The first half of the Toronto Maple Leafs season has come and gone with no shortage of topics to discuss. Through 41 games the team has taken their fans (and Ron Wilson) on an emotional roller coaster ride of which the good people of Toronto have come to be accustomed to over the years.
But this year might have taken it to a whole new level.
A downright terrible start, followed by a comeback of sorts has led to the Leafs hovering a mere three points out of the eighth and final playoff spot at their mid-way point in the 2009-2010 campaign.
In a city that never sleeps (when it comes to hockey, anyways) how each player is performing is constantly under the microscope, this year especially with the Olympics closing in quickly.
As 2010 rolls around and the number of games remaining dwindles, winning becomes increasingly important for a team that is one significant losing-streak away from their season being thrown out with the trash.
And the play of each member of the team from this point on is something that will be talked about and scrutinize even more than it previously has.
But as we do every season, the time has come to look back at the first half and decide who is exceeding expectations and who is one more careless pass up the middle away from permanently being in Wilson's dog house.
For some players this report card will be one they can stick up on the fridge and be happy with, but for others this will feel like grade 10 all over again: how long can they hide this from their parents and avoid the wrath that will ensue?
Here now are the individual grades of each player who has stepped on the ice for the Leafs through 41 games. Grades are based on overall performance from the start of the season until now, not simply how they are currently playing.
Phil Kessel: A
After missing the first 12 games of the season Kessel came in firing on all cylinders and has been a lethal sniper since putting on the Leaf jersey. He's got 14 goals through the 29 games he's participated in, and though his play has trailed off in recent games, he is still the best player on the ice most nights.
Tomas Kaberle: A
Kaberle has had his rough nights, but leads the team with 35 points and continues to be the quarterback in the offensive zone, especially on power plays. His ability to stay calm under pressure and impeccable passing ability make him a breakout play waiting to happen.
Ian White: A
A coming out party of sorts for White, who has solidified himself as a solid NHL defenseman. He leads the Leafs defense with eight goals and a plus nine and has been steady at the back end, showing excellent vision and anticipation throughout the season. Look for Brian Burke to reward White with a significant pay-raise at season's end.
Niklas Hagman: B+
Hagman started the season off slower than the team would have liked, but has turned it around after being a healthy scratch early on. His 16 goals lead the team and his wicked wrist shot and great hands make him dangerous on every shift. He's on pace for a 30+ goal season.
Jonas Gustavsson: B
Health wise it has been a tough first half of the season for the Monster, having to undergo two separate heart surgeries within three months, but his play in the 18 games he's started has been solid for the most part. His puck handling is lacking and rebound control needs work, but he has a 7-6-8 record with a .905 SV%, 2.86 GAA and one shutout; good numbers for any rookie goalie on a struggling team.
Matt Stajan: B
He's second on the team in points with 11 goals and 18 assists which puts him on pace for a career year in that regard, but not all is okay with his play.
His play along the boards is weak and routinely loses battles and though he has been a good player most nights, it is evident that on occasion he slows down his line mates, especially Kessel, since his skill level is clearly not as high.
Wayne Primeau: B
He is in the running for the most surprising player on the Leafs, going from a thought-to-be fourth-line player to spending time lately up on the first line. He is in incredible shape for a player of his age and is surprisingly quick as well. He has become a leader on and off the ice and his determination and drive to win is something this team is in need of.
Carl Gunnarsson: B
Tough luck for the kid going down with an elbow injury after playing only eight games, but the time he spent with the big club proved he was an NHL-ready defenseman. He's got a lot to learn but his speed and passing ability are two aspects of the rookie's game that are in check. He just needs to work on those turnovers, but with four assists and a plus four rating in his first eight games, we can hardly complain with his effort.
Francois Beauchemin: B-
Tough start to the season, really tough, but the haters have calmed down since then because of Beauchemin's resurgence. He has come through as an obvious leader of the team as well as the best shut-down man on the team.
He is put out against the opposition's best every night, and on the power play his vicious slap shot is feared. If he continues his current play throughout the second half he could see a different grade given to him: that of a C slapped on his chest.
Nikolai Kulemin: B-
Kulemin began the season as essentially a non-factor for the club but has swung that around drastically in the last month or so.
He has become something of a defensive specialist and is currently on of Wilson's go-to guys in most situations. He has played his way onto the top line which bodes well for him in the second half of the season. Now if he could just score more...
Lee Stempniak: B-
It's truly tough to decide just how well Stempniak has played through 41 games. He has 10 goals and 21 points, and some nights seem as if he's the only player interested in playing.
He always seems to show up and is buzzing around the ice with reckless abandon, but has a serious aim issue. His main issue might honestly be missing the net too much. If he can figure that out he could have an excellent second half. Still, it's just downright difficult to judge how he affects the team.
Alexei Ponikarovski: B-
Oh Alexei, how you seem to do this to Toronto fans every season. You play just well enough to have suitable stats while being tossed around with different line combinations so much you rival a popcorn maker.
Your 27 points are nice, but it's becoming more evident by the day: without your brother from another mother, Nik Antropov, you simply do not fit on this team. Poni boy will no doubt finish the season just well enough to once again avert serious criticism, but this should be the last year in Toronto for the big guy.
Viktor Stalberg: B-
After a brilliant preseason that won him a spot on the club he hasn't performed to the same standards in the real games, and is now out with a shoulder injury. The potential is there and his game was coming on in his past two games, with two goals, but we'll have to wait and see how he plays out the second half once he returns to playing.
He could be a major factor for the team in the future.
Tyler Bozak: B-
Hardly enough evidence to say much about the kid, what with only playing one game this season. He did impress, getting his first career assist in that game, but was a minus two and it was evident he was playing his first career NHL game.
There will be many more chances for Bozak to prove his worth, so there is no point taking too much out of this grade.
Mikhail Grabovski: C
Yes Mikhail, we're talking about you.
Grabo has had his strong points during the season but has had a tough time fitting in. His turnovers are becoming an issue as well as his tendency to hog the puck in the offensive zone while working himself into a corner and losing the puck.
He needs to have a sit-down with Wilson, as well as a few teammates, and have a solid heart-to-heart and hopefully work out whatever kinks are in the relationships.
Christian Hanson: C
Had lots of hype when he came up from the AHL to play for the team, but was mostly invisible on the ice. Will need to better utilize his size and speed if he hopes to stick around in the NHL, but has time to figure out him game and will no doubt have a role on the club in the future.
Jay Rosehill: C
Started the season with the team and got in a few scraps as well as showed he could hang with the big boys, in a fight anyway. He'll need some more experience in the NHL before we can truly say how good he can be.
Mike Komisarek: C-
It has not been the ideal start to his career as a Toronto Maple Leaf, but Komisarek has mostly turned things around as of late and can hopefully take that play into the second half.
His minus nine, four assists, and 40 PIM through the 33 games he's played are nothing to boast about, and he frequently makes it on to other team's highlight goals with costly giveaways, but has a chance to get his play back up to where it was last season.
Jason Blake: C-
Blake seems to have come out of his dreadful skid that saw him score only two goals through the first few months of the season but isn't out of the woods just yet.
He stands at nine goals after the 41-game mark, which is nowhere near where a player of his skill or pay should be. He still has time to salvage his season but will only hear more ridicule if he cannot prove himself worth the money he's being paid.
Jeff Finger: C-
He has been the victim of relentless finger pointing this season. But needless to say, it has not been a good season for Finger. He has the worst plus/minus on the team with a minus 11 rating, and has been the odd man out on various occasions as the healthy scratch of the defense core.
He has more giveaways than a homeless shelter and can't seem to put his finger on how to win a battle along the boards. Whatever it is with his lackluster play this season, if he plans on fans cheering him on, foam fingers waving, he'll need to step it up. So far it's been thumbs down for Finger.
Colton Orr: C-
Joey Macdonald: C-
He's started five games and only been on the winning end of one of them. All the blame isn't on him, of course, because he was usually the victim of some terrible play in front. But he hasn't shown any sort of sign that he could be a full-time NHL player yet. Time will tell, of course, but there isn't much hope for Macdonald's future in TO.
Luke Schenn: D+
One small step for the Leafs. One giant step back for Luke Schenn. The young defenseman has fully grasped the sophomore slump, and especially early on in the season looked to be lost on the ice. His turnovers and downright ugly, and whether it is laziness or lack of skill, he just can't seem to keep his head above water for very long.
He was a healthy scratch recently for three straight games and since returning has looked better. But there is still a long way to go if he hopes to build off his stellar rookie season as a Leaf. There is only so much leash he is going to get before he gets tied down for good.
Rickard Wallin: D
He's on pace to be one of the most insignificant Leafs of all time. Seriously, he's played 30 games and there isn't one morsel of proof that has shown me he deserves a roster spot.
John Mitchell: D
Through 22 games, John Mitchell has two goals and seven assists. Through 22 games, Jeff Finger had two goals and seven assists. It would be good if Mitchell could play a little better when he returns from injury. Probably.
Jamal Mayers: D
A tough guy who rarely fights. An offensive player who rarely scores. A defensive player who is a member of the worst penalty-kill in the league. So long, Mayers.
Garnet Exelby: D
On a team with too many defensemen, Exelby is often the odd man out, and for good reason.
Vesa Toskala: D
He's the worst statistical starting goal tender in the NHL. Just stop the puck, Vesa. Seriously, that's all you have to do.
With 41 games remaining in the season it is important for the players that are playing well to continue to do so, and those who aren’t to step up their game. If they can collectively come together and claw their way into the playoffs this season will be considered a success.
But without a spot in the Stanley Cup tournament this season, it will be hard for anyone to give the Leafs a passing grade.