New Year, New Me: Which Leafs are thriving in 2023?

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
9 months ago
It’s a new year and if people still wrote cheques, I’d probably still be writing 2022 on mine. Other than the change of the year and for many of us the hassle of packing up Christmas, there shouldn’t be a lot of changes going on. That said, when you look at the Leafs production from 2022 there is plenty of variance. This is the kind of variance you expect to see throughout the year with players. A 0.8 point per game player isn’t going to put up a point in four straight games and then drop off in the fifth, nor if that player is sitting at 2 points through 4 games can we expect a 2 point night on the fifth game. This is all pretty obvious, so forgive the stupid title.
This is much more about what have you done for me lately, and it’s a chance to take a look at which Leafs have been producing in the past 15 games at a greater clip than the previous 37 of 2022.
From the top of the list you can see that much of the blueline is now picking up points where they hadn’t before. Amazingly enough this appeals in reverse to the quote unquote offensive defensemen, as Rielly and Sandin have the steepest drop offs and Conor Timmins at the very least has come back down to earth.
We’ve seen Tavares step up a lot in 2023, not only is he tied with Nylander for second in points in 2023 to Mitch Marner, but he has the most significant points per game jump of the top six forwards.
What is most amazing is the consistent clip that Nylander has been producing. He has pretty much remained automatic as a 1.13 points per game guy, and we might as well write him down for a 93 point season now.
Another important trend to look at is how the bottom six production has dried up. Kerfoot, Kampf, and Engvall have all seen steep declines in their production, Holmberg to a lesser extent as well, and Aston-Reese is the only bottom six regular with an increase, but that was just really going from barely anything to slightly more. Considering that Simmonds, Hunt, and McMann have a combined 2 points between them in 30 games, there aren’t many internal options looking like potential solutions. Joey Anderson’s two points in four games in 2023 is the best of the bottom six bunch, so I guess he’ll be sticking around for a bit.
Doubling back around to Rielly, well… I guess the frustration with him of late is somewhat warranted. If Rielly isn’t producing, his defensive play isn’t likely to shield him from criticism. The good news is he’s likely capable of figuring it out.
The Leafs are still producing at pretty much the same pace in 2023 as they were in 2022. The 2022 games had an average of 3.38 goals per game and there has only been a modest decline to 3.33, blame it on five fewer games of Matthews. The bigger concern is what is happening at the other end. The Leafs had a 2.51 goals against in the first 37 games but have leapt to 3.13 in the 15 2023 games. As much as it hasn’t been hugely impactful for the Leafs yet, that kind of thing can catch up to you with sustained performance.
It could be goaltending, and an overtired Samsonov (.905 sv% in 2023) and hurt Matt Murray (.883 sv% in 2023) can have an influence. The five games without Auston Matthews certainly mean that a lesser center was on the ice for 20 minutes a night, and there are there is also the injury to TJ Brodie to consider as well.
The Leafs currently sit 8-5-2 in the New Year and still very good.

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