Looking back on the Leafs’ 2011-12 season 10 years later

When it comes to the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, no season in recent years has both fascinated and baffled me more than the 2011-12 campaign.
Or, as it is more infamously known, the “18-wheeler” season.
If you want to know why Leafs fans tend to get an uneasy feeling each time the team has a lead in a game or is doing reasonably well during the regular season, this season played a part in that narrative being established. You take a single glance at the roster and it is filled with names of players from a bygone era. Phil Kessel. Dion Phaneuf. Tyler Bozak. Joffrey Lupul. Mikhail Grabovski. Nikolay Kulemin. Luke Schenn. Jake Gardiner. Nazem Kadri. A majority of them are still playing in the NHL today. Unsurprisingly, none of them are with the Leafs as of the time of writing this.
Meanwhile, the goaltending situation was a different animal entirely. Leading the way was James Reimer, who was the original titleholder of the happiest Leaf netminder ever. Backing him up was Jonas Gustavsson, a goalie with so much promise a few years prior but had showcased inconsistent play in the net. Then there is Ben Scrivens, who started the yea …

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Author: Michael Mazzei / The Leafs Nation

Kerfoot has had a more consistent role this year, but still remains the Leafs’ Swiss Army Knife

When it comes to Alex Kerfoot, you don’t really think of him as having a set place in the Leafs lineup. He can be on Tavares’ wing one game, centering the fourth line the next, and he’s even had significant stints flanking Kampf and Spezza. His ability to move throughout the Leafs lineup is a critical need for the Leafs, but at the same time, more so than any other year Kerfoot has found himself on a consistent line with John Tavares, and to a slightly lesser extent as of late, William Nylander. As a result Kerfoot finds himself with 5 more points than his previous career best season, with 10 games remaining. What he is doing seems to be working for him, and the Leafs, but is his current situation the best role for him come playoff time?

A lot of Kerfoot’s success comes from a January PDO bender. His 15 points in 11 games is simply something we haven’t seen from him before in a Leafs uniform, and his numbers certainly normalized quickly after that.
5v5 Stats
20-21
21-22
P/60
1.64
2.59
TOI
11:47
12:51
CF%
48.82
50.68
GF%
51.11
56.31
xGF%
49.66
51.43
HDCF%
46.88
52.92
On Ice Sh%
7.93
11.6
On Ice Sv%
92.57
90.64
PDO
1.005
102.2
Kerfoot has taken noticeable leaps in pretty much every category, and while attributing that to who he plays with could be part of it, the whole idea behind Kerfoot is that he plays with absolutely everyone.
One of the interesting phenomenons of the season is that while Kerfoot is having a better year, from a corsi perspective, every forward (except Auston Matthews) that plays with Kerfoot is a little worse when they are on the ice with Alex.
On Ice With
TOI With
CF% With
CF% Without Kerfoot
John Tavares
587.78
51.47
54.23
William Nylander
489.63
51.52
55.06
David Kampf
141.82
43.69
51.73
Mitchell Marner
115.65
49.58
58.61
Ilya Mikheyev
113.15
53.55
58.07
Ondrej Kase
71.17
47.66
51.23
Wayne Simmonds
64.00
44.25
50.26
Michael Bunting
62.85
52.68
57.68
Jason Spezza
55.77
44.44
50.99
Auston Matthews
51.60
67.71
59.43
Pierre Engvall
47.78
49.38
55.55
Most of the time it doesn’t even seem to be particularly close either. This kind of speaks to Kerfoot as the “Plan …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Patient approach for Maple Leafs is easy with rookie goalie Kallgren making saves

Perhaps it’s a move that comes with an inexperienced goaltender between the pipes or maybe it’s the level of the opponent, but the Toronto Maple Leafs have taken a unique approach in their last couple of games.
On Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars, the Maple Leafs’ opponent got the first four shots on goal before they registered their first. It just so happened to be a goal.
On Thursday against one of the top teams in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes opened the game with an 11-1 advantage in shots on goal. They recorded the first five of the game on Erik Kallgren, who made his second NHL start for the Leafs.
It took seven minutes before Mitch Marner recorded his team’s first shot, a backhand from a far distance was easily handled by Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen.
“Playing against Carolina, it’s not the same as it is against a lot of other opponents, so a level of patience is going to be required,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the team’s 3-2 victory. “I wasn’t overly concerned that we didn’t have a lot of shots. In fact, we talked about the fact that there is some benefits to it.
“You don’t let the goaltender on the other side …

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Author: David Alter / The Leafs Nation

What’s next for the Leafs’ blueline?

What’s next for the Leafs’ blueline?

It’s been an interesting week when it comes to the Leafs’ defensive depth. Things were off to a good start with the addition of Lyubushkin providing a bit of security, and potentially a bit of toughness on the back end. Then shortly after that, the Leafs lost Jake Muzzin for what will probably be the season, so this is probably a net loss except for all that sweet, sweet LTIR cap space to address the Leafs’ roster shortcomings.
In the spirit of all of that, the question to the TLN is crew is “how do you see the defense group going forward with Lyubushkin in and Muzzin out?”
Michael Mazzei:
Right now, the Leafs should lean heavily on Rielly and Brodie carrying the boatload of the minutes in regards to the defensive core cause the other two pairs have too many question marks. The biggest x-factor could be the second pair as it has made a significant overhaul in less than a weeks time. Sandin seems ready for increased responsibilities and Muzzin’s injury presents him a chance at a larger role. He struggled a bit with Liljegren but might find better results playing with Lyubushkin who seems to thrive alongside a more mobile defender. Should the duo find success, it could wind up being their second pairing down …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Morgan Rielly is already living up to his new contract

There is a lot that can be said when it comes to accessing the secret to the Leafs’t recent successful stretch of hockey dating back to the start of November. One aspect that often gets overlooked is the strong play of Morgan Rielly, who has quietly been having a season that appears destined to surpass all of his personal bests and then some.
Since the 2015-16 campaign, Rielly has arguably been the Leafs’ most valuable and dependable member of the team’s defensive core. It’s why he has always been tasked at big minutes and relied upon for both aspects of the special teams. And after two seasons where he was limited in games due to both injuries and a global pandemic, Rielly is playing at offensive prowess that hasn’t been seen since the 2018-19 campaign.

Morgan Rielly since signing his extension on Oct. 29:
19 GP 3 goals 13 assists 16 points +9#LeafsForever
— Nick Alberga (@thegoldenmuzzy) December 8, 2021

At the time of writing, Rielly has played in 28 games and has produced three goals, 20 assists (nine of them being primary assists), and 23 points. That equates to a PPG average of 0.82, which is the second-best of his career behind only the aforementioned 18-19 season (0.88), …

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Author: Michael Mazzei / The Leafs Nation

Spezza’s suspension adds to a growing number of key absences for the Leafs

It comes as no surprise that Spezza was going to be suspended. The “in-person” hearing was definitely made the suspension a lock, and set the bar of Players Safety targeting around 5 games or possibly more, with Spezza having the opportunity to maybe negotiate it down. With Spezza’s long career suspension free career there was certainly a possibility of that, but then again Players Safety is about as predictable as a goaltending prospect.

Toronto’s Jason Spezza has been suspended for six games for Kneeing Winnipeg’s Neal Pionk. https://t.co/DDlM0Tdzw3
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) December 8, 2021

So here we are. Jason gets six games. No Spezza until the Leafs play the Kraken on December 19th. (The things people will do to avoid an Alberta road trip.) The suspension is certainly warranted as there is little doubt that Spezza deliberately targeted Pionk, and even if the intent wasn’t to injure, he certainly wanted to make him hurt for what Pionk did to Sandin. Of course the fact that Spezza is missing more time than Pionk got for the Sandin hit is an irony not lost on Leafs fans.
Having Spezza out of the lineup at the same …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Auston Matthews is shooting his shot, differently

Two truths can co-exist when it comes to Auston Matthews’ start to this season:
He remains one of the most talented hockey players in the world
He has, by his established standards, had a slow start to his season in the goal-scoring department
The second point is not meant as a criticism: just an observation based on facts. Matthews’ eight goals through 18 games are the second-lowest totals of his career to this point of a season, just two goals ahead of his rookie campaign.

So why the slow start? Is it just poor luck or something more? Matthews had surgery on his wrist late in the offseason which resulted in him missing all of training camp plus the first three games of this season. While missing training camp could have had some impact on Matthews through the first few weeks of the season, what I’d like to focus on in this piece are some changes to his shooting habits that may suggest some mechanical limitations are still lingering and impacting his shot.
Shot Selection
While Matthews is as shot-happy as ever this season, posting the highest shots-per-60 and shot attempts-per-60 of his career, his shot quality is slightly lower …

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Author: Mark Norman / The Leafs Nation

Leafs have the luxury of giving their injured players time to heal

When it comes to injuries this season, I’d say the Leafs still fall in the fairly fortunate category. It’s early, but knock on wood, after the initial games missed by Matthews most of the absences have been fairly manageable.
The two players presently on the injured reserve are about ready to make their return as well, or at least within the next few weeks.

Per Keefe, Mrazek had another assessment today “that went very well.” Projected to get back on the ice toward the weekend. Mikheyev recently had pins removed from his thumb. Continues skating. #Leafs
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) November 16, 2021

Of course their imminent return is good news, but even if it is an attempt to stick to the initial timeline for recovery, the question needs to be asked, could these players benefit from a more conservative path back into the lineup.
In Mrazek’s case he’s already essentially rushed himself back once or been rushed by the Leafs. The results didn’t do Mrazek or the Leafs any favours. It could be attributed to not fully comprehending the severity, or it could’ve been the need to live up to his contract or to make a …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Line combos, defensive pairings, and other news and notes from the Leafs first day on ice

The Leafs are finally back on the ice, and with that comes the first line combinations we’ve had to dissect in four months. With the acknowledgement that it’s day one, and while these are destined to change especially due to the notable absence of Auston Matthews, there was presumably some thought given to the combinations that we saw, and for that reason they warrant sharing and at least a couple of quick thoughts.

#Leafs lines from group 1 working on drills (Auston Matthews took the early skating drills, but is not participating in 5-on-5 drills) pic.twitter.com/OttTQeZrtq
— Kevin McGran (@kevin_mcgran) September 23, 2021

Leafs afternoon combos pic.twitter.com/TjnTSKPEnI
— Kevin McGran (@kevin_mcgran) September 23, 2021

It’s worth noting that Nylander swapped in for Douglas shortly after, and the one true additional absence for the day beyond Matthews and Steeves was Wayne Simmonds.
Rather than go line by line, and drive you and I crazy in the process, there are probably some interesting truths to what we’re seeing here, and we’ll take a look at what’s happening.
First thing that stands out to me are the main defensive pairings:
Rielly-Dermott
Sandin-Brodie
Muzzin-Liljegren
Dahlstrom-Holl
Rubins-Menell
We’ …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Trading prospects over draft picks is the right move for Maple Leafs

Trading prospects over draft picks is the right move for Maple Leafs

There comes a time where winning is everything, especially for the Toronto Maple Leafs. And that time is right now.
Kyle Dubas sought to take a massive step at the trade deadline last season by giving up a first-round pick for Nick Foligno. It was okay to take that risk last year with such a thin draft class. This year, though, is a completely different draft. The first-overall pick for is likely going to be Kingston Frontenacs centre, Shane Wright. You don’t get a player of his calibre after that, but it’s still a deeper draft than in 2021.
Toronto had three picks in this year’s draft and could have the same next year. With that being the case, the Maple Leafs might want to think twice about trading their first-round draft pick. Even the second-round pick wouldn’t be worth risking at this point. The Maple Leafs don’t have the deepest of prospect pools and would miss out on a good player if a pick is traded.
Could it make sense to trade a younger player instead? Perhaps so.
Looking at Toronto’s prospects, only three are off-limits: Nick Robertson, Rodion Amirov and Timothy Liljegren. Obviously, …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation