Assessing Marner, Tavares’ milestone watch, and more: Leaflets

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
3 months ago
My goodness it’s been a quiet week. We’ve been doing without Maple Leafs hockey for most of it and now we have to set our alarms for some breakfast hockey as the Leafs play the Wild at 8 am ET tomorrow. The biggest issue with this is that the Wild might put us all back to sleep.
With the Leafs winning on Friday things are still looking good but with lingering concern that they had to comeback from being down 2-0 heading into the third period against Detroit. Detroit with Alex Lyons in net. There is still a feeling that Toronto has to be better, but I think we can approach those improvements with the acknowledgement that the sky isn’t exactly falling either.

Revisiting the Marner narrative

Through the rise of William Nylander over the past couple of seasons, and with Mitch tossing up stinkers for effort in the past couple of playoffs, there has been a shift against Mitch Marner amongst Leafs fans. It was discussed in some detail on Friday’s Leafs Morning Take and it seems worth commenting on here as well.
Marner has received the dreaded “soft” label and for not showing up for big games. Being a playmaker and not a goal scorer doesn’t help that reputation and when Marner weighed in at 180lbs we can assume he was soaking wet at the time.
It used to be when talking about the Leafs moving on from one of Matthews, Marner, or Nylander, it was pretty much a given that Nylander would come out of those polls as the one that has to go. Now through Nylander’s play over the past couple of years it seems that Marner and to a large extent, his contract and/or upcoming contract demands make him seem like the unfavourable Leaf.
As someone who has always been a Nylander over Marner person, I welcome the shift but also think things have moved past appreciating what Marner does, when he does it and the fact that he too could have a Nylander breakout in his future.
It’s understandably strange when you look at Marner’s numbers to think of him as a problem or discuss him as such. He had 99 points last season and even as we criticize his playoffs, 14 points in 11 games looks pretty good on paper a few months removed from having eyes on those games. There also needs to be a very real acknowledgement that Marner simply does not have the size or seemingly the ability to weight the way that Matthews and Nylander have. He is always going to be tiny and while Brad Marchand and Brendan Gallagher are examples of tiny players with gritty games, there needs to be a realization that Marner is never going to be that guy. Let him stick to picking off passes. (His takeaways/60 are the lowest of his career this season.)
Marner has been trending down this year, but it is a very marginal decline. He is on pace for 26 goals and 93 points if he plays all 82 games and that essentially mirrors his 2018-19 season. The lack of pace for 30 goals is the issue as his assist rate remains consistent with previous years, but his shots/60 and individual expected goals are presently at the lowest rate of his career.
While Marner still does a lot of things right, it seems reasonable that people are also still left a little wanting this year. Coming out of the criticism of his play during the playoffs it seemed reasonable to expect him to want to prove people wrong. And it seemed that with Marner getting the prestigious spot on Matthews’ wing we would have been getting the Nylander point production from Mitch instead of Willy.
It seems goofy to complain about a player that is on pace for another 90 point season and while I think there is still a large appreciation for what Marner brings to the table. It just seems that it is becoming a lot clearer that if the Leafs ever do go in a different direction, it could be Marner that the Leafs are the least attached to and it now does seem entirely possible that Mitch could price himself out of Toronto on his next contract.

Tavares’ looming milestone

The 3 point game for Tavares in Sweden on Friday has moved him closer to the 1000 point milestone that hasn’t been discussed at all this season. Tavares had climbed into the top 100 scorers of all time earlier this month and this game allowed Tavares to pass Phil Kessel and move up the 99th highest scoring player of all time, he’s now 1 point behind another former Leaf, Jason Spezza.
Tavares has very quietly approached 1000 points and I hope to see it receive a bit more fanfare in the next few games. It is entirely possible he hits this milestone this month and this season will likely see Tavares leapfrog a number of elite offensive talents as well as a number very good players from the 80s.
Despite years of people predicting a drop off in Tavares’ production, it hasn’t happened and at 33 it will be interesting to see how many more seasons J.T. can use to climb up into what I assume will at least have in the top 50 point producers of all time. There are presently 8 active NHLers ahead of Tavares on the list (Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, Kopitar, Stamkos, Backstrom, Giroux, Pavelski)

A sunnier outlook on Samsonov

If you are looking for a happier narrative around Ilya Samsonov, he has now had a save percentage of .930 or better in 3 of his last 4 starts. That’s probably asking a lot of you to forget the Tampa game, but the key point is that in his nine games this season you can probably say he’s had four good starts, two acceptable ones, and three bad. Given that two of those bad starts happened against Tampa, you can probably just plan the next games against the Lightning being nights off for Ilya.
Or you could acknowledge the predictability of the Atlantic Division and the Leafs are likely to meet the Lightning in the playoffs and try to see if Samsonov can get out of that funk.
With Joseph Woll coming back down to earth, having Samsonov as a functioning part of the tandem is key and if you look at Woll’s 9 games so far, he’s had 4 good games as well, but hasn’t had a game where his save percentage has fallen below .800.
Leafs goaltending might still not be a strength, but we could be close to moving past it being a concern. Given that both Samsonov and Woll have been prone to hot streaks there remains hope that one of them could go on one at the right time. Or that the Leafs start helping them out defensively.

Finally…what’s up with MapleLeafs.com?

Have you visited the Maple Leafs official website this season? If you answered yes, you’ve been there more frequently than their webmaster. The last story on the site is the Leafs signing of Noah Gregor on October 10th. I know all the important stuff is still there like the schedule, an updated roster, and plenty of game highlights, but the Leafs appear to have given up on the idea of having an updated front page instead prioritizing photo dumps of player arrivals on social media.
If the Maple Leafs ever need this old ass Western Canadian to recommend some up and coming GTA based writers who could thrive on their website, I’d be happy to provide them with a list.

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