The Maple Leafs are a quarter of the way through, and coming on strong after a wobbly start to the season.
Time to take a brief step back and evaluate the whole crew with some interim report cards. (Grades are based on expectations and salary.)
Erik Källgren: C+
James: Are Källgren’s numbers fantastic? No. An .891 save percentage and 2-2-4 record isn’t going to win the Vezina, but he’s a No. 3 goaltender who entered the season with only 45 games experience in North America. (And accounting for shot quality against, his numbers improve somewhat, too.) In spite of a few tough mistakes, he’s met expectations and allowed the Leafs to bank points at times when they’ve been missing their top two netminders and a lot of key defencemen. That’s worth something.
Matt Murray: B
Jonas: He hasn’t played a whole lot, and that — the injury question — will linger. But when he’s been in there, and admittedly, we have only five games to this point, Murray has looked just like the big, stable presence the Leafs and their GM hoped he could be. He’s 3-0-1 with a .942 save percentage since he returned from injury.
Ilya Samsonov: A
James: Other than his injury, everything has gone right for Samsonov as a Leaf so far. He’s 6-2-0, with a .921 save percentage, for just $1.8 million, restoring some faith in Toronto’s ability to identify goaltending talent, at least so far. And he’s 10th in the entire league in goals saved above expected. Hard to ask for more than that.
Jordie Benn: A
Jonas: The Leafs could not possibly ask for more from a guy they signed to a minimum contract for break-in-case-of-emergency depth purposes. Benn has brought some muscle (three hits per game) and presence, and even looked alright next to Morgan Rielly on the top pair for a short while. He’s chewed up more minutes than expected (17 minutes on average) amid injuries on the back end.
T.J. Brodie: B+
James: Mr. Dependable is back. Brodie has provided next to no offence, with no goals and just two assists on the season, but who really cares when he’s shutting things down as capably as this? The Leafs have been getting 55 percent of the high-danger scoring chances with Brodie on the ice at even strength, which is tops among Toronto defencemen, despite getting challenging assignments with partners who have at times struggled.
Mark Giordano: A
Jonas: Even if he weren’t 39, this would be an impressive start to the season. Giordano is playing in all situations and playing well. He’s even reprising his old role as a No. 1 defenceman with Rielly, Brodie and Jake Muzzin all injured. Add in the relative pennies he’s playing for — $800,000 cap hit — and you’ve got a winner.
Mark Giordano — the oldest skater in the league this season — logged 24:43 for the Leafs tonight and blocked six shots.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) November 24, 2022
Justin Holl: C
James: Holl is a challenging one to grade. He was brutal early, with the puck looking like a hand grenade on his stick, but he’s settled down of late to offer some more low-event minutes with so many key defencemen injured. Still, on the season he’s near the basement of the team in things like expected goals share (46 percent), and his numbers are night-and-day different whether he’s been on the ice with Brodie or not (53 percent to 44 percent). Hard to give high marks for that, even if he is logging 21 minutes a night in often challenging situations.
Mac Hollowell: Incomplete
Jonas: He made his NHL debut in New Jersey on Wednesday night, and played more than expected — 12.5 minutes — with Benn joining the injured party.
Filip Kral: Incomplete
Jonas: Kral looked like a nervous rookie when he played his first two NHL games earlier this year. Hard to take much from that though. I still see something intriguing here; a steady, boring even, third-pair possibility down the line.
Timothy Liljegren: B
James: It’s really hard to miss training camp and the first month of the season and step into the lineup, so that needs to be taken into context with Liljegren’s start after having hernia surgery in early fall. In the limited sample size, the WOWY stats all point to his partners being better away from Liljegren than with him, which is a red flag. But it’s worth pointing out, too, that he’s spent more even-strength minutes alongside Morgan Rielly than anyone else, and that’s meant more challenging looks than Liljegren has seen in previous seasons. It feels like reuniting him with Giordano for a stretch may make sense given their chemistry on the third pair late last season.
Victor Mete: C
Jonas: Mete has been in and out of the lineup when he’s been up with the Leafs, and it seemed to say something that the team chose to play Hollowell — who had zero NHL experience — ahead of him when Rielly went down with injury. As a depth guy making the minimum who can play the left and right sides, he’s still useful to have around.
Jake Muzzin: Incomplete
James: Muzzin’s career very well could be over given the cervical spine issue he’s dealing with. Grading him given the severity of that feels crass. Here’s hoping he can make a full recovery, whether that involves a return to the NHL or not, as he’s one of the league’s true good guys. The Leafs likely miss him even more in the dressing room than on the ice.
Morgan Rielly: B
Jonas: It was looking like a bit of a down year for Rielly before he injured his knee. However, he was at the forefront of the Leafs’ changing defensive fortunes.
- Rielly’s first 10 games expected goals plus-minus per 60 minutes: 0.13
- Rielly’s next 10 games expected goals plus-minus per 60 minutes: 0.46
Rielly trailed only Brodie in shot and expected goal rate defensively in those latter 10 games. Though he hasn’t scored yet this season, Rielly has been the only real source of offence from the back end. His 16 points — all assists — top the Leaf defence: 10 more than the next closest player (Rasmus Sandin).
The good news is it sounds like Rielly will miss only a hair more than a month, which means there’ll be time for him to get back to form well in advance of the postseason.
Rasmus Sandin: B-
James: Again, missing part of training camp is tough, especially for a young defenceman. Sandin has shown flashes of his ability to read plays and move the puck, and we like what we see on the power play, but there have been some key mistakes that hold down his grade. With so many injuries on the blue line, he has the opportunity here to play big minutes and show that he’s ready for a top-four role. So far, the jury is out.
Zach Aston-Reese: B
Jonas: It took him some time to get comfortable with a new team, but he’s established himself now as David Kampf’s tag-team partner, a reliable, physical, and safe option on the wing for Sheldon Keefe. Aston-Reese is tops among Leaf regulars up front in hit rate, throwing over 10 per 60 minutes. He’s not brought much offence, scoring twice in his first 19 games, but with an offensive zone faceoff percentage of just 28 percent, among the lowest figures in the league, it’s hard to really blame him.
Michael Bunting: B-
James: The Bunting of a year ago has been MIA. Perhaps his 63-point season raised expectations beyond a reasonable level, given his experience and salary, but he’s also been stapled to Matthews’ LW for a lot of the year and has still struggled to produce at even strength the way he did a year ago. Maybe he’s closer to a 39-point player than a 63-point one? Perhaps. What’s most concerning is how ordinary Bunting has looked when moved down the lineup, something that should scare management off from the rumoured eight-year contract that was out there early in the season.
Kyle Clifford: Incomplete
Jonas: Only two games for Clifford before he got hurt. The Leafs know who he is and what he brings: a veteran who can play 10 safe-ish, physical minutes if needed in a pinch.
Pierre Engvall: D
James: Expectations were up once he signed his new $2.25 million deal in the offseason. Engvall has come far from delivering. It’s not just the fact he only has four points in 20 games. He also hasn’t been the force defensively that he was a year ago. Part of this is due to the ankle injury he suffered in offseason training, something that clearly limited him early in the year. But even months later, he still doesn’t look like the fleet-footed giraffe he was on so many nights in his breakthrough campaign last season.
Pontus Holmberg: A
Jonas: I liked Holmberg from the moment I first saw him in person at the Leafs summer development camp. He’s been just what I thought he might be — not flashy, but smart and sound defensively. He’s leading the Leafs in the possession department (tiny sample size notwithstanding) and nabbed his first NHL goal on Wednesday night. One area for improvement: Faceoffs. He’s won just 34 percent so far.
Calle Jarnkrok: F
James: We’re really not seeing what led to him getting a four-year deal in the offseason. With Nicolas Aube-Kubel gone, Jarnkrok is dead last on the Leafs in expected goals share at even strength this season. And he’s barely playing, averaging just 9:40 a night at five-on-five. They might need to try to Nick Ritchie this contract if this continues.
David Kampf: B
Jonas: Kampf hasn’t been quite as dominant in quicksand duty — buried in his own zone — as he was last year.
Kampf underlying numbers
|Per 60 minutes||2022-23||2021-22|
He has continued to make strides offensively, his shot looking frisky in particular, and remained a trustworthy security blanket for his head coach. Kampf still seems to do his best work when he’s got Engvall road-running beside him (61 percent expected goals).
Alex Kerfoot: D
James: Kerfoot was never going to produce 50 points again, given how shooting percentage inflated his totals last year. But we were expecting a bit more than his current 27-point pace. The slump seems to have really hit Kerfoot’s confidence, to the extent he’s not passing when he should shoot, again and again. The underlying numbers offer a bit of solace, and the Leafs are outscoring the opposition with him on the ice, but he’s certainly part of the secondary scoring issue this season.
Denis Malgin: B-
Jonas: He’s won me over, somewhat, with his mostly tenacious play so far, especially for a guy making the minimum salary. On the other hand, he’s not producing much offence — zero goals, one assist in his last 10 games — and his comfy fit with Kampf and Aston-Reese has gotten, well, a little less comfy of late. I still wonder about his fit in this lineup.
Mitch Marner: B-
James: He leads the team in scoring, albeit with only four goals, and is on pace for 94 points, which is nothing to write off.
But save for a few inspired moments of late, Marner hasn’t really looked himself, especially at even strength, and there’s not really a great explanation as to why. His shots-on-goal totals are down dramatically — by basically one-third — which has put a lot more pressure on his linemates to be the shooting threats when he’s out there.
Auston Matthews: B-
Jonas: He just hasn’t been the dominant five-on-five player we’ve come to expect. His minutes have even tailed off a bit of late, which suggests that perhaps he’s playing through an injury of some sort or is simply worn down. Matthews is still producing on the power play (six goals) and his shooting numbers (10 percent) will inevitably tick up. Right now, Matthews is on pace for 35 goals and 82 points — a huge dropoff from last season when he punched in 60 goals and 106 points in only 73 games.
William Nylander: A-
James: Nylander is tracking to reach career highs in goals and points, with 21 in 21 games through the first quarter. And he has one of the lower on-ice shooting percentages at even strength on the team, suggesting there’s more offence there to be mined the rest of the way. One wonders if the Leafs should think about dialling his minutes up even more from the 18:11 he’s playing a night.
Nick Robertson: C
Jonas: There have been flashes, mostly his electric two-goal season debut against Dallas, but mostly Robertson has struggled to prove that he’s ready to be a full-time NHLer. He’s bounced in and out of the lineup and played sparingly when he has been in there; he played only 10 minutes in New Jersey and fell as low as six minutes and 30 seconds one night. He’s yet to earn Keefe’s trust, particularly as a defender. The Leafs are giving up 33 shots and over 62 attempts per 60 minutes with Robertson out there, the worst marks of any forward on the team. Robertson also hasn’t scored since his debut (10 games). He’s still young in the league, still learning, but the hoped-for leap hasn’t been there yet.
Wayne Simmonds: B
James: He’s had a helluva career, and you can’t help but admire the way he’s still battling to stay in the league after all his body has been through.
John Tavares: A
Jonas: Tavares has been the Leafs’ most consistent performer so far. Offseason work to address his skating has really paid off. With an extra half-step, Tavares is chasing down more loose pucks and forcing more turnovers. In fact, his takeaway rate (3.14 per game) this season exceeds even Matthews (2.9) and Marner (2.9), two of the game’s elite pickpocket artists. Tavares is chowing down on just about every quality look around the net, especially on the power play where he’s converted on 30 percent (!) of his shots. Fewer minutes (17 per game) might also be keeping him fresher throughout.
(Top photo: Mark Blinch / NHLI via Getty Images)
Stats and research courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey and Hockey Reference