This iternation of the Leafs was a weird one. They weren’t quite the level of awful as the rebuilding teams of prior years, and they didn’t provide the heartbreak of the years that would follow. They were better than the year prior, but had minimal expectation, and every pocket of success was seen as a good thing. They were pleasantly bad, if you will, and are the subject of this morning’s look back.
Yeah, this team wasn’t particulary good. They didn’t score a lot of goals, they weren’t great at keeping them out of the next, and with puck luck staying pretty neutral, the team coasted to the bottom.
Toronto made a bunch of bits and bites trades on Draft Dday to shuffle the cupboards around, of which none were particularly productive. Their biggest swing in June, however,w as a roster move, which saw them send Viktor stalberg, Chris DiDomenico, and Philippe Paradis to the Chicago Blackhawks for Kris Versteeg and eight minutes of Bill Sweatt’s rights.
Versteeg turned out to be a decent-ish pickup from a production persepective; his 35 points were good for sixth in team scoring despite not playing in 29 of Toronto’s games. However, his character was often brought into question and fans weren’t particularly impressed with his play, so he was promptly shipped to Philadelphia for a 1st and 3rd round pick in February.
Days before that second Versteeg trade, the Leafs made one of the biggest trades in their current era, sending Francoise Beauchemin to the Anaheim Ducks for an injury-riddled cap dump and a project prospect who may or may not have been interested in playing in his current situation. When put that way, it seems bad, but these two players were Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner. Lupul made an immediate impact on the lineup, while Gardiner showed a lot of promise while spending some limited minutes with the Marlies.
Shortly after these moves, the Leafs made a transaction that was perhaps years overdue, sending Tomas Kaberle off to greener pastures. Granted, it was the Boston Bruins, a team who were at this point the bane of the franchise’s existence, but the trade ulimately got Kaberle a ring and sent Joe Colborne and a 1st round pick to the Blue and White. Colborne finished his AHL season with 16 points in his last 20 games with Toronto.
Toronto also excelled on the free agent market. While their early signings of Colby Armstrong and Brett Lebda let a lot to be desired initially, the Leafs made a wide decision to sign several young goaltenders in Mark Owuya, Jussi Rynnas, and Ben Scrivens; two of whom have seen decent NHL time since. Best of all, the Leafs took advantage of a bad arbitration and signed Clarke MacArthur to a one year, 1.1 million dollar contract, which made them look very smart very promptly.
Toronto ran out of the gate with their pedal to the medal, winning the first four games of the season and only losing the fifth one in overtime. From there though, the wheels fell off quickly; the Leafs then went 1-8-2 over the next three and a half weeks. By the time 2010 ended, the Leafs were six games under 0.500 and hope to attain any sort of success seemed bleak. Enter James Reimer.
Up from the Marlies thanks to a string of injuries, Reimer quickly established himself as the team’s number one goaltender down the stretch, finishing the year with a 20-10-5 record and relatively stunning 0.921 save percentage.
Because of this, the team started winning hockey games, and regaining ground in the standings In February and march, the team went 17-7-5, with the entire latter moth played by Reimer and just four games in the former played by Giguere. The team was ultimately not all that close to a playoff spot, but somehow managed to avoid mathematical elimination until Game 80 against Washington, which they lost in a shootout.
Team Scoring Leaders
Unsurprisingly, Phil Kessel took the team scoring lead, but that “second line” was nearly as dominant in all situations (and even better than Phil at even sterength). MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin, paid less than $6 million in total, combined for nearly 170 points, making them, from a bang per buck perspective, the best top-six line in hockey that year.
Of note, there were some decent yeras from players who missed time. Versteeg obviously came and went, and Kaberle was traded, but both had good totals for the 50 game threshhold. Colby Armstrong wasn’t what he was expected, but picked up nearly half a point per game, and Joffrey Lupul was pretty damn good for a recovering cripple.
Rethinking the Team
It floors me that the Leafs managed to not only break up the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line, but get a whopping total of nothing for the three players as they departed. They all had over two even strength points per sixty in this year, did so without horribly favourable zone starts, and while their PDO was a little high, they were also the three best possession forwards on a team that lacked the puck. Undoubtedly the shining light as far as skaters go, and yet nobody in a position of power wanted to commit to it.
Tyler Bozak has a really rough year this time around, putting up just 32 points in his first full season. I know that they were probably feeling things out at this point, but realistically, he should have been split form Kessel at this point. Who do you put in Bozak’s place? I don’t know; maybe you pull Grabovski up early and throw a mini-spotlight on Marlies forward Nazem Kadri to play on that second line. But Bozak was abysmal.
Other than that, not a lot of “do it differently” with this team. Armstrong probably deserved more minutes, but also broke his nose a lot. Luke Schenn is still employed by the Leafs, which is a shame. Brett Lebda isn’t overly awful, but his reputation at this point is already dead. James Reimer should have been rewarded for his efforts by getting the first week of the next season off. Or, at least the Montreal game.