It’s great to finally see the Toronto Maple Leafs having success since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It’s also interesting to think about what hardware might be in store for the future.
Auston Matthews became the first Leaf player to win the Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year since Brit Selby won it in 1965-66. Fredrik Andersen just missed out on being a Vezina trophy finalist in 2017/18 with a first place vote after going 38-21-5 and a goals against average of 2.81 and a .918 save percentage. Morgan Rielly is also off to a hot start and has put himself into the Norris Trophy conversation.
The Leafs are now a team that have a number of players that can win awards at the end of the season.
Now that we’re at the quarter mark of the season, Mitch Marner is the latest Maple Leaf in the conversation to possibly win some hardware this year.
The Hart Memorial Trophy is given to the player who proves “to be the most valuable to his team.” And so far, Marner appears to be one of the many front- runners who continues to raise his level of play and be a valuable asset each night for the Leafs.
Through 24 games, Marner is leading the Leafs in points with 30 and assists with 24. Overall, he’s ranked sixth in total points and second overall in assists. Marner also carries a 1.25 points per game average, putting him seventh overall while playing a minimum of 20 games.
His analytical numbers numbers are just as good. With players playing a minimum of 200 minutes so far this year, in all situations Marner has 3.1 assists per 60 (second behind Mikko Rantanen) and 3.88 points per 60 (11th overall). His 2.84 primary assists per 60 is first among players at all strengths and at even strength (2.51). He’s currently on-pace for 103 points, while having 10 multi-point games, ranked third. His 22 primary assists leads the league by four. (Stats from Natural Stat Trick)
Here’s a look at the last six winners, their point totals and where they ranked overall and in terms of voting (first place votes only):
|Year||Winner||Points||Overall Points Rank||Voting|
|2018||Taylor Hall||93||6th||1st (72 votes)|
|2017||Connor McDavid||100||1st||1st (147 votes)|
|2016||Patrick Kane||106||1st||1st (121 votes)|
|2015||Carey Price||44 wins, .933 SV%, 1.96 GAA||1st (among goalies)||1st (139)|
|2014||Sidney Crosby||104||1st||1st (128 votes)|
|2013||Alexander Ovechkin||56||3rd||1st (50 votes)|
Over the last six years it’s interesting to note that it doesn’t matter what position you play and it really doesn’t matter how many points a player gets. Last year, Taylor Hall ranked sixth overall in points while Connor McDavid led the way and didn’t get nominated. The other two players after him were Claude Giroux and Nikita Kucherov. The other finalists were Nathan MacKinnon and Anze Kopitar and both players, including Hall, in their own way had amazing seasons that made them valuable to their team.
Alex Ovechkin was third in league scoring during the lockout- shortened season and managed to capture the award. Carey Price was dominant in 2014/15 making him the first goalie to win the award since Jose Theodore in 2001/02.
It doesn’t matter how many points a player has during the season for this award. That’s what the Art Ross is for. Mitch Marner can put up a 100- point season, finish outside the top three in scoring and still be a finalist for the award.
At the moment the top scorers in order are; Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Evgeni Malkin is tied with Kucherov for fourth and Marner. All six are worthy of having a finalist vote as all five are making a significant impact to their team.
Of the players in the top six, only four are in a playoff spot (Mackinnon, Rantanen, Kucherov and Marner). If I we’re voting my top choices would be McDavid, Rantanen and Marner.
There’s no doubt that Marner is playing like an MVP finalist. And he deserves to be in contention for it, even though it’s still early on in the season. Auston Matthews probably would be at the top as well if it weren’t for his shoulder injury. You could also argue Fredrik Andersen with the way he’s performing in the net. But I think he would have a better chance at the Vezina Trophy than the Hart.
As some of you may remember, I wrote an article a year or so ago about what makes Mitch a special player. Since that article we have continued to see how dominant of a player he is with and without the puck. He continues to be a game changer and a catalyst on ice. Even when it looks as if there’s nothing, he turns it into something.
Being on John Tavares’ wing, Mitch is doing a lot of the work and continues to draw everyone towards him leaving Tavares open to score. Even when it’s not Tavares, Mitch is always doing something creative to gain offensive zone- time. Marner may be well on his way to becoming a possible finalist. The impact that he has to the Leafs dominance early on in the season is undeniable.
From the very beginning, Marner has been an absolute play-making and offensive juggernaut for the Leafs. Even without Matthews, Marner took the reigns of the Leafs offense with him out of the lineup. The same can be said for last year. When Matthews was out of the lineup, Marner stepped up and led the offensive charge.
Marner was one of the key reasons why the Leafs were able to be one of the top teams in the league. It’s showed from the beginning of this season until now.
During the second game of the season against the Ottawa Senators, Marner makes a great assist on Morgan Rielly’s tying goal very early in the second period. Marner is able to evade Mikkel Boedker. He then makes a nice pass where it gets by every Senators player, making it an easy goal for Rielly.
Marner is known for his speed and his agility. On the power-play with 1:45 left in the second period, Rielly attempts to make a drop pass for Marner. Marner is able to quickly avoid a turnover by chipping the puck to Matthews. Already with a burst of speed, Matthews then hands it off to Marner. He enters the zone and is easily able to split the Senators defense, fakes a shot and gets it by Anderson to make it 3-3.
In the game against the Sharks, Marner’s goal starts off with an incredible pass made by Andersen. Sharks defenseman Brent Burns tries to make a stretch pass for Logan Couture. The puck gets by Couture and lands in front of Andersen. Freddie then makes an amazing stretch pass in the air and Marner is able to catch it at centre ice. As he enters the zone, makes a quick move to the outside on Burns to get to the centre ice. Marner then rips it pass Martin Jones to make it 5-3 Leafs.
And this is why Freddie should also be considered an MVP. He has kept the Leafs alive a number of times this season. Andersen has made some highlight reel saves and I think this assist is one of his best plays. While we hardly see him handle the puck, and it may not be his strong suit, it’s good to know he can shoot the puck to create a play.
This recent goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets shows Marner’s drive and relentless ability to keep the play alive.
Kasperi Kapanen is able to make a strong stretch pass to Marner who is waiting at the offensive blue line. Marner then cuts to the middle of the ice, easily getting around defender Scott Harrington. Marner is able to get a back- hand on net. A rebound is available but instead of just directing the puck on net, he senses that someone is following up on the play. He tips the puck into open ice front of the crease, leaving John Tavares with the easy tap in to tie the game 2-2.
Marner, in his own right, is an MVP alone based on his skill and offensive talent. But, what we’re seeing is more than just an offensive dynamo. We’re seeing a player who, night in and night out, is doing whatever it takes to make an impact on the ice and help his team win. Whether it’s a defensive play on the penalty-kill (we’ve seen that quite a bit as well), or scoring and setting up goals that leave us with our jaws dropped, he is the definition of an MVP based on his desire to win.
This is not a knock on anyone else on the team, like Andersen or Matthews. They deserve a lot of recognition as well. But with the way that Marner is establishing himself on the ice and how he continues to get points every night, it’s hard not to put him in the category as an MVP finalist, or even a winner for that matter.
The Leafs and the other 30 teams have a number of potential Hart finalists or winners. But Marner’s consistency and drive has set put himself into the class for the award. Whether he wins it remains to be seen as voting is based on members from the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association.
What we do know is this. Marner has been an incredible talent throughout his career and we’ve seen what he can accomplish. This year, Marner has put a stamp on his career that shows he is an elite talent that gives his team the best chance to win every night. His play this year alone has put him into the MVP conversation. There’s no doubt that he will be a finalist. Is he a winner? It’s not out of the question. Whatever happens, even if he doesn’t win, he’s an MVP to Leafs regardless.
** All stats and numbers are up- to- date as of Nov. 25, 2018.