Toronto Maple Leafs: Grading Each Player's Performance

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IJanuary 25, 2011

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 20: Dion Phaneuf #3 and Tyler Bozak #42 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Tyler Bozak goal against the Anaheim Ducks during game action at the Air Canada Centre January 20, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

We're starting to run out of ways to describe how the 2010-11 season has been for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's been so up and down at times that it's difficult to tell which team will show up on any given night, or if one will show up at all. 

Through 48 games, the team sits 12th in the East with a record of 19-24-5, 12 points out of a playoff spot. 

But instead of looking at the team as a whole, it's time we dissect each player (that has played at least ten games this season) on how their play has been individually—not that it'll be the first time, nor the last. 

A grade for each player on the Leafs, from the best to worst, on their performance up to this point. 

And for some, this isn't the report card one would proudly take home to mom and dad and stick up on the fridge. For those guys, this is the "oh no, I lost it" kind of report card. 

Clarke MacArthur: A+

It's not just that Clarke MacArthur has proven to be a brilliant free-agent signing for the Leafs, but that he's arguably been the best offseason free agent acquisition of any team in the NHL (go ahead, look it up). While the bigger names make little impact on their new clubs, MacArthur has come in and been a huge boost to a club that has been in serious need of a player overachieving for a change. 

His 40 points are tops on the Leafs thus far, and through 48 games, he's already eclipsed his career high in points of 35 from last season.

He's also proven to be the kickstart that fellow linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin needed, as the trio has become the team's first, and most effective, line. 

Not bad for the 15th-highest paid player on the roster.

Mikhail Grabovski: A

After a injury-riddled season, issues with various teammates, and off-ice pub brawls last season, Mikhail Grabovski came into this year one mistake away from being drop-kicked off MLSE property.

But instead of completely ruining his career in Hog Town, the 26-year-old Belorussian got a haircut, became a father, and has proven to be the Leafs most dangerous player, leading the team in goals with 20 (tying his career-high through just 47 games). 

As it stands, Grabovski is on pace for 36 goals and 60-plus points.

Somewhere, the Kostitsyn brothers curse his name under their breath. 

Nikolai Kulemin: A

In his first two seasons with the Leafs, Nikolai Kulemin was said to have all the potential in the world. After hitting his career high in goals (16) through just 48 games, it's safe to say that potential is starting to come to fruition. 

Kulemin finished last season with 16 goals and 36 points. He currently has 16 goals and 33 points in 31 fewer games. Improvement is what the kids call that. As the third member of the energy bracelet trio that makes up the team's first line, he's on pace to come close to 30 goals.

And legally become the brother of Mikhail Grabovski.

James Reimer: A

Six starts. Four wins. 2.26 GAA. .933 SV%. The more he plays, the more it seems like there's no way he isn't the Leafs starting goalie by season's end, despite what the GM and Coach say. 

Luke Schenn: B+

It's almost crazy to think it after the slump he found himself in last season, but right now, Luke Schenn is the best defenseman on the Leafs. 

He's been a force against the boards, much more comfortable under pressure, and maybe the most noticeable improvement: his puck handling. Schenn has clearly benefitted from playing with partner Tomas Kaberle.

His passing is crisp, he's much more effective moving the puck out of the zone, and instead of sailing the puck down the ice when pressured, he's patient and makes the simple play. A far cry from the panicky 20-year-old we saw last season. 

Now, about that captaincy...

Colby Armstrong: B+

Why so high for Colby Armstrong? Well, because on some nights, he's the only Leaf that shows up—and we're not talking about the score sheet. He's been the Leafs number one energy player since coming back from injury, and he drives the opposing players absolutely crazy when he's on the ice. 

He's got just six goals and 12 points in 32 games, but Burke had more than just points in mind when he brought Armstrong in the mix. He's a fierce competitor on the ice, will stick up for teammates at all costs, and is apparently one of the best in the dressing room. 

You'd be hard-pressed to find a game that didn't end with blood on Armstrong's jersey, whether his or someone else's. 

Mike Brown: B+

Fearless. Effort. Heart. That's pretty much how one could sum up the game of Mike Brown. He blocks shots, battles in the corner, and is usually the hardest worker on any given night. 

Plus, he's already followed the unwritten rule that states every tough guy must be suspended once every season.

Kris Versteeg: B

Kris Versteeg was expected to come into this season with the Leafs and be more of an offensive weapon than his time in Chicago because of the bigger role he'd play in Toronto. More than halfway through the season, and it's clear he's on pace for what could be his best offensive year of his career, though he's actually playing what is essentially the same role as he did with the Blackhawks while five-on-five.

He does bring another dimension to the power play, though, playing mostly on the point, which gives the Leafs more mobility on their 17th ranked PP. 

He has 12 goals and 31 points. His career mark was set in 2008-09 with the Blackhawks when he recorded 22 goals and 53 points. He should come close to those numbers again, even after the incredibly slow start he got off to. 

Fredrik Sjostrom: B

He fills the role of a third or fourth liner, he's great on the penalty kill, and Fredrik Sjostrom has proven this season that when he plays his game, he's effective. Can't ask for much more than that from the veteran.

Keith Aulie: B

While watching the current Leafs defenders make boneheaded plays and lack the basic skills that an NHL blue liner needs to succeed, Keith Aulie plays in the minors knowing that while he was called upon to play 12 games earlier in the season, he was arguably the best on the team. 

Sure, he's young and there's plenty of time for him to earn a spot on the club, but as the grizzled veterans that make up much of the Leafs defense core look dazed and confused, one has to wonder how they possibly sent Aulie down. 

Tomas Kaberle: B-

Tomas Kaberle has been his usual effective puck-moving self this season, and while he's still as physical as a kindergarten teacher on a sick day, he's usually the team's most reliable blue liner. Which translates to mean he's the least-likely to make a boneheaded play at a crucial moment. 

His 30 points are one less than the number that Luke Schenn, Francois Beauchemin, and Dion Phaneuf have combined at this juncture in the season, which shows you just how sparse the offense from the defense has been. 

His point total is slowing down from previous years, but don't be too quick to ship the longest-serving Leaf out of town. Without him in the lineup, the Leafs would be in a lot more trouble than they are already. 

Carl Gunnarsson: B-

After a rough start to the season where the 24-year-old Swede looked to have taken a step back after an impressive rookie season, Carl Gunnarsson looks as if he's righted the ship and found his game. His three goals leads all Leafs defensemen, though no one seems to be talking at all about him.

Which, for Gunnarsson, is a good thing. 

If he keeps up his recent play, he'll no doubt find a permanent spot on the blue line, as he's shown he can be as useful in front of the opponent's net as he can be in front of his own. 

J.S. Giguere: B-

Though he's struggled through a reoccurring groin injury at various points in the season, when J.S. Giguere is between the pipes for the Leafs, he has been steady. After 21 starts, he's 9-9-3 with a .896 save percentage and a 2.82 GAA. He has looked sluggish and slow at times, but for the most part, while dealing with a defense is like that most nights, he's been able to keep the club in games. 

He's also been a voice in room, not afraid to call out his teammates when they're playing poorly. 

All signs point to this being his last season in Toronto, but if he can stay healthy and be useful trade bait for the team, then depending on what they get in return, we might have to bump his grade up. 

Phil Kessel: B-

Giving Phil Kessel a mark this high may raise the eyebrows of many, but it's difficult to give a player whose on pace for 36 goals while currently sitting in the top 20 in the NHL in that category anything lower than a B-. 

Kessel has had streaks where he was non-existent in the offense, including a 25-game stretch in which he scored just three goals, but to put it bluntly, when Kessel scores, the Leafs win. It doesn't help his case that there's only three players in the league with a worse plus/minus (he currently sits at minus 19), but take into consideration also that his two linemates (Joey Crabb and Tyler Bozak) have fewer career games played than Kessel has career goals.

And whether you're willing to admit it or not, that plays a factor.

He's scored 19 goals thus far, and with 34 games remaining, there's plenty of opportunity to reach a career high in goals (36 in 2008-09). He could do with giving more effort every night, as well as back-checking a whole lot more, but the kid gets paid to score.

And 30-plus goals as a member of this team is hard to complain about-even for Leaf fans.

Colton Orr: B-

He's paid to punch people in the face, so the fact that Colton Orr can't skate or stick-handle doesn't really effect his performance. Drop the gloves and don't take stupid penalties, the life of an NHL tough guy. 

Joey Crabb: B-

He's 27-years-old, but Joey Crabb has just played 46 games in the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers and this season with the Leafs. He was called up from the Marlies earlier in the season and recorded six assists in his first 10 games while playing mainly on the first line alongside Kessel. 

Since then, he's got one goal in the past six games. 

He's not a top-six forward, but sometimes on this team, it's difficult to tell if there is one anyway. 

Darryl Boyce: B-

Just another role player that's been thrust into full-time duty for the Leafs, but Darryl Boyca has actually performed pretty well through 13 games this season. He has two goals and five points, and for the most part, looks as if he can hang with the big boys. 

His time with the Leafs is limited, but he's been doing his job fairly well. 

Tyler Bozak: C+

It's not that we were hoping Tyler Bozak would come into this season on the same scoring pace he was last year (27 points in 37 games), but that he would have shown a little more consistency than he has thus far. Though 48 games in 2010-11 he has eight goals and 20 points, which is nothing to be ashamed of for a player who's played 85 career games in the NHL. 

He's also been thrust into a position that's entirely above his skill level. Bozak is not a first-line center. Not for the Leafs, not for any team, and it's tough to say at this point if he's even capable of being a second-line middle-man, which is why he's bounced up and down the lines this season more than any player. 

He hasn't really found his place on this club yet, and though he's currently playing with Kessel (the duo that was supposed to have great success coming into the year), it seems as if the Leafs sniper actually plays better without Bozak on his line. 

The jury is still out on Bozak, but only time will tell if he can become the player they hoped he already would be. 

Jonas Gustavsson: C+

Jonas Gustavsson may be the most difficult player on the Leafs to grade this season, because his numbers say a lot more about the players in front of him most nights than they do about the 26-year-old Swedish netminder. 

Not to say that he hasn't had his struggles this season, because he most certainly has, but with him in the in net, the club has had some of their worst outings. Gustavsson has a record of 6-13-2 with a .890 SV% and 3.29 GAA at this point in the season. 

A healthy Giguere and an up-and-coming James Reimer doesn't help his cause this season, but there will be plenty of opportunity for him to turn things around not only this season, but in the future. Don't close the door on him just yet. 

Tim Brent: C+

Most nights you don't even realize Tim Brent is in the game. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe it's not.

Nazem Kadri: C+

He played 17 games and recorded six assists while playing on what seemed a different line every night. Sure, he's young and has all the time in the world to become an NHL player, but from what we've seen so far, he's still got a ways to go. 

And while other top 10 picks from the 2009 Draft strut their stuff in the NHL, Kadri continues to struggle to make it at the next level. Time will tell, but that's Leaf luck for you.  

Dion Phaneuf: C

While in Calgary, Dion Phaneuf made a name for himself as a player who had a big shot, scored big goals, and threw big hits. Since coming to Toronto, all he's known for is having a big mouth and a bigger contract.

He seems to have lost entirely the scoring ability he once made look easy, as his cannon slap shots have a better chance of finding Osama Bin Laden than they do the back of the net. 

His grade is bumped up slightly only because of the immense pressure put upon his shoulders as the captain of the club, as well as the scary injury he received earlier in the season. Sadly, the sympathy in this city does not last long, and fans hope the letter on his chest doesn't continue to resemble the grade of his performance on the ice.

John Mitchell: C-

It doesn't seem like he's trying very hard to earn a new contract. His injury may be the final straw in his career as a Maple Leaf.

Francois Beauchemin: D

He chooses the worst moments to pinch in offensively, he's tremendously weak on the puck in his own zone, and if he had a nickel for every turnover this season, he might be in the running to purchase MLSE. 

He somehow weasels his way into playing big minutes every night, but if the rumours have any validity, he'll be on his way out of town in the near future. He's been a non-factor offensively, and his turnovers are a major issue in his own zone.

Giving him a D might be generous.  

Mike Komisarek: D

As if his poor play wasn't enough for the fans and media to feast on, allegations that Mike Komisarek punched a woman at a club in Los Angeles during a recent road trip makes it difficult to foresee how this ends well for the defenseman. 

His time in Toronto hasn't been much of a success, as injuries and no Andrei Markov have significantly effected his play. It wasn't hard to feel bad for the guy as he's served as somewhat of a punching bag (pun intended) in the media, but now that he's hitting more people on the dance floor than he is on the ice, there's likely to be no end to the torture he'll receive until he's on his way out of town. 

Only way it gets worse for Komisarek is if he starts hanging out with Ben Roethlisberger.

Brett Lebda: F

Many wondered why the free-agent defenseman was signed in the first place. After more than half the season in the books, and an atrocious minus-19 rating, we're still wondering.

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