The Toronto Maple Leafs season is over and now it’s time to issue grades for every forward, defenseman, and goalie.
The book on most of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2021-22 roster is approximately the same: well-above-average regular season, not-good-enough post-season. But every player’s trajectory is a little bit different, and that can be chalked up to a number of factors, including their contractual status and details, their health, and good, old-fashioned puck luck. With that in mind, let’s go into a short evaluation of each Leafs player (with a minimum of 20 games played, with the exception of their goalies), and give them a grade.
Auston Matthews. Regular-Season Grade: A+ Post-Season Grade: B+
A 60-goal, 104-point, Hart Trophy-worthy regular season is as good as it gets. Matthews also averaged more than one point-per-game (in total, four goals and nine points) in Toronto’s first-round loss to Tampa Bay. He wasn’t why Toronto lost to the Bolts. Could he have done more? Possibly. But Toronto couldn’t have gotten to where they are without him.
Mitch Marner. Regular-Season Grade: A+ Post-Season Grade: B
Like his linemate Matthews, Marner had a career year on offense (35 goals, 97 points). And, like Matthews, he averaged more than one point per game against Tampa. Marner and Matthews each had an assist in Toronto’s 2-1 Game Seven loss, but because of their star power, and because of their team-high salaries, they’ll always be looked to for that much more. Bolts star goalie Andrei Vasileyvskiy turned out to be the best player in the series; next year, the Leafs need one of, or both of Marner and Matthews to be the best.
William Nylander. Regular-Season Grade: A Post-Season Grade: B-
Nylander also put up career-highs in goals (35), assists (45) and points (80). But he had only three goals against the Lightning (when he had five against Montreal last spring), and although Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is under no obligation to trade him, Toronto’s lack of playoff success means Dubas has to at least seriously consider moving him. Doing so would necessarily mean landing an above-average defenseman, but this is a natural progression of the way things have played out in Leafs Land. His $6.9-million salary has the best value Dubas could use in a potential deal, and in Toronto’s looming cap crunch, moving Nylander may make the most sense.
John Tavares. Regular-Season Grade: A Post-Season Grade: B+
Once again, Tavares was virtually a point-per-game player in the regular season (he had 27 goals and 76 points in 79 games), and he also had a decent-enough playoff (three goals and six points in seven games). He’s also one of the best faceoff men in the league. He may be 31 years old now, but he can and does still contribute valuable minutes, and he’s one of Toronto’s hardest players on the puck. Like Matthews and Marner, he’s not going anywhere.
Michael Bunting. Regular-Season Grade: A Post-Season Grade: B-
Bunting was one of Dubas’ best off-season pickups this year, scoring 23 goals and 63 points while playing on the Leafs’ top line with Matthews and Marner. The willing antagonist didn’t have a big impact in the playoffs (one goal, three points), but he was also playing injured. Signed through next season at $950,000, he’s one of the top-value players on Toronto’s roster.
Alex Kerfoot. Regular-Season Grade: B+ Post-Season Grade: C
Kerfoot amassed a career-best 51 points this year, while playing up and down Toronto’s top three lines. But he had some devastating turnovers against the Lightning, and his $3.5 million salary is too much of a luxury for the Leafs at this stage. Expect Dubas to find a new home for him this summer, and his cap space to be what they get back in any deal.
David Kampf. Regular-Season Grade: A Post-Season Grade: B+
Another excellent first-year Leaf, Kampf was speedy and defensively terrific, and Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe showed much confidence in him. He had only a pair of goals in the post-season, but as the third-line center, he delivered what was asked of him. He’s got one year left at $1.25 million, and Toronto will almost assuredly use him in the same role next season.
Ilya Mikheyev. Regular-Season Grade: A Post-Season Grade: B-
Mikheyev had a fantastic year on offense (a career-high 21 goals and 32 points), but he wasn’t much of a factor against the Lightning (a pair of empty-net goals, and no assists), and he’s essentially priced himself out of a return to Toronto. The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent will have no shortage of suitors on the open market, and Dubas has other priorities ahead of bringing the Russian winger back. The cap system requires teams to move on from players they might otherwise have chosen to retain, and Mikheyev is likely to be another example of that for the Leafs.
Pierre Engvall. Regular-Season Grade: B+ Post-Season Grade: B-
The third-year NHLer had a career-high in goals (15), assists (20) and points (35), but he failed to score against Tampa Bay. Engvall has evolved into a high-quality depth player, and as a restricted free agent this summer, he won’t get a huge raise from the $1.25 million he earned for Toronto this year. The 25-year-old will be back and playing the same type of minutes next season, and the Leafs will be hoping to see more improvement from him.
Jason Spezza. Regular-Season Grade: B+ Post-Season Grade: B
Playing once again on a one-year, league-minimum $750,000 salary, Spezza had 12 goals – his best total since the 2016-17 season, with Dallas, when he had 15 – and he did so in extremely-limited role on the fourth line. But after Keefe made Spezza a healthy scratch in the first two games against the Lightning, it was clear Spezza’s NHL days were numbered. He’d likely gladly return next season, but it’s more likely Dubas and Leafs brass look to younger options like rookies Nick Robertson and Nick Abruzzese for his roster spot.
Wayne Simmonds. Regular-Season Grade: C+ Post-Season Grade: C
Simmonds scored just five times and had only 16 points in 72 regular-season games, his lowest offensive totals as an NHLer. He also was a healthy scratch in all but two of Toronto’s seven playoff games. The 33-year-old is signed through next season at a cap hit of $900,000, but Dubas may decide to send him to the Marlies and use him only in the case of injuries. He’s had an excellent career, but the end is at hand for him.
Colin Blackwell. Regular-Season Grade: B+ Post-Season Grade: B
Acquired in the trade deadline move that made him and defenseman Mark Giordano Maple Leafs, Blackwell had a combined 10 goals and 20 points in 58 games between the Seattle Kraken and Toronto. The Buds like his speed and tenacity, but the pending UFA is going to get offers from other teams that likely put him out of the Leafs’ salary range for a fourth-liner. He’ll continue to be a solid worker bee for some team, but that team probably won’t be Toronto.
Kyle Clifford. Regular-Season Grade: C Post-Season Grade: C
Clifford was re-acquired by Dubas during the season, but he appeared in only 25 games, and played all of 49 seconds in one game of playoff action. He’s signed through next season, but he’ll start the season with the American League Marlies, and only get recalled if Toronto feels they’re being pushed around by opponents.
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Morgan Rielly. Regular-Season Grade: A Post-Season Grade: A
Coming into a contract year, Rielly was excellent all-around this season, and his contract extension that averages $7.5 million per season gives Dubas some breathing room to attempt to re-sign veteran Giordano. Rielly also had three goals and six points against the Lightning, numbers most Toronto forwards would’ve been happy with in the first round. He’s never going to be a Norris Trophy winner as hockey’s best blueliner, but he’s far above average on both sides of the puck, and he’s the best D-man the Leafs employ. That’s not going to change in 2022-23.
T.J. Brodie. Regular-Season Grade: A Post-Season Grade: A
He’s not the flashiest Leaf, nor is he paid to produce offense, but Brodie, very quietly, just goes out and does a savvy, high-impact job almost every night. His $5-million cap hit is money well-spent by Dubas, and he’ll continue to be trusted by Keefe in any situation.
Jake Muzzin. Regular-Season Grade: B- Post-Season Grade: B-
Injuries limited Muzzin to only 47 regular-season games this year, and when he was in the lineup, the 33-year-old looked as if he’d lost a step and was struggling to keep up. He’s got two more seasons left at a cap hit of $5.65 million, and he may need to have his minutes limited to the third-defensive-pairing, but the Leafs will want to squeeze as much out of him as he has left to give.
Ilya Lyubushkin. Regular-Season Grade: B Post-Season Grade: B-
Lyubushkin became a staple on the Leafs’ back end after he was acquired from Arizona mid-season. He was one of the bigger, more rugged Toronto defenders, but as a pending UFA, he may move on to another franchise this summer.
Mark Giordano. Regular-Season Grade: B+ Post-Season Grade: B+
The Leafs were very pleased by what they got from Giordano, who had 10 assists and 12 points in 20 regular-season games wearing Blue and White. Dubas is very interested in bringing the veteran back next year, but he’ll have to take a significant pay cut from the $6.75 million cap hit he had this season. It does seem doable, though, and playing for a full year in his hometown may be worth it for Giordano. If he does return, he gives Toronto great depth and experience on the blueline.
Justin Holl. Regular-Season Grade: C Post-Season Grade: C
Like Kerfoot and Spezza, Holl has probably played his final game as a Leaf. He was a punching bag for Toronto fans during the regular season, but it wasn’t as if Leafs fans were making up errors out of thin air. Toronto’s younger, cheaper D-men will push him out of a job in Leafs Land. With one season left at $2-million, he needs a new beginning elsewhere.
Timothy Liljegren. Regular-Season Grade: B Post-Season Grade: B-
This was the year Liljegren finally established himself as an NHLer. That said, he is still a work-in-progress, and having fellow young Swede Rasmus Sandin challenging him for time may mean he stays in Toronto in a relatively limited role. But he has better days ahead, and the only question will be is whether the 23-year-old has them as a Leaf, or with a new team.
Rasmus Sandin. Regular-Season Grade: B Post-Season Grade: N/A
He appeared in only 51 games largely because of health woes, but Sandin scored five goals and 16 points, and he still factors into Toronto’s future in a big way. At age 22, Sandin is still growing his game, and the Leafs still want him around for a long time. But Toronto’s core of veteran D-men will force Sandin to earn any bump in minutes and/or opportunities.
Jack Campbell. Regular-Season Grade: B Post-Season Grade: B
Campbell began the season looking sharp, but injuries and the heaviest workload of his NHL career – 49 games – brought his stats back down to earth. He didn’t steal any games for the Leafs against the Lightning, but he’s one of the strongest goalies available on the UFA market this summer, and Dubas has a big decision to make – commit long-term to Campbell, or start anew with a different veteran. Either way, Cambpell will make much more than the $1.65 million he made this season.
Petr Mrazek. Regular-Season Grade: F Post-Season Grade: N/A
Mrazek was a total washout in his first year as a Leaf, posting a 3.34 goals-against average and .889 save percentage in 20 games. He also couldn’t stay healthy, and wasn’t going to be an option in net for Toronto against Tampa Bay even if he was feeling good. The Leafs had their share of Phil Kessel’s contract come off their books at the end of this season, but I fully expect Mrazek to be bought out of the final two years of his contract. This was an experiment people were skeptical of from the beginning, and those skeptics proved to be correct.
Erik Kallgren. Regular-Season Grade: B- Post-Season Grade: N/A
Kallgren went 8-4 for the Leafs in 14 appearances this season. For a guy who wasn’t imagined to be a factor at all at the NHL level this year, that’s not bad at all. His individual numbers (3.31 G.A.A., .888 SP) weren’t impressive, but at a $750,000 salary next year, he may be the most cost-effective option Toronto has as a No. 2 netminder.
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