Toronto Maple Leafs Awards for the 1st Half of the 2013-14 Season
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had some good performances from individual players in the first half of the 2013-14 season.
There have been disappointments—namely David Clarkson and Nazem Kadri in many ways—but given the injuries the team has suffered, its overall performance could be much worse.
The team currently sits in a playoff spot, and while just five points up on ninth place, the Leafs are only three points out of third in the conference.
Let's take a look at the players who would earn the club's individual awards based on their play in the first half of the season.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats can be found on NHL.com.
Top Forward, Phil Kessel
Phil Kessel has led the team in scoring for the better part of the season. The Leafs have made a firm commitment to him as the top offensive player on this team. Along with Dion Phaneuf, they have rested their hopes on the talented American sniper.
Kessel is an offensive threat every time he gets on the ice and his ability to create chances is as good as any winger's in the league. His relative Corsi of 6.6 is very good on a team that is badly outshot on most nights.
Kessel has 20 goals and 18 assists in the first half of the season. He is currently plus-one, which is not bad on a team that has struggled mightily defensively.
If the Leafs make the playoffs this spring, Kessel will play a large part in that.
Honorable Mention: James Van Riemsdyk
Top Defenseman, Dion Phaneuf
While not the most popular Leaf, captain Dion Phaneuf has played some very good hockey on the Toronto blue line.
Phaneuf has 17 points this year and is second in defenseman scoring to Cody Franson.
Overall, Phaneuf's game has been superior to that of all of his fellow Leaf rearguards. Phaneuf is currently plus-15, which is well clear of anyone else on the team.
Additionally, Phaneuf's 24-and-a-half minutes per game are nearly three more than any other defender. He gets first-unit power-play time, but the bulk of his ice time is at even strength. Oftentimes, it is against the opposing team's most dangerous offensive players.
Like it or not, Phaneuf is the man that general manager Dave Nonis has chosen to build the team around on the blue line.
Honorable Mention: Cody Franson
Top Rookie, Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly is one of the more talented young defensemen in the game today. He has all the tools to become an elite NHL blueliner.
As it is with all offensive-minded defenders, his defensive play—both on and off the puck—is a work in progress. He is playing nearly 18 minutes per game, though, and in most game situations. He is minus-10, which is worst among Leaf defensemen.
He is an exceptional skater with both speed and agility. His ability to get back to defend is second to none on the club. His 11 points are very good for a first-year defenseman with junior eligibility.
Expect Rielly to improve in the next few months. If the Leafs can make the playoffs, he'll also get the opportunity to gain some invaluable playoff experience.
Honorable Mention: Peter Holland
Most Underrated Player, Mason Raymond
Given how good Mason Raymond is, "underrated" seems like a strange term to associate with him. The Calgary, Alberta, native was often lost in the shuffle in Vancouver, but Leaf fans have come to know his game well in a short time.
Raymond is adaptable enough to play on any of the first three lines. He has all-world speed and it is obvious that coach Randy Carlyle puts a lot of faith in him in all game situations.
Raymond is plus-three and has taken the fourth-most shots on the team with 92. He's also third on the team in points with 26 through the first half of the season.
His contributions on a nightly basis have been outstanding for the Leafs. Most casual observers don't know his game well, but watching him play on a regular basis reveals his worth to the Leafs.
The Leafs would do well to secure him moving forward given that his contract expires at the end of this season.
Honorable Mention: Carl Gunnarsson
Most Valuable Player, Jonathan Bernier
Most Valuable Player is always up for discussion in sports like baseball and hockey with the relative specialization by position. Pitchers and goaltenders are often decisive in wins and losses, but some question if they are truly the most valuable players on teams.
In the case of the Leafs in 2013-14, one would be hard-pressed to argue for anyone other than Jonathan Bernier. He has been outstanding in the first half of the season.
Bernier has 13 wins and has stopped almost 900 shots in 29 games played. He has an excellent save percentage of .931, which is seventh-best in the NHL. His goals-against average is a respectable 2.40.
While James Reimer has been very good at times, Bernier has been better in more games. The Leafs will need the duo to continue to excel to be successful over the second half of the season.
Honorable Mentions: James Reimer, Phil Kessel