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Grading day Part II: the Maple Leaf forwards

Recently I broke my own vow not to start doing the player-grading thing, but desperate (read: no news, at least nothing of genuine substance to bat around in these ultra-quiet Leaf times, other than Luongo reminding us he'd rather be in Florida) times call for, if not necessarily legitimate innovation, then at least personal compromise on occasion.

So after sharing my thoughts (and yes, “grades”) with you on our goalies and back end yesterday, let’s do the same for the forward group.

Here goes (nothing?):


Clarke MacArthur C+

It’s funny, two years into his time here, I’m not quite sure I “get” MacArthur.  I mean, he’s a perfectly nice player and all.  He can score goals at times and seems to contribute in different ways.  Yet he’s just not a player that excites me.  I may be missing something here, I don't know.  We all remember that Burke was trying desperately to figure out (before he signed Clarke to that new contract) which player MacArthur was—the first-year Leaf surprise, or the replaceable winger that had earlier bounced from team to team.  I’m still not sure. Since I don’t project him as much more than what we have already seen here, I’ll stick with my decision. (And will gladly be wrong, given any reason to be proven so this coming season…)

Tyler Bozak  C+

I like Bozak, and for some reason I want to like Bozak. He seems like a decent young man (how would I know though, eh?), has good skating ability and can win a lot of face-offs.  He has been the supposed defensive conscience of various lines that he has centered in his still very young NHL career.  To me, his “potential” is much higher than the grade I’ve given him today as we head into the 2012-’13 NHL season.  I sense he can become a bit of a point producer and play on any number of lines reasonably well.  But despite this versatility, I’m reluctant to give him more until, frankly, he actually shows more—and on a consistent basis.

David Steckel  C

He’s big.  He wins a lot of face-offs.  I really don’t know what else to say.  I mean, good teams need guys like Steckel for role-purposes (penalty-kill, face-offs, defensive assignments, etc.) and I know these types of players can be integral pieces in a much larger—when successful—team puzzle.  I’m just not of the view that Steckel is exactly that kind of player in our set-up.  Thus, the modest grade for the veteran center.

Matthew Lombardi C-

Lombardi has always had wheels.  He’s a nice player.  Again, like so (too?) many Leafs, he’s NHL caliber, but, well, not much more than a third or fourth line player over the course of a season at this level.  His “plus” skill, as scouts like to talk about, is obviously his skating.  If he were a baseball player, where they talk about that rare “5-tool player”, I’d say Lombardi is a 2-tool contributor.  Which is fine, but it’s too late in his career to think about potential, so the grade to me seems fair.

Nikolai Kulemin B-

Nik is another personal favourite of mine.  That said, while I know people have defended him, saying while he didn’t score last year he still did other things to contribute, I just can’t cut him that much slack.  Whatever the reasons for his obvious decline in production (and we have certainly chatted about the various possibilities here in the past), I felt his overall game actually fell back as well.  He didn’t play “big” enough often enough.  He was not consistently physical and simply wasn’t consistently a strong Leaf ‘presence’ on the ice.  He didn’t always seem as engaged as he had been in earlier seasons, at least to me, when his career arc was trending so positively.  I think he is—and will be—better than the grade I have ascribed to him.  But last season, he was worse than I’ve graded him now.  To me, that’s a reasonable compromise.  I need to see more, and he needs to deliver this coming season.

Nazem Kadri C

Really, the grade should be “incomplete”, because I feel, as I’ve said in this space before before, the Leafs have mishandled this player.  I won't bore you with why I feel this way—I’ve chronicled that perspective many times here before. (Click on his name on the right hand side of the site under "categories" if you’d like to read further mild rants in this regard…)

We all see his attributes.  And yes, he is now a physical specimen after working with Gary Roberts all summer.  How that translates into being an impact player at this level, I really don’t know.  He’s still plenty young at 22 and he will hopefully receive the opportunity to play real minutes with the big club this season.

Mikhail Grabovski  B/B+

Some Leaf fans cottoned to Grabovski from his earliest days in Toronto.  I was a slow adapter myself.  It took me a while to appreciate the he was more than a guy who a) had a thing for the Kostitsyn brothers (i.e. he hated them) and that b) he only played hard against his old team, the Habs.  He has grown on me over the years, for sure.  And he certainly created a buzz in Leaf country when Chara almost killed him during that game in Boston in the 2010-’11 season—and Grabovski came back and scored a brilliant game-winning goal on a solo rush later, obviously still somewhat concussed. 

All this said, I still fear his size, despite his obvious feistiness, holds him back a tad.  I’m not sure if his peak is any more than what we have seen.  Thus, I’m reluctant to grade him higher but I’m open to arguments to the contrary. He’s a very nice second-line center, but to me, nothing more.

Mike Brown  C-

How can you not like Mike Brown? He gives what he has.  Stands up for teammates.  Fights anybody, even makes some nice plays once in a while.  Could he be “more” than what we see, given the chance?  I don’t know.  So, an average grade for a modest overall impact.

Phil Kessel  A-

I recently posted on Kessel, asking readers if Kessel would ever be more than he is—or seems to be.  I was thinking along the lines of things like leadership, toughness, consistency, all-around play, how he will fare when the going gets tough in the playoffs, etc..

Yes, he experiences scoring droughts every season.  He yawns during hockey games.  But in this part of the hockey world, he is the closest thing we have to a player who brings you out of your seat.  He may always leave a lot of fans (including me) wanting more, but for today, I’ll give him his due.  He is a rare player that can make creative plays and lead dangerous rushes at high speed.

Joffrey Lupul  B+

Now, the “grade” may seem unfair given his career-year in 2011-’12 with the Leafs.  My concern, though, is that I have no idea what his short-term future is here, much less the impact he will have longer term.  He is not a strong defensive player, and while he did seem to bring a winning attitude to the Leafs last year, I just don’t know if Lupul can duplicate (must less better) his efforts of a year ago. 

Did he make Kessel better, or did Kessel make him better?  My guess is they complemented each other, and that’s how it should be when a line meshes.  Everyone benefits.

Am I not giving Lupul his due?

Tim Connolly D+

I can’t possibly be fair to Connolly.  I liked him five years ago when he was in his still youthful prime with the Sabres.  But I was all too aware of how the Sabre fan base felt about him when he left the team in free-agency before signing with the Leafs last summer—for way too much money.  I had modest expectations for Connolly in Toronto, and he delivered exactly what I expected.  He played himself out of top-line minutes, and that enabled some Leaf supporters (and I understand their perspective) to defend him, saying it was unfair to expect more given declining minutes and mediocre linemates.  True, but sometimes you create your own mess, eh?

Sorry, I just can’t do any better than the grade I gave him.

I don’t have enough information to comment thoughtfully on Jay McClement or James van Riemsdyk.  My expectations for McCelement are indeed modest.  I’m sure he’s a perfectly capable third-line player, but the world is full of those, it seems.  While van Riemsdyk quite impressed me in the playoffs for the Flyers a couple of years ago, I can’t say I’ve watched him closely enough to make a valid assessment.  I’ll let those of you who do know them well enough to comment share your thoughts.

Has anyone noticed that unlike Matt Frattin, Keith Aucoin is listed on the current Maple Leaf roster on the organization's web site?

We still have needs….


  1. Micheal,

    The forwards are where the fun is. Thanks for doing this, here are the guys that we can all love to hate.

    MacArthur, sometimes thrilling. Other times I had to check the lineup after the game to see if he played. I think he is the enigma of this team. Sometimes looks like a world beater, the rest of the time the world beats him up. C - from me.

    Bozak, Steckel and Lombardi. C- for all of them. Completely replaceable mediocre parts. Bozak may get better, I hope he does, but what a terrible no 1 centre.

    Kadri, we will certainly disagree on this one. Other than his 'magic hands' that a certain poorly dressed man loves to talk about. I see a spoiled, entitled player, expecting that the team plays him, even though the only time he seems to be interested in the game is when he has the puck on his stick. Even with his new-found commitment to fitness, pro athletes should always have this, no? He is small, slow and will probably end his career with a major injury. He makes me think of Nik Borschevsky, every time I watch him play. I would clearly trade him for just about anything. He is the only Leaf I would buy a ticket out of town with my own money. I am tired of hearing about this guy. He is the epitome of the potential argument to me. So without further adieu, an F for Kadri. No surprise given the rant, I know. Seventh overall pick that will probably never play in the League, in my opinion.

    Love Grabbo. That guy wants to play, that is for sure. Excellent #2 center. B+ He has all kinds of heart, and a fair amount of skill as well.

    Mike Brown does everything asked of him as a 4th line energy guy. Fights everyone, hits, skates and is a great team guy. Easy A here.

    I love Nik Kulemin. I wish I could give him a better grade, he needs to get the puck in the net more. B

    Kessel. A There isn't much point in expecting him to be more than he is, as far as I am concerned, he's fine.

    Lupul. A Hope he rebounds from the injury, again. Point a game players are hard to come by.

    Connolly. F Big money for a checking center who produces little offence.

    Please do a wish list of potential trades next. That would be fun. I still want Crosby in Blue and White. They can have Burke in return. And Kadri, Komisarek and Kessel. Not Kulemin, ok Kulemin too. All our K's. Whaddya say?

  2. I don't think you're alone on Kadri. I sense a number of Leaf supporters wish the Leafs had drafted someone else in that slot. I've seen a number of players turn a corner in their third pro season, so maybe a bit more patience will help. (I've been suggesting here for well over a year that he has been "in play" when it comes to trades. I believe they would move him if the right deal came along...)

    For me, we still don't have enough legitimate high-end forwards. It's almost as though, when we cite them by name, we seem to have some talent up front- but when we actually play the game, it feels like we have too many third and fourth-line guys.

    Crosby is a great player. I have a feeling he will have a short career, unfortunately, and I don't think he will ever leave Pittsburgh.

    Thanks Jim!

  3. Michael,

    I look at it this way. I think we have a great second line. Kessel, Lupul and Grabovski in the middle. What we don't have is a number one line. We have no one who can play against the Staals, Malkins, Crosbys, Richards of the League.

    I will have to wish that you are wrong on Crosby. I hope he has a wonderful, long career. Even if it might not be in the Blue and White.

    I would not be surprised to see Kadri traded either. At some point doesn't every prospect have to force his way onto the team? Otherwise they just don't seem to have what it takes, in my opinion. The teams aren't supposed to be the United Way, handing out roster spots so to speak.

  4. I have struggled to put together effective forward combinations for this Leaf team. Are we talking about a top six - bottom six as Burke seems to prefer or are we talking about a top nine and a line of grinders which I definitely prefer.

    I think we can assume that the Leafs will carry 14 forwards - 12 active and 2 inactive

    If we take Carlyle at his word the top line will be Lupal (A-) - van Riemsdyk (B) - Kessel (A-). I believe van Riemsdyk has A potential but I'm not sure it is at centre.

    I would like to see a second line of Frattin (C but with B potential) - Grabovski (B+) - MacArthur (B)

    The third line could be Kulemin (B for his hustle and checking) - Bozak (B as a 3rd line centre) - Kadri (C- with B potential).

    The 4th line has a large number of candidates. I am not high on Mike Brown. He is injury prone and has averaged a point every ten games over his NHL career. Both Brad Ross and Leo Komarov bring grit and can also score. Jay McClement looks like a solid checking centre who can also kill penalties.

    I realize that there are arguments both for and against these combinations. The reality is that the only places etched in stone are Lupal and Kessel as first line wingers and Grabovski as second line center. From all indications Burke is dead set for McClement to be the third line center and I'm afraid Connolly and Lombardi will find their way into the line-up. I guess I could stomach them but please don't tell me that we'll see Jay Rosehill again. Also a trade could change everything.

    The Leafs were tenth in goal scoring last season. The forwards did their part offensively but there needs to be a large improvement in defense, penalty killing and overall grit.

  5. I would give Grabovski an A-.

    Even though his linemate Kulemin was way down to half the points of the previous year and MacArthur was down by 19 points. Grabovski kept producing at about the same pace.

    What if Kulemin scores 10 more goals last year which would be more like a typical year and MacArthur plays better? If they do I think Grabovski gets another 10-15 points and thus 60-65 points in 74 games.

    Grabovski keeps getting a little bit better. I think we will see a couple of 65 point years from him as a Leaf. 65 points and a good defencensive game from a second line center? at that point he is a pure A for sure.

    Lupul at least A-

    He was going at a point a game and the team falls off a cliff when he isn't there. Is Lupul the quiet leader that we don't recognize? Only time will tell.

    Bozak B-

    He is in way over his head and his two linemates have career years...gotta notch him up for not screwing up Lupul and Kessel's results.

    Lombardi D+

    18 points in 62 games? I know he was coming back from a severe injury but I expected more...about 30 points.

    Kadri B

    He is exactly where he should be for his age and draft position: Lighting it up in the AHL and learning to be a real NHLer.

    Project his 7 points and plus 2 in 21 games over a full season and you get 27 points and plus 7. Nothing wrong with that for a young guy on the third line. If he plays a full season this year, I bet he gets over 30 points.

  6. I think you're right on the money, Jim. Great second line. Not sure we have had a true first line in years.

    As for Kadri, we're at the "less talk (on all sides) and more action" stage. If he can earn a spot and show his skills, great. If not....

    I, too, hope Sid the Kid has a long career.

    Thanks Jim.

  7. fair assessment! hopefully the players take a sneak-peak at this article for a cold/hard look at reality!

  8. I like your breakdown, PeteCam.

    Away from grading for a moment, I think one of the concerns heading into a new season is that we seemingly haven't addressed the earlier objectives of a) experience and leadership b) goaltending and c) a first-line centre, not to mention d) as you also cite, Pete, more toughness and grit throughout the lineup.

    Carlyle, as many have noted here, may be a difference-maker. We'll see. Newcomers like Komarov (as you mention) may help in the grit department. Reimer may return healthy. But still so many questions.

    Thanks PeteCam.

  9. Thanks DP.

    Kadri seems to be one of the guys who creates a split opinion out there. You like his potential; as many do. Some are less enthused. His development is certainly one of the things we'll all be watching this season!

  10. Thanks for posting, Alex C.. My "grading" will seem too easy for some, too harsh for others. But it gets us thinking about hockey rather than the CBA for a couple of days!

  11. My first reaction in seeing your grades (as compared to the grades given to the defense) is to notice the forwards indeed are rated much lower than the defense generally. The media in general, as well as some fans, have derided our defense the past couple years as slow, incompetent, and in need of a major overhaul. My overall grades would probably fall more in line like yours did. I do believe in the defense we have, heck I even thought Schenn was doing an okay job. After all, defense starts up front, and our forwards have not done enough to give our defense a level playing field.

    As far as the individual grades, I have a couple personal observations. While I do think that Kessel and Lupul complement each other nicely, I see Lupul as the catalyst who brings work ethic and leadership to that line. He is visible every shift and gives maximum effort, and to that end I'd give him the A- and Kessel the B+.

    There is an ocean of "C" players among our forwards, and I would have to agree on most of them too. Simply average, interchangeable parts that you hardly notice on the ice in any given game, and if they were traded for another team's "C" forward, it wouldn't change much on the ice or in the locker room.

    I do have to say that I really like Mike Brown and I would give him at least a "B". I won't hold the injury bug against him, and I will say that he is one player that you can't help but notice flying all over the ice every time he steps on for a shift. I've wondered at times how much more of an impact he might make with 10-14 minutes a game instead of the 3-8 minutes he usually sees.

    Good work putting these together!

  12. Thanks Pete...I could probably go either way ion Lupul/Kessel, too. I guess I'm just wondering which Lupul we get this year. (We seem to know exactly what we have in Kessel...)

    Kudos to Brown as well. I did not grade him higher, but in terms of effort, we can't question that.

    Thanks Pete. Good stuff, as always.

  13. "Thanks DP.

    Kadri seems to be one of the guys who creates a split opinion out there. You like his potential; as many do. Some are less enthused. His development is certainly one of the things we'll all be watching this season!"

    I think Kadri is much like Mike Ribeiro. They are almost the exact same size...just under 6 foot smallish 180 lbs centers with some skill and reputations as agitatitors and jerks.

    Their early careers compare well. They were both about point a game guys in the AHL, but neither lit up the NHL in the first few years. In his second real NHL season Ribero only had 17 points in 52 games but then he jumps to 65 the next year and later does 83 points in one season.

    If Kadri develops the same way you need to give him three years of significant time in the NHL and maybe four.

    Even if you are going to trade Kadri wait until you can get maximum value which should be arround the 3-4 year mark.

    It would be brutal if the Leafs don't get full value and Kadri goes on to future, multiple 60-80 point seasons on some other team.

  14. As I mentioned above, DP, I've seen a number of young players really begin to gain confidence and thrive in their third professional season. (Lanny McDonald was a prime example many years ago...)

    Kadri certainly could be one of those. He has not played many NHL games at this point. He needs to play- a lot, and get comfortable, I would think. Thanks DP.

  15. Re: Jim's post...

    I don't understand how you can rate Kadri an F to be honest. He's a victim of winger depth and not being fit at this moment to play center in the NHL. The leafs are actually quite deep at wing. Is he a better player right now than any of Kessel, Lupul, Kulemin, MacArthur and now van Riemsdyk? No, but that doesn't mean he's an F.

    For comparison, I think we'd all agree Brayden Schenn looks to be a very good player with a lot of upside and the potential to become a very good top 6 forward...

    Here are some numbers.

    A: 63GP, 12G, 8A, 20P, 34PIM
    B: 51GP, 8G, 11A, 19P, 16PIM

    If you haven't already guessed, Schenn, a player everyone seems to be so high on now, is player A, while our own Nazem Kadri is player B. Their numbers are remarkably similar, Kadri has taken fewer penalties (and he also draws a fair number of penalties, one of his very valuable and underrated skills).

    I think it's fairly silly to grade Kadri at all. The problem is there are 5 wingers right now ahead of Kadri on the depth chart. He's obviously not supplanting lupul/kessel on the first line. I'd argue Kule is better suited to the checking line with Frattin, which means Kadri's only chance to play top 6 minutes is on grabovski's wing, and that will only happen if MacArthur is moved out. Kadri isn't the type of player that will grow by putting him on the 4th line and that's why he hasn't seem significant NHL time

  16. Hi Darryl...I don't want to put words into Jim's mouth, but I sense he was simply expressing frustration with all the "talk" aound Kadri since the day he was drafted. Some of it from the player himself, some from the Leaf brass. Sometimes we just don't "like" certain players, for whatever reason. It could be Kadri is one of those players for Jim. But I'll let him say more if he wants to.

    As you probably read, I indicayed in my post I should probably have given Kadri an "incomplete". He hasn't played here enough, and not in the optimium circumstances, for me to feel comfortable with a jaor (or fair) assessment.

    The Schenn comparison is potentially instructive, yes. The numbers are one point of reference. I think people also see Schenn as more of a 'spitfire'- a more intense, driving player than Kadri.

    Thanks Darryl.

  17. Michael,

    In response to Darryl. Thanks for the help Michael. I have some time and don't mind in any way further explaining my thoughts on Kadri.

    FIrst off, the fact that it has taken him more than three years to take his fitness level seriously, upsets me. From the first time we heard his name called 7th overall, he should have taken his strength and fitness seriously. He didn't, and that says something to me about the player. He wasted 3 years not doing what he should have been doing. Getting bigger, fitter and stronger. Again to me, it comes across as someone who is lazy and entitled. We all believe they are very fortunate to have the opportunity to play in the League. The fact that he isn't putting in the effort to be the best he can be is a little insulting, considering his willingness to be in front of the cameras. Especially early on.

    If I was to ask you which player you would want on your team right now. Would you take Schenn or Kadri? I would take Schenn in a second. For these reasons, he is a center. There is no talk of him not being able to thrive at the position and move him permanently to the wing. This speaks to me about the players willingness and ability to produce in the League. No one ever said since Gilmour is small, lets make him a winger. It makes me ask why are we trying to do this with Kadri? The Leafs need a #1 center, not more third and fourth line wingers. We have a tonne of them, and I see Kadri as a player who is not as good a player right now.

    If the Leafs are going to play him as a winger, what kind of player can we expect him to become. He is small, not strong, and in my opinion skates poorly, speed wise especially. He has shown no willingness to be a defensive presence. As I recall, defence is primarily an effort situation. The more effort you put into it, the better you will be at it.

    There is something to Michael's point as well. There is something that became incredibly grating, hearing his name constantly as the next one for the club. He's an ok player, he definitely doesn't deserve national television attention on Saturday nights. If he isn't a dominating player in the AHL, I am not sure that he ever can be in the NHL.

    There are currently many wingers on the Leafs roster. I don't see where Kadri fits, personally. He is a guy who isn't a better scorer than the guys who will play above him in the lineup. And he isn't a better checker/defensive presence than the guys that will play those roles. Can we afford to play him at the expense of winning, in the hopes that he magically gets better? The Leafs need to win, soon, not 5 years from now.

    Why can't he learn to be a center in the AHL? Perhaps even become a dominant player. Why are we so eager to have him in the NHL? He certainly hasn't earned it. It is what the Leafs need, if he doesn't work out, fine. Another average third line winger is not what the Leafs need now, or in the future. If management didn't think he would pan out as a center, why did they draft him? Good stories about the hometown kid?

  18. Some valid and fair observations, Jim. Darryl made good points as well. I'm happy to provide the forum for discussion. I knew people would have different perspectives on players.

    As I think I posted here a while back, while I do not follow the junior scene the way I did many years ago, I always thought of Kadri as a center and was a bit surprised when the assumption was he would be a winger with the Leafs.

    Thanks Jim.

  19. Hi Michael,

    Kulemin - "I just can’t cut him that much slack." yet you graded him a B-, even though, out of all players, he had the biggest downfall of all the forwards.

    Kulemin should get a D-, he was on the Leafs top 2 line and yet did not produce. His play dragged the 2nd line down, MacArthur's and Grabovksi's point production both suffered being lined-up with a player who only scored 7 goals. BTW - that's 5 goals less than "D+" Connolly

    Some would argue that his defensive play helped the second line, but how much of that was is linemates?

    Grabovski ran the show and Kulemin rode his coattail. At least MacArthur had the ability to put the puck in the net.. the same can't be said for Kuli.

  20. Fair points, Chuck. Remember, though, what my criteria was. I tried to make clear that I was not just ranking/grading the players on what they did last season. I was trying to think a bit more broadly than that. So I gave a cushion for Kulemin, based on the not-very-strict criteria!

    Thanks for chiming in, Chuck.

  21. I guess I am on the pro-Kadri side.

    Jim writes:

    "If he isn't a dominating player in the AHL, I am not sure that he ever can be in the NHL."

    I think he is a dominating player in the AHL. We saw it in the playoffs. Some quotes from other hockey writers:

    "While the entire world might not know who Kadri is just yet, the American Hockey League has taken notice. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has three goals and eight points in eight playoff games"

    "He also had 10 points in 11 games before exiting the AHL Western Conference finals this year with an injury. You could make the argument that Kadri was the Marlies best player in the first two rounds of the playoffs and that he was dearly missed in the final round as the Baby Buds were shelled by the Norfolk Admirals in four straight games. He was their bonafied #1 center."

    Jim writes:

    "Why can't he learn to be a center in the AHL?"

    He was playing centre. The other hockey writer noticed it. In a number of playoff games the topline was:

    Ryan Hamilton – Nazem Kadri – Mike Zigomanis

    Jim writes:

    "Another average third line winger is not what the Leafs need now, or in the future."

    I see Kadri as a guy who plays 3rd line wing only this year. Next year, after Conolly, Lombardi and Steckel are gone, I see Kadri as third line center with maybe Frattin to form a sheltered scoring line. McClement will shift down to the 4th line to form a really good checking line with Mike Brown.

    If Kadri produces in two years as a center on a third-line sheltered scoring unit, then he might be perfect trade bait for big team looking for a second line center.

    If he got 35 points this year and more than 40 points next year, other teams might wonder if he could take on the role of a second center on their team. It all depends on his progress. If he follows Ribeiro's pattern it's quite possible.

  22. I agree with Darryl on the Kadri question and also wish to take umbrage with Jim on the question of 1st lines.

    Quote from Jim: "I think we have a great second line. Kessel, Lupul and Grabovski in the middle. What we don't have is a number one line."

    Following is a list of 1st line scoring from the Northeast and Atlantic divisions.
    Team Ga G A Pts PPG GPG
    1.Pitt 237 116 135 251 1.06 0.49
    2.Phil 241 93 116 209 0.87 0.39
    3.Ott 232 96 107 203 0.88 0.41
    4.Tor 221 80 116 196 0.89 0.36
    5.NYI 243 91 104 195 0.80 0.37
    6.Bos 243 79 115 192 0.79 0.33
    7.NYR 228 84 96 180 0.79 0.37
    8.Buff 240 73 105 178 0.74 0.30
    9.Mont 242 85 93 178 0.74 0.35
    10.NJ 238 64 100 164 0.69 0.27

    Pitt - Neal, Malkin, Kunitz
    Phil - Simmonds, Giroux, Hartnell
    Ott - Alfredsson, Spezza, Michalek
    Tor - Lupal, Bozak, Kessel
    NYI - Okposo, Tavares, Moulson
    Bos - Seguin, Bergeron, Lucic
    NYR - Gaborik, Richards, Hagelin
    Buff - Pominville, Roy, Vanek
    Mont - Pacioretti, Plekanec, Cole
    NJ - Zubrus, Henrique, Parise

    If, as Jim stated, the Leafs do not have a first line, then I submit, neither do most other teams.

    A final point on the rest of the quote "We have no one who can play against the Staals, Malkins, Crosbys, Richards of the League."
    Spezza's and Kessel's stats were very comparable. Both Kessel and Lupal outscored Richards.

  23. Hi Michael,

    Very depressing analysis of the Leaf forwards, when you look at it on paper all you can do is shake your head.

    I love Grabovski, Lupul and Mike Brown. Those guys play with heart. I would rate Bozak higher than you did but I agree that he is a "nice" player.

    Kulemin disappoints. He has the skills and the size but often doesn't produce. He reminds me a lot of Nik Andropov and Alex Ponikarovsky in that regard. I would give him a lower rating, he has been around long enough to show more consistency.

    The roster above is going to have a very difficult time against opposition in our division, with the exception of Montreal. I never thought I would say this but even Ottawa has a much tougher team. That may be our downfall especially in the second half of the season when the play gets tighter.

    I also wonder what people think of Tom Anselmi being handed the reins of MLSE. Is this not just more of the same once again or are people optimistic that he will take the team in a new direction? I fear that I fall into the former camp.


  24. Michael,

    This sure is fun. In response to DP.

    You never state why you think that he needs to be in the NHL as a winger this season. I don't think that it helps his development into a centre. Why do you? If he really is going to be an NHL centre, why can't he spend another year in the AHL getting better? Do you really think that he is a better option on the 3rd line than, Frattin, Kulemin, MacArthur or Connolly, this season.

    I could go into all the players who have had an early career like Kadri's who never pan out. I won't bore you with all of them. Why are proponents of certain players so willing to espouse the best case scenario, as you do with Ribeiro? It is far more likely that the opposite is going to happen.

    How exactly does a team that is less than talented, work having a sheltered third line scoring unit? I think that usually happens in a city like Philadelphia where Giroux and Briere are the top dogs and Schenn can be protected. I don't see that in Toronto anytime soon.

    So who would you take right now? Schenn or Kadri?

  25. You've done homework, Pete Cam.

    This has all been respectful- I'll let Jim respond if he'd like to, but I understand the differing views here.

    I'm probably spoiled in the sense that, for the Leafs to be a really elite team, we need two lines like our "first" line. Like when the Oilers, Islanders, Habs of yesteryear could run out really solid all-around forward lines, not just one scoring line and then a bunch of inter-changeable checkers.

    Yes, we have some first-line players, but nowhere near enough. But that's just my view.

    Thanks Pete Cam. Good stuff.

  26. The Anselmi question is fodder for a post, Brad (cbh747). I'm not a fan- at all. Anselmi has overseen the destruction of the TFC soccer franchise. Bad management decision after bad management decision. He hasn't got a clue how to run a franchise, much less an entire sporting organization.

    Peddie messed things up big time with the Leafs and Raptors- oh, MLSE will make its basilions of dollars under Anselmi, as it did so well under Peddie, but success on the court/ice/field? We should not hold our breath.

    Sorry, I did not even respond to your player-related points! Thanks Brad.

  27. Hi Jim-

    I certainly don't want to cut off discussion! These views are all fair and well presented. I know DP always tries to bring a hopeful perspective, along with some statistical data to back up his views.

    Sometimes these things come down to instinct- how we all perceive things are going to pan out.

    By all means continue to friendly discussion if you'd like....

  28. Micheal,

    In response to PeteCam. I will say that on the surface the Leafs do look like they are competitive in your analysis. I see that you have failed to include stats like plus/minus. I think it is fair to assume that goals that are scored by your line are as important as ones that are scored on your line. I am not a stat head, but I am aware of other metrics for analysis, Corsi, and all the others that are more complicated than +/-.

    Strictly speaking, I will leave your lines as is. And only wonder why you never mentioned plus, minus? I did some math and here are the results. Interesting to say the least. Yes the Leafs score, but man are they bad at keeping the puck out of their own net. Rankings out of 10 in parentheses.

    Toronto's top line combined -16 (8)
    Pittsburgh top line combined +40 (2)
    Philadelphia +24 (5)
    Ottawa +31 (4)
    NYI -20 (10)
    Boston +77 (1)
    NYR +35 (3)
    Buffalo -20 (10)
    Montreal -2 (7)
    New Jersey +10 (6)

    Toronto is second last as an aggregate plus minus, out of the ten teams you mentioned. I am not in any way stating that this is a be all and an end all measure of a lines worth. Just more information is better, is all.

    I stand by my assessment that the Maple Leafs need a top line.

  29. Jim writes:

    "You never state why you think that he needs to be in the NHL as a winger this season."

    Kadri doesn't absolutely need of be in the NHL this season, but he is getting to the point where there isn't that much left to prove at the AHL level. Once you are at a point a game in the AHL then it's ussually time to move on. He would benefit from the increased level of competition at the NHL level.

    I also think Conolly,Lombardi and Steckel might be dealt the closer we get to the playoff trade deadline. At that point Kadri might have a slot to fill on the wing or maybe at center on the third line.

    "So who would you take right now? Schenn or Kadri?"

    Philly wouldn't do that in a trade so it doesn't really matter. I may sound strange but I am going with Kadri...could be a higher upside. I am more worried about Kadri turning into the one that got away because we didn't have the he is the bird in hand

    "in a city like Philadelphia where Giroux and Briere..."

    There's a prime smaller player and late bloomer...Briere.

    Briere spent part of four seasons in the AHL before making the permanent jump. It would kill me if Kadri turned into a player of Briere's quality.

  30. Jim, I am well aware that there are other methods of evaluating a line's worth although plus minus is a poor one. My purpose was to show that the Leafs #1 line compares favorably to most others as an offensive force. I feel that many Leaf players are undervalued by fans and sometimes we don't show the patience needed for them to develop. I guess we can agree to disagree on Kadri and the 1st line.

  31. Some good Kadri debate today- thanks.

  32. I love reading what other fans/bloggers think about individual players and how they rank them. Other than by statistics, it really comes down to opinions about how they assess a player's worth/capabilities. So for that reason I never really question the rating/mark that someone chooses to assign unless it is totally inconsistent with their comments.

    I've documented my thoughts on certain players before, but rather than rankings, I simply noted their pros/cons, value to the team, or their value as trade material!

    Look forward to this discussion again once the season starts (assuming it will), and again just prior to trade deadline. Many of the Leafs will be UFAs next year so Burke (or his replacement?) will have plenty of tough decisions ahead.

    Most all your comments (pros and cons) are fair Michael, and only time with tell how some of these players live up (or down) to those assessments.

  33. You always bring a thoughtful perspective to your player evaluations, Don (TML__fan).

    As I was just saying to someone in an e-mail, sometimes Leaf fans, in our passion, over-rate our players. We so badly want them to be as good as we envision them being.

    Yet sometimes we under-rate them, or hammer them so much they leave town wondering what the heck happened (McCabe, Hall Gill, Larry Murphy, etc...).

    All part of being a Leaf fan, it seems. Thanks Don.

  34. Michael,

    I learned today that I have let my distaste for a certain Saturday night hockey commentator, bias my view of a young Toronto Maple Leaf. I am not proud that I have Larry Murphied Nazem Kadri. Please change his grade in my report to C+

  35. Just in time and on topic...a new Kadri article:

  36. Oh man - this is a painful exercise. Because after 4 years of bluster, bull and blather, we have such a mediocre team! A quick survey of the posts so far shows results that echo my own feelings - we're pretty much a C+/B- team. Ouch! And to find an upside, we have to revert to the "promising" players, the ones with "potential". Double ouch!
    Is Lupul the real deal or was last year a one-off? Is Kulemin going to bounce back, or was last year the way it's going to be? Throughout our entire lineup, we have question marks - the riddles, enigmas and mysteries I alluded to the other day.
    To simplify things, I'm just using the broad categories.
    The only two consistent players we've had over the past 3 years are Kessel and Grabbo - so I'll put them in the A's. I'd add Lupul as well - for last year. How long has it been since we've seen the kind of exciting chemistry he and Kessel had?
    Into the B's for Bozak - who I think will improve this year - and MacArthur, who I think will be traded. I'll also add Brown and Steckel, who I think did exactly what was expected of them.
    It's the C's for everyone else. Kulemin's defense was pretty solid last year, but he underperformed at such a disastrous level that he probably merits a D, if "merit" is the word. I'd throw Connolly and Lombardi into the D's as well.
    I'm also unimpressed by Kadri, to date, and for some reason I just don't see him sticking with the team. I've got higher hopes for Frattin.

  37. Thanks Gerund O'....riddles and enigmas (and "promising" players), for sure!

    I'm with you on Frattin, by the way. I could be very wrong, but I liked a lot of what I saw in his time with the big club last season. He can make moves from his off wing, has some speed, a nice shot. I project him as a mini power-forward at the NHL level- if certain things in his game come together. I know some see him as no more than a third-liner, and while I'm often one of those who is skeptical on unproven guys, I like Frattin so far.