Woah-oh, we’re halfway there: The Leafs Nation looks at Toronto’s season so far
Photo credit:Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
By Jon Steitzer23 days ago
It’s the midway point of the season (give or take a game) and we are spending the week being reflective on what we’ve seen so far and what we can still expect to see from the Leafs this year. Last week I put 12 questions out to the writers of TLN and we’ll work through those questions throughout this week.
It seems like we should start this series off on a positive note, so to that extent, the first question up is “what has been the highlight of the season so far for you?”
The highlight of the season has without a doubt been the return of Borje Salming to Toronto. As I anticipate plenty of respondents to give that answer, I will provide a secondary answer. The other highlight of the season, for me, was Mitch Marner breaking the point streak record.I love a comeback story, and though Mitch inflicted the rage of the fanbase on himself to a degree with his contract negotiations, to see him redeem himself over the last couple years has been fun. This point streak seemed to cap it off, carrying the team while Matthews struggled to produce at his usual level.
I think the goaltending overall has been a tremendous success relative to expectations and that has been a major highlight for me. The confidence the team has in the two goalies with somewhat tumultuous careers thus far has been awesome to see.
Mitch Marner’s point streak has easily been the highlight of the season thus far. It started off quiet for the first 10 games or so, but quickly grew to become one of the focal points for each game as he rose up the franchise record books before claiming the record for himself. Hearing the fans give an extra cheer whenever his name was mentioned after a goal he recorded a point on showed how much the stretch meant to the fans. And Marner’s confidence was peaking during this stretch after he hit rock bottom towards the end of October by breaking his stick in the hallway. Marner never truly got the full appreciation of the fans for his efforts until this 23 game stretch occurred, and he absolutely deserved it.
The team’s ability to keep rolling and pick up wins despite a mountain of injuries. In years past, the Leafs would not have been able to push through injuries in this way and still improve to become one of the best team’s in the league, it’s a sign that the times are changing.
Well, until recently, the emergence of competent goaltending when it didn’t look possible with the pair.
The Salming tribute. He was my mother’s favourite player and seeing how moved everyone was showed just how much he meant as a person and a player. It was one of those ‘bigger than hockey’ moments.
There’s a few. The Borje Salming tributes were the biggest highlights. Just two amazing ceremonies for an incredible person. 2nd would be Mitch Marner’s record. That was very cool to watch. 3rd is the John Tavares goal early on in the season. That was vintage Tavares.
The highlight of the season for me has been Mitch Marner’s incredible 23-game point streak. Not only was it amazing to watch, but he broke records in the process. Set a new franchise record that was previously at 18 games. He also became just the 12th player in NHL history to have a point streak of 23 games or more.
I think the highlight of the season has been the way the Leafs have transformed their team defensive play and shown a more sustainable approach to winning games when things get tighter. Known for their run and gun offensive attack, there has been a discernable commitment to playing defensively responsible hockey from everyone in the lineup. If the Leafs are finally able to get over the hump in the playoffs, their focus on playing responsible hockey in all three zones will be a big reason why.
Börje Salming’s tribute was an amazing moment. Considering what happened very soon after, it was the perfect final memory of him and his legacy with the team.
Marner’s 23-game point streak. When the season first started, Marner & Holl were the two biggest scapegoats for the Leafs struggles. They wouldn’t be where they are in the standings if Marner didn’t take his game to another level.
All that was done to honour Borje Salming is understandably at the top of my list, but I’m going to select William Nylander’s 5 point night as my favourite so far. I’m an unapologetic Nylanderthal and his career night in a season that his silenced all but his most stubborn critics was something special.
Who has been the Leafs MVP so far this season?
I’ve alluded to it in my first answer, my Leafs MVP so far this season is Mitch Marner. His point streak helped pull the Leafs out of a tough stretch at the beginning of the year. At times, he was pulling off things on the ice that would make you laugh at the TV. Him stepping up the way he did, when he did it, makes him the early season MVP in my eyes.
Mitch Marner. His incredible point totals this year are a big reason the team is doing well this year amid a relative drought for Auston Matthews.
Mitch Marner. Point streak aside, he has been exceptional no matter where he has been in the lineup. Had it not been for the slow start to the season, it would not be far fetched to suggest he would have an even greater offensive output at this point. Much like last year, how he does moving forward will dictate how far the Leafs go in the playoffs.
William Nylander. No matter which line he’s on or which role he’s asked to fill, Willy’s been more than up to the task of carrying the team when other’s have been slumping.
William Nylander. He doesn’t get the attention he deserves. Him at the top of his game makes Toronto so much more dangerous.
Nylander. I could have chosen probably any of the big 4, and up until 2 weeks ago I would have said the goaltenders. Nylander has probably been the most consistent, and has just about paced the Leafs in points.
William Nylander. As good as Mitch Marner has been this season, Nylander has taken his game to another level. He’s on pace for 46 goals this year and it’s always possible he hits 50. The play of Auston Matthews and Marner have been good, though we’ve seen it before. Nylander is playing incredible and he deserves all the recognition for it.
I’m going to have to say Mitch Marner for this one. This goes back to his insane point streak and elite play on the ice during that time. He was one of, if not the main reason why the Maple Leafs went on a long point steak themselves as well.
This is a tough one, particularly because William Nylander has taken his game to an even higher level this season than we have seen in the past. He has arguably been the Leafs’ most consistent and most dynamic offensive threat. But the MVP of the season so far is still Mitch Marner for me. He is involved in every facet of the game and there just aren’t many players in the world who impact things offensively and defensively the way that he does, while also being the focal point of both the powerplay and penalty kill.
Mitch Marner has been spectacular all season. The epitome of consistency.
Auston Matthews – but Marner & Nylander aren’t far behind. While you could say he’s underperforming, his overall game has never been better. His defensive ability has been very noticeable and details like that sometimes go unnoticed compared to the goal stat. I think Matthews deserves to be the MVP and has been the reason his line mates have been having amazing seasons so far.
I’m always looking for an excuse to praise William Nylander so I’m going with him. I can’t imagine too many people saw him leading the Leafs in goals and points this late into the season and even if his wheels come off, he has answered the question whether or not he can play like he did in the World Hockey Championships for the Leafs. After last season my biggest question was if any of the Leafs had a next level they could reach to move the team forward, and Nylander is the one who has stepped up.
For those who don’t want to do the counting themselves, that was 6 votes for Marner, 5 votes for Nylander, and 1 vote for Auston Matthews. Doesn’t get much closer than that, and it’s probably a sign that things are going well when the reigning Hart Trophy winner is third on the list of team MVPs.
We’ll have much more on this survey in the next few days, but please feel free to share your favourite moments and MVPs with us on social media or in the comments below.
Recent articles from Jon Steitzer