The Toronto Maple Leafs are coming off a historic regular season performance, including career-highs for many players. That high means there is plenty of room to fall for several players who can’t keep up the pace. While the superstars may be young, there are some old-timers on the roster who are competing against father time and the opposition. As a result, Toronto is ripe for many players to regress from their personal standards and the levels expected by the team.
John Tavares was the first pick way back in 2009. He is now 31 years old and showing signs of deterioration after 12 seasons of being a top player in the NHL. Since his rookie year, the Mississauga, Ontario boy has averaged more than 18 minutes on the ice. He has got the attention of the opposition’s top blueliners and checking lines. The captain is no stranger to the front of the net and the beatings that come with playing around the blue ice. So it’s no wonder he is bound to slow down. Plus, just over a year ago, he was involved in a scary injury that knocked him out with a concussion.
To say Tavares is slowing down is not as bad as it sounds. In 280 regular season games with Toronto, he has amassed 274 points. This performance is while playing on the second line and changing his game to be more balanced. The real issue is that Tavares will likely slow down over the next three seasons under contract in Toronto.
Jake Muzzin has played some monster minutes in his career, usually trying to shut down the opposition’s best forwards. He was one of the most reliable blue liners for the Los Angeles Kings. Muzzin was a force during the Kings’ deep playoff runs, including a Stanley Cup win in 2014. However, while the 33-year-old has made a career of slowing down the competition, he is struggling to stifle time.
Muzzin only played 47 of Toronto’s 82 games last season, and he missed most of the playoffs the season before that with an injury. He was also a minus player for the fourth time in his 11-year career during the 2021-22 season. He registered a -6 despite playing for one of the higher-scoring teams in the league. He also recorded less average ice time than the previous seven seasons. Muzzin’s regression has been clear since the 2020-21 season. It will get worse in 2022-23, possibly even moving him out of the top four pairings.
Mark Giordano has been outskating the clock on his career for a while now. It’s incredible that at 38 years old, he is still a top-four blue liner that can hold his own against anyone. Besides, the former captain of the Calgary Flames had to go toe-to-toe with Connor McDavid for several years during the games of the Battle of Alberta. Still, the end of his playing days is looming closer.
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After the Seattle Kraken acquired him in the expansion draft and named him the first franchise captain, the once undrafted player carried the young team on his broad shoulders. He recorded his worst-ever plus/minus with a -21 in 55 games before being traded to Toronto. While his plus/minus improved, his time on ice was cut by two minutes. He was put on the ice for less than twenty minutes a game for the first time since his third year in the NHL, back in 2008-09. How long can those old legs outskate father time? He’s under contract with Toronto until he is 40.
Other names could be on this list, including Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford. Two tough guys whose bodies pay for their physical role over their careers. At this point, it may be difficult for either to see the ice, let alone be effective as a fourth-line, depth player.
Toronto’s medical staff and facilities are considered some of the best in the NHL. They better be because they will be tested in 2022-23.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.