The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a pretty successful season, all things considered: They currently sit atop the North Division with a seven-point lead over the Edmonton Oilers, and they’ve been one of the NHL’s most dominant teams, according to key indicators. But like any team, the Leafs still have weaknesses.
This past weekend, The Old Prof looked at Toronto’s most surprising performers this season. Today we’ll dive into the team’s three most disappointing players and what we might expect from them over the next couple of weeks and into the playoffs.
Frederik Andersen Has Lost His Starting Job
I think everyone will be on the same page when I say that goaltender Frederik Andersen has been far and away the most disappointing Maple Leaf this season.
The 31-year-old’s struggles have been well-documented since the 2019-20 season, where he put up a career-worst .909 save percentage (SV%), though his numbers really took a dip once the calendar turned to 2020. From Jan. 1 to the end of the season, Andersen’s .899 SV% ranked 42nd out of 53 goalies with at least 10 games played, and his -6.77 goals saved above average (GSAA) was just as poor, ranking 45th. Andersen’s decline has bled into the 2020-21 season, as he’s set new career-lows in SV% (.897) and GSAA (-7.15), eventually losing his starting job to Jack Campbell, who has generally looked excellent between the pipes.
While a good portion of Andersen’s poor performance this season is likely due to playing through injury, we simply can’t assume that he will return to form once he’s finally healthy and back in the lineup. It’s been well over a year since we’ve seen him play at an above-average level, and it’s clear that Campbell is the team’s best option moving forward.
The Dane seems to be making progress as he recently took part in his first full practice since March 19, suggesting that he’ll see some game action before the playoffs. He should be a shoo-in as the backup over David Rittich, but it seems like the net is Campbell’s to lose at this point.
Alexander Kerfoot Has Struggled to Find His Identity
When you’re traded for a fan favourite like Nazem Kadri, there’s always going to be added pressure to live up to. Over the last two seasons, Kerfoot has faced that pressure and has, for the most part, struggled to find a solid role on this Maple Leafs’ team. The 26-year-old has bounced around every forward position and has seemingly played on every line throughout his tenure in Toronto, failing to find a permanent home.
Kerfoot’s greatest success has arguably come on the wing of the second line, flanking John Tavares and William Nylander, but for whatever reason, it seems that newcomer Alex Galchenyuk has surpassed him in that role. Kerfoot has spent just 92 of his 568 five-on-five minutes with that line this season, while Galchenyuk has already played 106 minutes there in just 18 games.
Another issue for Kerfoot is that he doesn’t feature too prominently on the Leafs’ special teams either, averaging just 32 seconds per game on the power play and 1:24 on the penalty kill. And with his five-on-five ice time down around 11:51 (ninth among forwards), it’s hard to really pinpoint what Kerfoot does for the team. He’s not a scorer, he’s not a power play or penalty kill specialist, and he’s not a physical presence either. Maybe his greatest asset is his versatility and ability to play any position on any line, but that hardly seems like enough to justify his $3.5 million price tag, especially when players like Galchenyuk and Ilya Mikheyev seem to do the same job for less money.
With the expansion draft, as well as a Zach Hyman contract extension, looming this offseason, this upcoming playoff drive may be Kerfoot’s last chance to cement his spot on the team.
Wayne Simmonds Hasn’t Lived Up to the Hype
While the TJ Brodie acquisition has certainly turned out to be the Maple Leafs’ most important move over the past year, the Wayne Simmonds signing probably garnered the most hype of any move the team made last offseason. The Scarborough, Ont., native was brought in to bring some physicality and toughness to the team, and while he’s definitely helped in that respect, his overall impact hasn’t been much to write home about.
Through 30 games, Simmonds has collected seven goals and nine points along with 40 penalty minutes (including two fighting majors) while posting a -1.1 goals above replacement (GAR), according to Evolving Hockey – second-worst among regular Leafs forwards. If you were expecting the gritty winger to provide some physical punch, he’s somewhat checked off that box, but if you were hoping he’d be a legitimate offensive weapon, I think you’ve been let down.
Based on the fact that he was an elite net-front presence on the power play earlier in his career, many fans expected Simmonds to bring that same skillset to Toronto. In 57 minutes of power play time, he’s produced just three goals and zero assists while looking like an anchor at times due to his inability to make plays from down low. I wouldn’t say that the team’s power play struggles are solely on his shoulders, but his presence on the top unit certainly hasn’t helped. With new additions up front like Nick Robertson, Nick Foligno, and eventually Riley Nash, someone’s going to have to sit. Don’t be surprised if Simmonds is on the shortlist for the press box.
Chugging along with seven points over their last four games, all is well once again in Toronto as the Leafs look to close out the season with a strong finish. The playoffs are a different animal, though, and if they want to make a deep run, they’ll need to be firing on all cylinders. The Leafs will certainly be hoping that these three players, in particular, can find their groove over the next few weeks.
Player stats from naturalstattrick.com
Chris Faria is a contributor for The Hockey Writers with a focus on the Toronto Maple Leafs. A hockey player and self-proclaimed analytics nerd, his work aims to combine both stats and a deep knowledge of the game. He is currently pursuing a graduate diploma in sports journalism at Centennial College in Toronto.