It’s nearly the middle of March and the Toronto Maple Leafs are fighting for a playoff spot. The realization that the Leafs are right in the thick of things this time of year is almost shocking. Many people, including myself, believed that the Leafs would be a bottom-five team with a chance to move up if they somehow won the lottery.
Back to the task at hand. The Leafs are fighting each and every game for desperate points to help propel them into the postseason. Many players have stepped up, but three have stood above the rest as the potential MVP of the Leafs’ 2016-17 regular season.
Affectionately known as “The Goon” by Leafs broadcaster Joe Bowen, Mitch Marner has surpassed all previous expectations set for him. How did Marner acquire the “goon” moniker? In the Leafs’ March contest against the Philadelphia Flyers, Bowen was talking aloud and wondering who had the most penalty minutes on the team among the forwards after Matt Martin.
A quick glance at the stats reveals that Nazem Kadri is second with 81 followed by the aforementioned Marner with 36. The Leafs went on the power play with Bowen referring to Marner as “the goon” throughout the entire play. Marner then scored a goal, much to Bowen’s delight, and the nickname was born.
Marner, who many pundits believed wasn’t big enough to stick in the NHL, has been phenomenal this season. The former London Knight is in the Calder race and has racked up 16 goals and 53 points in 61 games.
His motor never stops running and he’s consistently busy on the ice and is always looking to set up a potential scoring chance for a teammate. Marner’s constant enthusiasm has made him an instant fan favourite among the Blue and White faithful.
The most recent first overall pick has been nothing short of spectacular this season. Playing under the bright lights of Toronto is a notoriously tough task for veteran players, let alone a rookie. Matthews, however, has put all doubts to rest and has carried the team offensively for much of this season.
He started his NHL career with a four-goal game and became an instant household name after entering the NHL’s history books. He’s the Leafs’ leader in goals with 31 and points with 55. Matthews plays a complete game and has the game-breaking ability to create something out of nothing.
Matthews will join Marner in the race for the Calder trophy and is on pace to break a couple of Leafs records. Wendel Clark set the rookie goal record with 34 and Peter Ihnacak the points record with 66. By season’s end, the record book may have to be rewritten.
It’s been a long time since the Maple Leafs had a reliable and concrete number-one goaltender. When Andersen was acquired and subsequently signed to a five-year deal, fans knew this was serious.
Andersen got off to a rocky start in Toronto but has since rebounded to be one of Toronto’s best players not only down the stretch but on the season overall. The Leafs will now enter into a pivotal series of games and will need the former Anaheim Duck to be at his very best. There were potential red flags about fatigue, but Andersen has answered the bell each time he’s been called upon.
The Danish-born goaltender sits with a record of 26-14-13 to go along with a save percentage of .916 and a goals-against average of 2.71. He also has three shutouts to his credit this season.
In my personal opinion, Andersen has been the Leafs’ MVP this season. This is not to disparage Matthews or Marner, but realistically, without Andersen’s general stellar play, the Buds would not be fighting for a playoff spot.
It’s no secret that the Leafs need to revamp their defense, but for the first time in a long while, their goaltending is rock solid and ready to win them some key games.