Which one of these toronto maple leafs veterans do you think will be the most crucial player throughout the 2018-2019 campaign?
|Ron Hainsey||5%||Led the team in short-handed penalty killing minutes|
|Patrick Marleau||26%||Likely to play with Tavares as a top six forward|
|Nazem Kadri||48%||Saddled with speedy, gritty, checking wingers|
|Jake Gardiner||21%||Contract year with something to prove after last year|
This poll from earlier in the week on my twitter feed is ultimately revealing for several key reasons; it underscores the fact that nearly half the respondents believe that this is Kadri’s opportunity to shine with the free agent signing of Johnny T – especially after a gruesome first round playoff exist that revealed a profound lack of maturity and poise that was normally expected from the Babcock stalwart that he’d become. And truthfully, I added his name knowing full well that this was his poll to lose.
But what’s terribly fascinating is to see the number of fans who remain firm believers in hockey’s Ponce de Leon and the fountain of youth, which is presumably what Patty Marleau has been enjoying since arriving in Toronto. Admittedly, he had a relatively quiet campaign that was remembered more for his late third period superfluous goals rather than clutch performances. Yet he scored 27 goals, finished as a plus player, and I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment that if you add in a John Tavares as his centre, coupled with a play-making winger like Mitch Marner, I don’t think it’s a stretch to think he could score thirty plus without breaking a sweat.
Everyone’s favourite whipping boy when the team was eliminated after that disastrous third period collapse (2.0) at TD Garden, Jake Gardiner gets honorable mention for having a considerable number of loyalists who still believe in his talent – and why shouldn’t they? He’s still in the prime of his career (28), has a bevy of younger and faster players to spot with his laser-like (low percentage) breakout passes, will be staring at two dominant goal-scorers up the middle for his patented melodramatic zone entries, and is coming off the quietest 52-point rearguard campaign since Larry Murphy or Pavel Kubina – and we all know how quickly fans turned on both. Nevertheless, I’m quietly picking Jake as my true Leafs sleeper pick to have a marvelous year that will make him a wealthy player with some other team – but not before his official Maple Leafs redemption.
Finally, it’s a shame to see ageism rear its ugly head with the fourth place finish of the casually dismissed Hainsey. Apart from leading the league in SH penalty kill ice-time, we tend to forget how effective he was during the first half of the season, especially in keeping things stable since respite was rarely found in the hands of a stumbling Zaitsev and a bumbling Carrick. Sure, he’s in the twilight of his career and will frustrate you more than ever next year, but I’d avoid writing off a Stanley Cup winner who will do anything to block a shot and stop a rush when you need him most.