Although it’s no secret that the window to win for the Toronto Maple Leafs is rapidly closing, even their biggest skeptics have to admit that Toronto’s is a lineup capable of so much more than they’ve accomplished of late. Being led by the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Morgan Reilly makes it illogical for such talent to be overlooked.
Excluded from that picture-perfect scenario, though, are those who are no longer playing through their prime in quite the same manner. That said, it’s unrealistic to presume that every Maple Leaf will be able to score at will, create highlight-reel material, or log massive minutes every single night. Even if the athletes in question have accomplished in that manner, at some point or another.
While the following Maple Leafs could still prove impactful by effectively managing their roles through 2022-23, fans have to anticipate that they won’t be influencing the team’s collective results in quite the same way that they were once able to.
One of the more obvious candidates for this list, Wayne Simmonds has been playing on the wrong side of his peak for a few years now. A force once known for scoring 30 and landing nearly 200 hits, Simmonds was already well past that point in his career when he arrived in Toronto for the 2020-21 campaign.
Despite the fact that it was clear he wouldn’t be mirroring that level of impact any longer, it seemed he was brought to Toronto for what his presence could influence. At the very least, he could seemingly be counted on for modest production while encouraging a more aggressive identity for the team. A combination that this era of the Maple Leafs has been lacking.
Unfortunately, things haven’t really worked out that way for Simmonds thus far and there’s no reason to believe the 34-year-old will find a way to turn things around.
While he hasn’t necessarily been a liability during his time in Toronto, having averaged a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 52.4, he’s also failed to be effective in the ways they had hoped he could be. Through 110 contests with the club, Simmonds has only amassed 12 goals and 13 assists. While the 212 hits counted calculates to a per-game average above his career mark, it’s so slight that it doesn’t compensate for his drop in overall performance.
Simmonds is playing through the last year on his current contract. In most other cases, that would elicit a push of progress from the respective athlete to ensure maximum value for their next deal. In this instance, though, there’s a chance Simmonds doesn’t even accumulate enough ice time to make any type of meaningful noise throughout this given campaign.
Let’s face it, that Simmonds might not even crack Toronto’s opening night roster this season isn’t doing him any favours with regards to proving that he won’t regress if or when he’s called upon.
With a stat line that’s already been riding a downward trend since the mid-2010s, Simmonds is all but sure to experience yet another decrease in metrics across the board through 2022-23.
Less obvious of a pick for this list, Alex Kerfoot won’t find himself propelling his production through 2022-23 in quite the same manner that he was able to last season — a career year for the forward. It’s not to say that he can’t be effective in the role he’s assigned, but it’s less than likely that his offensive output will maintain the momentum gained after likely reaching a peak in 2021-22.
First and foremost, Kerfoot found his way into every single game in 2021-22. Whether as a result of injuries, scratches, or personal absence, that’s a rarity in today’s game. It’s generally expected that players will miss at least a few contests per year and Kerfoot is no different than most in that respect.
Kerfoot’s perfect attendance certainly helped maximize his potential for production, as did the fact that he was granted the highest average ice time of his career. Playing mostly second-line minutes, the 15:13 he logged per night offered him ample opportunity to find a way onto the scoresheet. It also helped that he had Tavares and Nylander alongside him more often than not.
Entering 2022-23 as a 28-year-old, Kerfoot will remain an important member of the Maple Leafs. More so for what his presence does to improve their depth, rather than as a go-to producer on any given night. He will continue to be looked to for his secondary scoring and penalty-killing abilities. For as long as he remains in Toronto, that is.
However, the reality is that not only will Kerfoot’s focus be impacted by the constant barrage of trade rumours that include his name, but he’s also far from guaranteed the cushy top-six spot he secured last season. While Toronto’s top-line seems set, the rest of their roster could see a shuffle to best utilize newcomers while also restrategizing the team’s approach.
Both factors are sure to impact Kerfoot’s ability to repeat the peak he reached in 2021-22. Besides, he has enough of a sample size outside of that one outlier season to predict what he’s capable of on a more consistent basis.
To be clear, and not confuse matters with this selection, Toronto is lucky to have Mark Giordano. The pedigree that he brings to their roster is second-to-none and he will most certainly still be a valuable contributor throughout the remainder of his time with the club. Whatever duration that may end up being.
However, let’s base this assessment on what we know as fact. Giordano is currently signed to the Maple Leafs on a two-year term, worth $800,000 annually, which runs through 2023-24. That deal, in and of itself, offers enough evidence to theorize that the long-time defenseman isn’t likely to perform in the way he was once able to.
Such as when he was making nearly $7 million per season during his Norris Trophy-winning campaign. The reality is, Giordano isn’t getting any younger — he’ll be 39 throughout 2022-23. What he may have been capable of just a few years ago is no longer the case, as a result.
A professional athlete’s career trajectory tends to follow a certain timeline and Giordano has been playing on the descending side of his for a little while now. That may be why it was so easy for the Calgary Flames to expose him in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, knowing what was to come sooner than later.
Again, to reiterate, Giordano can be an important member of the team. With regards to how his leadership and experience will influence its progress, though, rather than his individual performances on a nightly basis.
Fortunately, it would seem as though the Maple Leafs were less interested in anticipating a resurgence of Giordano’s career as opposed to what they knew they’d get out of the sturdy defenseman. There’s no doubt he’s a safe bet, to make a smart play. As evidenced by his career CF% of 53.6.
However, that he’s utilized in a different manner these days speaks directly to why a lesser stat line should be projected. Most of his minutes on Toronto’s blue line last year were with the second or third pair and there’s no reason to believe that won’t maintain through 2022-23.
Even with recent injuries creating circumstances that may push him into a top-pairing spot to start the season — or at any point throughout it — to ask him to be as creative, dynamic, or productive as he was through his peak is simply irrational.
Gone are the days of Giordano putting up 70 points after averaging more than 24:00 per night. Playing a more modest amount as he progresses through the final laps of a stellar career, his numbers will align accordingly. It’s not that he can’t still come in clutch every now and then, it’s more so that Toronto shouldn’t expect it of him nearly as often.
shouldn’t expect that of him as often as was once the case.
Maple Leafs Counting on Collective Compensation
For the Maple Leafs to reach another tier of collective success, they’ll have to rely on an elevation from within their core. Toronto can’t fixate on whether or not anyone will regress in the meantime, as it’s bound to happen. However, the dominant performances simply must outweigh any that aren’t up to that standard.
The franchise needs to shift its focus to strategizing around those who have a higher peak to reach. Of which, they have plenty. Then, Toronto can better leverage the skill set that remains among its regressing players, as opposed to relying on any of them to execute in an unreasonable manner.
Even with the likes of Simmonds, Kerfoot, and Giordano playing lesser roles than they once did, the Maple Leafs will be just fine. As long as they recognize that expectation, and work around it, that is.
Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.