For the fans of the Blue and White, the fact that the team is not making the playoffs is hardly out of the ordinary, what is different this season is that there appears to be a number of players that deserve being mentioned as the teams' Most Valuable Player.
Prior to the first puck drop in October most Leaf fans were looking for Dion Phaneuf, Jonas Gustavsson or Phil Kessel to be the team MVP’s. Hard luck, inconsistent efforts and ailments have conspired to eliminate all three from the conversation, although Phaneuf has been lights out of late.
A quick look at the points leaders shows Phil Kessel as the teams goal scoring leader (29) and points getter (56* tied with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur), but given his -29 rating and one-dimensional game, the Leafs Nation is pretty hesitant to call Kessel the MVP.
Combined, the trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin have been one of the better line combinations in the NHL this season.
The Mac-Russian line has registered a total of 76 goals (11 of them game winners) and 166 points on the season. Few fans are calling this trio an elite line, but its safe to say this line is right up there with the NHL’s best, at least where points are concerned.
All three have posted career totals in goals scored and points, all while keeping the opposition at bay more nights than not.
On the backend Luke Schenn has had what many experts would call a comeback season after a difficult sophomore year in 2009-10.
Schenn has been a steady contributor to the Maple Leafs blueline all season long. With 19 points on the season he too has set a career high, while his 234 hits ranks him eighth overall, first amongst NHL defensemen.
While Schenn still makes his fair share of mistakes, there is no question that the Maple Leafs would not be where they are (in a playoff race) without him, which is a credit to the 21-year old.
If we judged players on partial seasons the Maple Leafs MVP would likely be rookie goaltender James Reimer, and with good reason.
Through 30 games (28 starts), Reimer has posted a 17-7-4 record, to go along with a 2.51 goals against average, .924 save percentage and three shutouts to boot.
More importantly, the team seems to play a much more confident/competent game in front of Reimer than they were ever capable of playing with J.S. Giguere or Jonas Gustavsson between the pipes.
However slim the odds are, Reimer has given the Maple Leafs a shot at a playoff spot, which is something both he and the entire team can be proud of.
Maple Leafs' CaptainDion Phaneuf is another candidate for the half season award. Phaneuf’s early season struggles are well documented, but since the all-star break he has been playing his best hockey as a member of the Blue and White.
Ever since veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle was shipped out to the Boston Bruins Phaneuf has stepped up large, manning the power play, chipping in goals and playing with a physical edge that we Leaf fans had always hoped he would.
There have also been a number of unsung hero’s on this team. Joey Crabb, Darryl Boyce and Mike Brown have all been very solid additions to Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke’s bottom six, while Colby Armstrong has also brought that physical element, night-in, night-out.
The reality is, this Maple Leafs’ squad has been playing like a “team” for the first time in recent memory, relying on all four lines to bring a consistent effort. The team concept has elevated the Maple Leafs from bottom feeder status to one of the better teams in the second half of the season, which is saying a lot for a club that many experts left for dead before the all-star break.
At the end of the day, I would probably side with Mikhail Grabovski as team MVP, but one could make a case for any of Schenn, Kulemin, MacArthur or Reimer. The nice part about it all is that we actually need to debate it.
So I put it to you Leaf fans, which player is your team MVP?
For more NHL news and notes check out my website at www.theslapshot.com
Until next time,