Last place finishes normally mean that somewhere along the way, a hockey club’s season went horribly wrong – fans grow frustrated, coaches and executives are let go, and players are sent packing. The Leafs, though? Despite a 30th overall finish, this season really couldn’t have gone any better. Mike Babcock got some great play out of his young core players, while Lou Lamoriello turned veterans into future assets and the club itself earned the best odds at winning the upcoming NHL Draft Lottery and the opportunity to draft Auston Matthews.
That doesn’t mean that the current roster doesn’t require a full review, though. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the 2015-16 Maple Leafs roster, judge their performances, and make a decision on their future with the Blue and White.
And yes – of course we developed an advanced and proprietary ranking system. You’ll see.
Normally everyone’s favourite whipping boy, Bozak had himself a pretty impressive season all things considered. No, he didn’t finally become a 50-point player, though he may have if he hadn’t been limited by injury to just 57 games. That said, 35-in-57 is a respectable scoring clip, and Young Bozak (now 30 years old) looked much improved on the defensive side of the puck.
Bozak responded well to Mike Babcock’s system and deployment methods, receiving a greater share of offensive zone starts and earning a very impressive 51.6 CF% at even strength. To put that into perspective, Bozak put up a 45.8 CF% last season, and a 42.9% the year before.
Is that enough to warrant Bozak’s $4.2M cap hit? Debatable; he still ranked lower than Nazem Kadri, William Nylander and Peter Holland in the same CF% category, but hey, that’s not the only metric that matters. He did lead the team in faceoff win percentage, after all.
Bozak looked fine this year, but with Kadri expected to resign and Nylander around for the rest of his career (obviously) I’m not sure where Bozak fits in. And if the Leafs bring in a certain high-profile centre, or draft one, is there any room at all for him? It’s probably a good time to finally shop Bozak.
I’m giving Bozak a three Kyle Dubas Heads out of five. Bozak was just above average this year, but I don’t see a future for him here in Toronto.
While he spent most of the year with the Toronto Marlies, Soshnikov was one of the many post-trade deadline call-ups and made an immediate statement with his tireless forechecking and wicked shot. In the AHL, Soshnikov was limited to a mostly bottom-six role but showed promise with 18 goals and 28 points in 50 games played. In 11 games with the Leafs, Sosh added another two goals and five points.
Soshnikov, 22, played primarily with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov – a line I imagine isn’t very fun to place against. Most importantly, he didn’t look at all out of place and likely would have continued to grow his role with the big club before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Unfortunate, since we were all having a lot of fun riding that wave.
While I believe that Soshnikov will earn a roster spot out of training camp next season (barring a wild free agent spending spree), I’m doubtful that he will or should continue playing on one of the top lines like he did this year. He certainly looks like an NHLer, but his tenacity, physical play and hockey smarts make me think he’s better suited to an energy or third-line scoring role in the long run. And that’s not a knock – every great team has their fair share of talented bottom-sixers.
Four Kyle Dubas Heads out of Five. Soshnikov was great, but I can’t give him much more than this for just 11 games.
There’s no denying that Matt Hunwick didn’t look good this season, but it’s hard to blame him. In every other alternate timeline, Hunwick is a reliable bottom-pairing blueliner that earns praise for his defensive play and good attitude.
This year? Mike Babcock made him a top-pairing guy and gave him more ice time than Dion Phaneuf. That’s not a joke. Hunwick also had to deal with the highest rate defensive zone starts of his career, and his even strength CF% (47.2) was the lowest it’s been since 2010.
This was Matt Hunwick’s darkest timeline.
With one more year left on his contract and practically zero value on the trade market, Hunwick should return next year – and that’s just fine. Hunwick has a long history of decent defensive play and was clearly out of his element this year, playing almost exclusively in high leverage situations alongside Morgan Rielly. But bring him back and put him in a third-pairing role? I doubt that would hurt. Hell, he might even excel.
Hunwick get’s Two and a Half Kyle Dubas Heads out of Five. Rough year, but that half-a-head symbolizes the bounceback potential.