Mitch Marner: In a season where Marner is on pace to shatter every one of his career highs, it is difficult to find something for the 21-year-old to aspire to improve in 2019. Statistically speaking, Marner has been dominant. With 19 goals, 42 assists, and a whopping +16, Mitchy the kid is on pace to absolutely obliterate the Leafs’ pocketbook this upcoming offseason. There really isn’t much more you can ask of the kid as an individual, so in order to find a New Year’s Resolution for Mitch, we’re going to have to look at one of the team’s recent deficiencies: the powerplay. Through the first 26 games of the season, the Leafs had scored 20 powerplay goals on 69 opportunities (28.99%). Had they been able to maintain that pace, they would sit second overall in the league, behind only Tampa Bay at an insane 29.5%. In their last 21 games however, the buds have only operated at an 11.5% clip (6/52) which would find them dead last in the league. While Marner is not solely to blame for the Leafs’ struggles with the man advantage, it is quite obvious their powerplay runs through him. For the Leafs’ extra man offence to get back on track, Marner will have to look to be less predictable, as teams have clearly figured out how to neutralize Toronto’s offensive weapons in their current set-up.
Auston Matthews: After coming out of the gates blazing hot with 10 goals in his first 6 games, Matthews has only been able to muster 10 more in the following 28 games. While 10 in 28 isn’t necessarily anything to sneeze at, if the Leafs’ are going to be making Matthews the highest paid player in league history come July 1, you’d kind of like to see some more consistency. Although Matthews has amassed an impressive 42 points through 34 games, at times he has seemed almost non-existent for stretches this season. Moving forward, Matthews should focus on finding some consistency in his game, especially in the playoffs.
William Nylander: Nylander’s struggles have been discussed ad nauseam so far this season, so I’ll keep this one brief. He simply needs to produce more offensively. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about getting chances, and being on the cusp of a breakout, but none of that matters until you actually break out. This can be accomplished in any number of ways, but from watching his game since his return, it is becoming more and more evident that he needs to simplify. It seems like he’s always looking to make one extra move or one extra pass, and his timing just isn’t quite there yet. Mired in the worst stretch of his career, it may be time for Willy to do away with the half-wall button-hooks, and get himself to the dirty areas. Once he can get his touch and timing back to NHL standards (and hopefully up to his 7.5 schmill AAV), then he can start to work the creativity back into his game. OK, I lied… that wasn’t brief.
John Tavares: So far this season, John Tavares has been as advertised or better in every possible category. He is on pace for a career year in Goals (50), Points (90), GWG (8), Blocks (43), Hits (57), FO% (currently 54.1%) and Plus/Minus (currently +13). He has also been an analytics darling with a CorsiFor% of 52.4%. Add this to the fact that by all accounts Johnny T is an incredible professional both on and off the ice, and the Leafs have an absolute slam dunk of a signing. Moving forward, Tavares should look to maintain his pace down the stretch, and more specifically heading into the playoffs. Johnny has only seen playoff action three times in his nine year career, and has only seen action beyond the first round once. While these playoff failings cannot be laid solely at the feet of Tavares (22 points in 24 playoff appearances), his overall lack of experience is worth noting. With just four rounds of playoff hockey under his belt, and his most recent foray into the postseason coming in 2015-16, Tavares will undoubtedly have to push himself to maintain the outstanding pace he has set thus far.
Frederik Andersen: Andersen is another Leaf who simply needs to focus on maintaining his incredible performance so far this season. On pace for a career-high 53 wins, and currently sitting at a .923 SV% and a 2.56 GAA (both his best since coming to the Leafs), Andersen has played his way into yet another Vezina conversation. While his regular season performance has been exemplary since being acquired from the Ducks in 2016, Andersen has struggled to find consistency in the postseason. As he is currently on pace for his fewest starts as a Maple Leaf (57), the hope is that the extra rest will keep Andersen fresh and consistent beyond the regular season.
Garret Sparks: While Sparks has a respectable 6-3-1 record through 10 starts this season, his play in those starts has done little to instill any sort of confidence in his head coach. Although his job is likely secure for the remainder of this season, if he wishes to remain with the team long-term, he’ll have to demonstrate more consistency down the stretch. Given his age, I don’t necessarily see this going the way of ‘ol Jhonny Enroth, but if Sparks is looking for a raise from his current 675 thou, he’ll need to step his game up. It would seem as though every quality start Sparks has made has been followed up by a sub .900 outing. With six back-to-backs down the stretch, Sparks should get at least that many opportunities to prove himself, potentially more as Toronto’s playoff positioning solidifies.