Vaive’s Voice is back for another installment, this time a player/staff rating here at the halfway point of the 2015/16 season. In a year focused on cultivating a new, hard working, culture for the Maple Leafs while possibly securing a high draft position in the process, it’s hard to imagine the first half going much better. At 16-17-7, Toronto has managed to keep things somewhat interesting as far as the playoff chase goes, despite a 1-7-2 start. The Leafs have put on their work boots most nights and earned back a great deal of respect for the organization in just a short amount of time. All the while, sitting in the bottom-five overall and poised to select another elite talent on draft day. The franchise is seemingly in a fantastic place as far as direction and setting a foundation is concerned. These ratings in many cases reflect as much.
Grades were given on a scale of 100. The marks are not an overall ranking of the ability of the player/coach themselves, it is a rating based on their performance along with expectations and role.
The names of several of those ranked below will not be with the club long term as changes are made and youth is implemented. Nevertheless, there are players who deserve recognition for how they’ve bounced back under a new regime. As the trade deadline approaches, Toronto will find themselves making difficult personnel decisions. Especially when addressing assets who have seen their stock rise and made a strong case to be a part of the Maple Leafs future plans.
Let’s see who has impressed former captain Rick Vaive, as we present his mid-season ratings for your Toronto Maple Leafs.
James Reimer – 92
Injuries aside and based primarily on play, how can he not earn a high grade? Reimer boasts a 1.97 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. In his 16 starts he’s only given up more than two goals in five contests, still picking up four of 10 points in those games. He’s been nothing short of brilliant when he’s been able to go.
Garret Sparks – 86
Now Sparks likely hasn’t played enough to be properly graded, but the bright spot he provided when called upon I feel deserves mention. A shutout in his debut, a 2.58 GAA and a .915 SV%, is his five starts before injury was all you could ask from a guy who was in the ECHL not too long ago.
Jonathan Bernier – 60
Bernier has turned it around to some degree and would receive a higher rating since his return from the Marlies, only losing twice. However in those defeats he’s given up six and seven goals and his start to the season was a big letdown. At 5-10-3, Bernier hasn’t been good enough, especially when you take into account a .896 SV%.
Nazem Kadri – 93
The points may not necessarily be there, but this is Kadri’s first real experience in this role, going head-to-head most nights with top centres and playing even strength hockey. His face-off percentage has gone way up and he’s throwing the body a bit while showing he can defend. There seems to be a newfound maturity in his game. Early in the year when the pucks weren’t going in, there was no pouting. Kadri could still end up with 50 points, and he gets a 93 because the young man has battled.
Tyler Bozak – 91
Among the best NHL centreman in the dot, only being under 50 percent in a dozen games, Bozak is thriving under Mike Babcock. One of his most trusted guys, the coach has had a big impact on No. 42. What I see is a guy who is a more complete player than at any point in his career. Say what you will, Bozak is without his running mate of season’s past and deserves credit for his stellar first half.
Peter Holland – 75
There have been bouts of inconsistency with Peter Holland. We’ve seen flashes of good after a short stint in the press box, and some bad. He’s struggled in the circle and has spent time on the wing. Complacency creeps in with Holland when things start going well and Babcock expects the best from his players all the time. For Holland, the goal must be to show up with the same intensity every night.
Byron Froese – 66
He’s been great on draws in the defensive-zone, good on the penalty-kill and works very hard. The problem in 30 games Froese is minus eight and has just four points. You can do things you specialize in well, but better or more noticable 5v5 play is expected. It’s his first year in the league, so that may still come. (Nick Spaling could fall under a similar assessment and rating, but receives an incomplete due to injury)
Leo Komarov – 94
In a word, excellent. Playing in every situation, PP, PK, 4-on-4, head to head, you name it, Leo is doing it. Adding to that 15 goals, incredible tenacity and physicality, the coaches and fans couldn’t ask for anything more. Whether Komarov would get the same opportunity on a better roster, or as the team improves, I’m not so sure. Likely he slots into your 3rd line, though he’s proved he can handle the expanded role and has been a leader on the ice for this team in every way.
James van Riemsdyk – 93
JVR has possibly been Toronto’s best forward. More aggressive than I’ve seen him, nobody’s 200 foot game has benefited more under Babcock. He’s winning battles in his own end and getting pucks out, which in the past has been a weaker aspect of his game. Always gifted, van Riemsdyk has 29 pts, a plus 3, and 129 shots (2nd only to Kadri). If not for the injury this week JVR had a very good chance at 30 goals, as he was improving more and more while the season went on.
P.A. Parenteau – 87
Over the past couple of months, Parenteau is playing with a great amount of consistency. With 11 goals, he’s providing offence at the bargain price of $1.5 million dollars on a one-year deal. Of all the guys brought in on to provide some experience on a short term contract, there’s little question during the first half that PAP has been the best of the group. He’s making the most of his opportunity, something he didn’t get in Montreal.
Michael Grabner – 71
Based on the opening 20 or so games, this rating would have came in lower. Since being bumped up in the lineup, Grabner’s play has improved considerably. A speedy winger on the PK, now we are seeing that quickness create a few more chances with better linemates and more of an opportunity. It didn’t look like that chance would come early on, but he’s starting to make the most of it and the hope is it continues.
Daniel Winnik – 68
It’s not that he’s been terrible or anything like that, still useful. I just haven’t seen the same level from him as last year. I felt there was more enthusiasm in his game, maybe being a contract year, who knows. Good on the PK, but I’d like to see more hitting and hard forechecking we were used to from Winnik. For the record, I do like the player.
Joffrey Lupul – 67
At the beginning of the year it looked like Lupul was heading to the press box. Then he got a few goals and things were going well. Unfortunately as we’ve grown accustomed to, he got hurt. Since returning to the lineup he just hasn’t got back on track. I truly feel bad for him. Injuries have taken their toll and I’m not sure he can get back to a high level. I hope I’m wrong.
Shawn Matthias – 62
Matthias I would have to say has underwhelmed. There hasn’t been any real impact from him. Frankly, he hasn’t done a lot out there to stand out in any way. I had bigger expectations and maybe with JVR going down he can fill in and be more of the player I thought we’d see here in Toronto.
Brad Boyes – 54
Aside from a slick move from time to time, Boyes, I hate to say it, has done very little. Maybe he can provide some offence in the coming months.
Dion Phaneuf – 93
Major improvement this year with Phaneuf, just as his coach predicted. Dion is playing with authority. He’s been as physical as ever in a role much better suited for him. Less is more in this case, and with the shift in his usage you don’t see near as many breakdowns. What you do see is a reliable defender who is raised his play in all areas, it’s night and day. Babcock certainly deserves credit for using Phaneuf properly and playing to his strengths, but the captain should garner the praise he’s getting for playing better and helping to pass on the message of hard work and honest play that management is trying to send. Phaneuf’s role now is one he always should have been in, and the proof lies in the results.
Jake Gardiner – 90
Simply put, he’s been damn good. I see less glaring turnovers, more sound play in coverage, and overall his game has picked up considerably from last year. It all ties into structure, his and the teams. Gardiner is playing with Dion Phaneuf and they’ve complimented each other well, while also being placed in positions to succeed. The pairing isn’t drawing the toughest matchups and they’ve been allowed to play their offensive game and still look after their defensive duties. I’ve been impressed with the growth of Jake Gardiner under D.J. Smith and Mike Babcock.
Matt Hunwick – 88
Hunwick has come to Toronto and exemplified what it’s like to be a true pro. He’s providing leadership both off the ice and on, taking the majority of tough assignments. Hunwick has added a lot to the team, even just by simply taking the heavy lifting from Phaneuf’s lap. A good partner for Rielly to learn from and though we may not see point totals, we see a steady guy on the backend. He represents the type of men management and coaches want in Blue & White going forward.
Morgan Rielly – 86
I have to say I’ve been almost a little disappointed with Rielly’s season. Rielly is on pace for almost 40 points, which is quite good without PP time. Problem is, I’m not seeing the great plays we were starting to see quite as much. Could it be that his game is being reined in until he learns the defensive side of being a top defender a bit more? I think there’s been a baby step back for him, but in saying that there is no reason why this rating can’t go up in the second half. I know he’s young and has a lot on his plate facing top lines, but I believe he can be more dominant and noticeable out there. It’s still been a good season for Rielly, just expected more the way he was taking off last year..
Roman Polak – 85
Polak didn’t get out of the gate very well under Babcock, making one wonder if he could play the style being asked. If not for the early bump in the road he’d be higher, and here’s why. Polak is a big, physical guy, great on the PK, and most importantly he competes every single shift, every night. The Maple Leafs are attempting to create a culture of effort and accountability. Having someone like Roman Polak setting the example day after day, cannot be underestimated. Not to mention he leads the team in plus/minus and is one of Babcock’s most heavily used defenceman in critical defensive situations. You couldn’t ask more from a No. 5 defenseman, whether that’s blocking a shot or being a nasty piece of business for the opposition.
Martin Marincin – 64
Marincin hast stood out, which can be a good thing for a defenseman. He is just sort of there, filling a spot. Still young and capable of improvement, but a really non factor most nights.
Lou Lamoriello – 95
Lou has only been on the job a short time, so 95 may seem high considering his only real move was the Grabner deal. What he has done though is brought a sense of professionalism to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s laid down rules and guidelines that some may find “old school,” but it’s all about creating a togetherness. Along with these philosophies he’s bringing about an expectation that if you are on this team, then you will act like a man and behave like a professional. Above all else, that is now a requirement of being a part of this organization from here on out. Honestly though, the real reason why Lou gets the grade I gave him goes beyond culture change. Lamoriello evaluates daily, standing back, gathering information. I am absolutely 100 percent sure he knows how to execute this plan properly. His mark is not only based on what he’s done. It’s about the road ahead and the path he is paving for the choices to come. I wholeheartedly believe Lou is exactly the guy Toronto needed for this rebuild and cultivation of culture.
Mike Babcock and Staff – 98
I really can’t say enough about what Mike Babcock has done since becoming the Head Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The effort level of the group, the individual player improvements, the style of play, the likeability of the team, Babcock is everything the Leafs could have dreamed of and more. Their attention to detail, the strides they’ve made and the fact the Maple Leafs are in almost every game regardless of the opponent is a testament to Babcock and his staff. I think the coach is one who is undoubtedly in control, but I included the staff in this rating because he is a guy who works with people. Babcock listens to the people around him. He let’s his assistants do their job, he wants information. It’s probably part of the reason he’s such a great coach and I think it’s obvious the Maple Leafs are extremely lucky to have him behind the bench for many years to come.
Brendan Shanahan – 99
The highest rating given out was reserved for the President of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brendan Shanahan. Brendan came in, took his time, watched, observed, and showed great patience. Since his arrival, Shanahan has hired Mark Hunter, Kyle Dubas, Sheldon Keefe, Jacques Lemaire, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock. Think about those names for a minute. In his tenure Shanahan didn’t overreact when the team fell apart last year. He left his emotions to the side and has been a methodical decision maker, a key component if success is the goal here in Toronto. He’s already completely changed the atmosphere and feeling that surrounds the team and logo, with the best yet to come. Shanahan has shown all the attributes of a successful executive and his willingness to bring on the some of strongest personalities in hockey only speaks further to his own willingness to work with others to ensure the Maple Leafs are back where they belong as an original six franchise. Excitement and promise is alive and well in Toronto, and none of this would be possible without the leadership and decision making of Brendan Shanahan.