Friday Roundtable: Silver Lining Leafs

It’s only been a week and a half since the NHL season kicked off and the Toronto Maple Leafs have since rung off three straight losses. This wasn’t exactly unexpected – most of us had already resigned ourselves to a season of mediocrity and unbalanced win-loss columns – but there have been a few pleasant (and unpleasant) surprises so far this season to make things at least a little interesting.

Which Leafs players have stood out so far this season? Our Roundtable discusses…

Jon Steitzer

Before the start of the season if there was a defenceman I thought was going to surprise a lot of Leafs fan, I thought it would be Martin Marincin. Instead, he’s surprised me by being a guy I’m comfortable seeing rotating in and out of the lineup along with Roman Polak and Scott Harrington. Marincin has had slow starts, and bad training camps in Edmonton as well, so I’m not advocating that it’s time to pull the plug on him, rather it’s a simple disappointment that he hasn’t taken the opportunity to take a leap forward on a weak defensive unit that would have easily had room for him to play a key role.

Counter to the disappointment in Marincin, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Matt Hunwick. By no means is Matt Hunwick a top four defender on a good NHL team, but he’s certainly proven he can be an adequate stop-gap on the Leafs and he’s one of the few guys who is taking advantage of his opportunity here. Hunwick may prove to be an affordable addition for a playoff bound team later on this season, so giving him the opportunity to get minutes in key situations now will carry some weight at the trade deadline. And even if he’s not moved, it’s far from the worst thing for the Leafs to retain a level headed guy who clear his zone effectively and act as a Swiss Army knife kind of player to support whatever the needs of the team are.

Justin Fisher

I mean, it’s got to be Dion Phaneuf, no? When we heard all offseason that Babcock would be working closely with Phaneuf to breath some life into the blueliners game, I was skeptical. Sure, less ice time and less demanding matchups would help, but can a 30-year old defenceman really recover from years of carrying an entire blueline and being miscast as a stud #1?

I mean, probably not… But Phaneuf has looked pretty damn good so far. 

Three points in three games, and some excellent possession numbers when paired with Jake Gardiner or Morgan Rielly (sorry Hunwick). The man is still massively overpaid, and will be for far too long, but if he can keep up this kind of play then at least Phaneuf will be useful.

That… or he suddenly becomes a viable trade chip. Either way, that’s great news for Leafs fans.

Cat Silverman

Brad Boyes has been exactly what you’d expect from a guy in the position that he’s in.

It seemed like the team was almost trying to hype him up when, during the opening game, the announcers talked about the maple tree his father had planted when Toronto drafted him. It was very narrative-y — but narratives be damned, Boyes has looked good. Through three games, he’s got 12 shot attempts and he’s getting ample ice time; he only has one assist for now, but I don’t see that being the case for very long.

Half of what the Leafs are going to need in order to start seeing some wins is enthusiasm; we know what the ceiling is for most of the players in the lineup each night, and that extra “need” to win is going to be what takes that talent ceiling and produces wins. I’ve seen that out of Boyes so far; I’d expect that to stay the case throughout the year, as well.

Bobby Cappucino

Is it any surprise how Tyler Bozak is playing great now that literal boat anchor Phil Kessel is gone? The answer is no.

He might only have one goal and no assists through three games so far, but TyBo’s game has always been the intangibles, and he has brought those in spades. Where Bozak has exceeded expectations is in the possession department, sporting a 60% corsi so far this season.

How is Sidney Crosby doing? Oh he has even less points than Bozak and has a 44% Corsi. One of the two is regarded as the “best player in the world” and the other is “not even a third line centre” according to stats nerds. So either the nerds are just wrong or Phil Kessel really was the problem all along. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

The best part is that Tyler Bozak is still really young and has a lot of potential. This is just the beginning of his emergence as a bonafide number one centre.

  • Gary Empey

    The Leafs are playing well and seem to be improving,
    I don’t see any good reason why this trend wouldn’t continue.
    If so it would be a hard choice to trade away players at the deadline who have had success under Babcock’s system.
    But perhaps these decisions have already been made like Nylanders demotion to the Marlies.

    • Gary Empey

      Well said. One thing to consider though is some teams may be desperate come trade deadline. Even now some teams at the bottom of the league are in trouble already and will have to make some moves.

      • Harte of a Lion

        I Always considered JVR to New Jersey was a natural but Anaheim is struggling to score, their window is getting smaller, there’s a history of trades between the two teams and they need a top line left-winger…
        There are other players I preferred to see moved first but if we could pick up pieces like Nick Richie and Shea Theadore for JVR, I say do it!

    • Harte of a Lion

      Regardless of where they stand at the trade deadline, the Leafs will be sellers and will acquire a number of draft picks and prospects for the expiring contracts of most of the team.
      Even players like Kadri and Gardiner are not safe if it is determined they have no place on the team moving forward.
      Shanahan will not make the same mistake that Burke/Nonis did, thinking that this group is only one or two pieces shy of being a legitimate contender. The goal is to build a perennial winner, not sneak into the playoffs and hope for a good run “Calgary”.
      They can always re-aquire any of these players come July 1st.

      With a strong work ethic established I imagine they might bring up some pieces from the Marlies like Leivo, Carrick, Frattin, Panik who after playing the same system on the farm team could easily contribute to the winning/successful attitude/culture that the team is developing.

      Lastly, did anyone read the Star’s article where Mr. Burke was quoted saying that the team has too many hands on the wheel? All I can say is I am OK with thousands of hands on the wheel as long as none of them belong to Mr. Burke or Mr. Nonis