a true "Number One" defenceman last year, shouldering significantly tougher competition than he had with the Flames. And if it goes south, it will be Wilson’s fault for refusing to pair him with Carl Gunnarsson.
GOAT: COLTON ORR
There is simply no reason for the Toronto Maple Leafs, or any other team, to employ a designated goon. Players like Phaneuf, Schenn, Komisarek, Aulie, Brown, Rosehilland even MacArthur have proven they can handle themselves in a fight on those relatively rare occasions when it is actually called for, with the added advantage of actually having NHL-calibre hockey skills (OK–close to NHL-calibre skills for Komisarek, Brown and Rosehill). Sending Orr on the ice is like handing an engraved invitation to the opposing team that reads "please score on us".
DANNY GRAY’S STAR AND GOAT
HERO: NIKOLAI KULEMIN
Nikolai Kulemin is the Abraham Lincoln of hockey players. Lincoln observed that "a house divided against itself cannot stand". Much like the antebellum United States, Leafs Nation has been engaged in an ongoing struggle between those who support traditional methods of evaluation andargue the importance of hard work, grit, and intangibles and those who endorse the use of advanced statistical analysis. Kulemin is the personification of both schools of thought. He has lead the Leafs in a number of advanced statistical categories over the past few seasons. He faces tough competition, and still manages to produce and move the puck in the right direction. He is also one of the hardest working players on the team. He is a fitness and conditioning nut, and those who follow the team constantly point out his work ethic both on and off the ice. He brings both a wealth of intangibles backed up by excellent advanced statistics. He may not score 30 goals this season, but he makes the players around him better, and never takes a night off. He is the answer to the question: "Do you even watch the games". He is the Great Emancipator. He is my hero.
GOAT: COLTON ORR
I truly believe that Colton Orr’s absence was responsible for the Leafs second half success. James Reimer may have also played a small role. At this point I feel that Darcy Tucker’s buyout is less of a burden to the team than Colton Orr, at least he can’t take penalties in the offensive zone. Everything Orr does is useless. I have never liked Orr, but I took some satisfaction in watching him beat up Matt Carkner. But with a new understanding of brain trauma, as well as the complete lack of correlation between fighting and winning games, he has become my goat. In addition to contributing nothing, he also prevents another capable hockey player from taking his place. He is below replacement level. Even though he only plays 4 minutes a night he will be directly responsible for anything and everything that goes wrong this season. Enjoy the horns Colton, they are an improvement over that mullet.
CAM CHARRON’S STAR AND GOAT
STAR: NIKOLAI KULEMIN
I think too much may have been made of the fact that Nik Kulemin is unlikely to score over 30 goals this season, and while he is more likely to score under 25 than hit 30 again, it’s apparent that hockey team vices don’t stretch to having a second line winger being a 20-goal scorer. With all the attention handed (rightfully so, mind you) to Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur for their role in hockey’s "Best Second Line" I think there’s a lot to like about the young, workmanlike Russian who will outproduce many first line forwards this season.
GOAT: JOFFREY LUPUL
Straight-up, I don’t think that Lupul is at all the answer for Phil Kessel’s opposite on Toronto’s first line. He didn’t help the Leafs too much in the way of possession and, frankly, Lupul isn’t enough of a goal-scorer to make up for his lack of defensive worth. He’s a player who has been flipped around a bunch since his career started off with so much promise, and has he goes team by team, they begin to notice that he’s not as good as his reputation or his salary dictates.