Monday, March 30, 2009

Those Who Could And Those Who Couldn't

Just before the season started, on October 2nd, I published a post about 7 Leaf players who all had a chance to notch their 100th career assist this season. I didn't think they would all do it, but I thought it would be interesting to see who could and couldn't, and also thought it would be a good way of measuring the team's success overall. Well, we're pretty close to the end now with just 6 games to go, so let's have a look and see who did, and who didn't, reach this mini-milestone.

Mark Bell only needed 5 assists to reach the 100-mark for what started out as a promising career. Unfortunately for Mark, he hasn't had one assist this year because he hasn't appeared in a single NHL game, not even for the Rangers. It's kind of puzzling that Mark Bell was able to pick up 10 points (4G 6A) last year despite a cracked orbital bone and jail time looming in the summer, yet this year, with all of that now behind him, he's been unable to find a spot on an NHL roster.

Mike Van Ryn needed only 9 assists for #100 in his career. Let's see what I had to say about his chances of reaching that mark at the beginning of the year: "...if he plays a full season, it should be no problem". Well, sadly, Van Ryn has played nowhere near a full season. The new Colaiacovo has appeared in just 27 games in an injury-plagued season, picking up a total of 8 assists, leaving him one shy of the magic 100 mark. While Van Ryn's tragic season is over, I only hope he nails that 100th assist in the season opener next year for an auspicious start to a year of better fortune in 2010.

Jamal Mayers needed 13 assists to hit the milestone, and at the beginning of the season I thought he had a good chance to get there based on his previous 2 seasons ('07 14A, '08 15A). This year, Mayers has only been able to pick up 7 assists so far, his lowest total since 2004. It's probably safe to assume that Jamal is not getting the opportunities or the ice time that he enjoyed in St. Louis, but still, I would have liked to have seen a little more from Jamal, especially early on. Unless Mayers can somehow break out with 6 assists in the last 6 games, this one is also a miss.

Niklas Hagman needed 15 to get there. This one was easier then I thought it would be. On February 7th, Hagman recorded his 99th and then 100th career assist in the 3rd period of a 5-2 win over those dirty Habs. Hagman currently has 18 assists on the year (103 career now), equalling his previous single season high in just 59 games, and looks sure to set a new standard for himself as he returns to the line-up for the Leafs' final stretch. I've been really impressed with Hagman's all-round abilities - a feisty checker and a natural scorer with 20 goals this season -  as the playmaking side of his game is progressing well.

Alexei Ponikarovsky needed 17 and it wasn't even close. Poni blew this one out of the water. With 35 so far on the season, 1 behind Stajan for the team lead, Alexei now sits at 118 career assists. Poni's numbers this year don't just look good, they look great. He is 2 behind Blake for the team lead in goals and points and may catch him in both categories before the season ends. With Poni absolutely blossoming in the absence of Antro, it's quite conceivable that when the season ends, Poni will be leading the Leafs in all offensive categories, except on the powerplay. He also leads the team in plus/minus at +8 (no one else is above +2!) and is one of only 2 Leafs (Kubina the other) to appear in all 76 games this year for the Blue and White. Suddenly, Ponikarovsky looks like this season's best candidate for Maple Leafs' MVP.

Alex Steen needed 26. This one looked tough at the beginning of the year, but Steen had totalled 27 assists twice before in his career (2006, 2008), so it seemed within his reach. Well, after starting the season with 2 assists in his first 20 games, the chase for 100 was already over, and Steen was dealt, along with Carlo Colaiacovo, to St. Louis for Lee "2-for-1 special" Stempniak. In 55 games this year with St. Louis, Steen's numbers have returned to near-respectable levels; 6G, 15A, giving him 91 career assists in just his 4th NHL season. While it's still very early in his career, it is disappointing to see him take a step backwards this season, and it was probably the right move to help him find his game somewhere else.

Matt Stajan needed 29 assists to get to 100. This was the one that I said was the "longshot". In order for Stajan to reach the milestone he needed to have a career year, and that's exactly what he's done. 36 assists, so far. In 2006-7 Stajan recorded exactly 29 assists, so I knew he could do it, but still, I find it utterly astonishing that he has easily surpassed that total by 7 with a half-dozen games to go on the schedule. Even more astonishing when one realizes that Stajan has hardly played that well lately, but has still managed to pick up 9 assists in his last 18 games, keeping him on pace for 40. Did anybody, I mean, really, ANYBODY predict Stajan would have a 40-assist season? Well, he's very close. Six games left, 4 assists to go, and he's there. Not bad for a player I once referred to as the "Invisible Matt".

So there you have it. 3 for 7. Bell, Van Ryn, Mayers, and Steen fail to reach the 100 asssist milestone this year, while, maybe surprisingly, Hagman, Stajan, and Ponikarovsky all achieved that plateau with ease. When I wrote the original post at the beginning of the season, I predicted that we could measure the Leafs' success based on how many achievers we had in this group. Here's the correlating prediction for 3 out of 7: "Hmmm. Easy come, easy go, I guess. We suck, but probably not bad enough to get Tavares." Not exactly a bold prediction but it sounds about right. Easy come, easy go. Don't get too excited, but a pick in the top 5 is still a real possibility.


PPP said...

Nice review. Poor Van Ryn would have blown this one out of the water if not for Kostopoulos.

general borschevsky said...

Thanks, PPP! No kidding, eh. Hopefully Van Ryn can be a regular part of our defence next year. Until he plays a full season again Kostopoulos is a mortal enemy.