In this first edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ report cards from the Old Prof, I’ll share grades for the Maple Leafs’ three M’s – Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Matt Murray.
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These three players have been – and will continue to be – key players in the regular season and as the team heads toward what fans (finally) hope to be a long Stanley Cup journey.
Mitch Marner: Grade A
Mitch Marner is an easy player to grade. He’s playing really well; and, it seems to me, thinking faster than his opponents each time he’s on the ice. In addition, you have to give Marner good grades just because he set a Maple Leafs franchise record last night.
Perhaps even more telling for me is that I just can’t believe – unless he runs into horribly bad luck – that he won’t hit 20 games against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. For me, the question becomes “How many more games can he go in a row with a point?”
The second and third questions then arise. Second, why stop at just 20 games in a row picking up a point? Third, what’s going to stop Marner in his quest for more? The way that he is playing right now, you’d have to think that he really doesn’t have to get really lucky to pick up another goal or an assist to make it 20 games in a row. And then 21, and onward and upward. Can he reach 30?
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After a bit of a last-minute debacle trying to tie the Maple Leafs’ franchise record at 18 games in a row with a point, Marner made his point(s) clearly last night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He scored two goals in the team’s 4-3 overtime loss.
In addition, Marner’s back to the same goal-scoring mentality that pushed him to his career season in 2021-22 after he came back from an injury. He’s thinking to shoot AND he’s thinking to pass. For those reasons, Marner gets a solid A from the Old Prof.
Auston Matthews: Grade A-
Until last night’s game, Matthews was on a goal-scoring streak. But that’s over. However, he’s now on a point-scoring streak that stands at four games and includes seven points in those games. Still, you’ve got to think there’s more to come from him. For those reasons, he gets a solid A- in this edition of his report card.
Matthews picks up style points from me with the quality of his assist on William Nylander’s second-period goal. One second the puck was on his stick and the next it was on Nylander’s. Matthews isn’t scoring goals as he can, but he’s helping the team in a myriad of other ways. His defence is outstanding.
That said, the point is that Matthews has more to give. His career shooting average is 16 percent; this season it’s hovering between 10 and 11 percent. While this Maple Leafs’ team, fortunately, has other options than Matthews, if the Arizona native could up his game a bit more it would spell greater success for the team going forward.
For me, the difference between an A- and a solid A for Matthews is the expectation that there’s more to come. And, so far, it hasn’t. When things get to where they could be, a higher grade will follow.
Matt Murray Grade: A-
Matt Murray has been a revelation this season. The gamble that Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas made on his goalies for this season (and that includes Ilya Samsonov as well) is paying off in spades. However, as good as Murray has been, he’s not been perfect.
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After the 4-3 overtime loss last night, Murray went on record as saying that he feels he should have had the overtime goal that the Lightning scored. He’s right.
At the same time, Murray made some great saves during the game, but the overtime goal was one he should have saved. In overtime, however, in his own words the goal “kind of handcuffed me.”
With that goal, Murray’s four-game winning streak ended. Overall, in his eight starts this season, he’s only lost once in regulation. That was the 4-3 loss in the team’s opening game against the Montreal Canadiens.
During the season, we’ve learned that Murray can play well when the games become intense. We also have a good sense that, unless something out of the ordinary happens, he hasn’t been as injury prone as many fans expected. Last night, he got bowled over by Anthony Cirelli; but, he shook his neck a few times and bounced back.
Murray’s record now stands at 5-1-2, with a .921 save percentage, and a goals-against average of 2.63. His play has been solid, if not at times spectacular. But he’s missed a few goals. For that reason, he gets a solid A- from the Old Prof on his first report card of the season.
More Report Cards Are on The Way
Over the next while, I’ll share more grades for other Maple Leafs’ players. Perhaps next up will be the defence, as it’s been much better than expected.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf