UP THE MIDDLE, LEAFS AIN’T CUTTIN’ IT

Ahhhh, one of the great books of my childhood. Without solid centremen, a team is nothing. I’m not entirely sure I accept that as a truism, but it’s hammered into my head enough by half-baked hockey fans that it’s starting to stick. Twenty-nine games into their season, the Maple Leafs’ are embarking on a three-game swing through Western Canada. The Oilers spanked the Leafs 5-0 at ACC on December 2nd. And the Canucks demoralized Toronto exactly one month ago, when Mason Raymond scored on a stupidly long slapshot that J-S Giguère still wishes he could have back. Time to rate the Leafs’ centres 29 games into the season.

MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI ~ 26 yrs old, 29 gp, 8g, 12a, +1 rating, 18:34 TOI – Rates an A

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I have never been a big Grabovski fan. To me, he always looks like he’s skating miles, when feet will do. That said, he has been the best surprise of any Leafs’ forward this season – especially when he shoots the puck. He’s been in the right place at the right time, and he leads all Leafs’ centres (by a lot) in SOG with 73. But he could still shoot more. Turn those 8 goals into 18.

TYLER BOZAK ~ 24 yrs old, 29 gp, 4g, 6a, -7 rating, 18:53 TOI – Rates a C

Gotta tell ya, I’m not impressed. I’m not impressed with his tenacity. And I’m really not impressed with his inconsistency. He is one of the biggest Leafs’ disappointments up front this season. He started the year on the top line between RW Phil Kessel and LW Kris Versteeg and has been slowly sinking in the west ever since. I think a nice, hot fire under his a** might work…but it’s up to Bozak to light it himself.

TIM BRENT ~ 26 yrs old, 29 gp, 3 g, 2 a, -1 rating, 11:54 TOI – Rates a B

I love what Tim Brent brings to a team. I loved what he brought to the OHL’s Toronto St. Michael’s Majors a decade ago, and I love what he brings to the Leafs. On Saturday night, against Montreal, Brent took a wicked cross-check in order to help set up Tomas Kaberle’s game-winning goal. For this team, right now, he’s doing exactly what’s expected of him. But, if he scored a little more, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

NAZEM KADRI ~ 20 yrs old, 14 gp, 0g, 6a, -3 rating, 17:30 TOI – Rates a C+

When Kadri was recalled from the Marlies (for that Vancouver game on month ago), his enthusiasm was immediately infectious and almost tangible on the ice. But every game that’s gone by without him scoring his first NHL goal, that lustre fades a little more. Against Montreal, last Saturday, he played just 11:25. And his current face-off percentage is 38.2%. Problem is, the kid hasn’t figured out that it’s not playtime out there. It doesn’t seem to have dawned on him that each shift is life and death. Maybe one day it will…or maybe it won’t.

JOHN MITCHELL ~ 25 years old, 16 gp, 0g, 1a, -5 rating, 12:19 TOI – Rates a C-

John Mitchell is what he is – a fourth-line centre on a team without great centremen. His 55.1 face-off percentage leads the group, but that’s about the only department in which he shines. There is lots of venom thrown his way from Leafs’ fans, which makes it that much harder to perform. And he’s been a healthy scratch 13 times this season. John Mitchell is not the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs.