When discussing the Leafs' midseason MVP, three names stand out above all the rest

Published December 23, 2022 at 2:06 PM
After a bit of a rocky start to the 2022-23 season, the Leafs have settled in nicely and look like every bit of the top-5 team that they were last season - and more. In the first 10 games of the season, the Buds went 4-4-2, sparking much discussion about whether the team was built for long-term success or if a major roster move or front office shake-up was necessary to try to salvage what was left of the season. Since that time, the Leafs have gone 17-3-4, bringing their record up to 21-7-6 on the season. Their 48 points has them currently deadlocked with the Carolina Hurricanes for 2nd in the overall league standings.

There are a lot of reasons for the major turnaround in Toronto, not the least of which has been quality goaltending, strong two-way play and the stars playing like stars. However, you really dial into the success of the team over the last couple of months, there are 3 players who stand out above all the rest as the reasons for the substantial turnaround from November 1st onward.

This morning, I asked Leafs Nation via Twitter who stood out as the team's MVP at the midway point in the season. There are a lot of viable candidates, but the most common responses were Mitch Marner, Mark Giordano and William Nylander. This is, of course, no disrespect of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Matt Murray or Ilya Samsonov, who have all been excellent in their own rights, but the trio of Marner, Gio and Willy have just been on an entirely different level this season and have all elevated their games when the team needed it most.

Marner currently leads the team in points with 40 (13G, 27A) and sits 2nd in power play points with 15, behind only captain John Tavares (16). Marner has been held without a point just 4 times all season, registering at least a point in 30 of 34 games thus far, including an otherworldly 23-game point streak.

Giordano is currently the oldest skater in the NHL at 39 years old, but with the workload that he has taken on since Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin went down with long-term injuries, Gio has essentially put the Leafs' D corps on his back and led the team without fear and has played more like a 29-year-old at the peak of his game than he has a 39-year-old at the tail end of an outstanding career. Often playing between 20 and 25 minutes per night, Giordano has anchored the top pair over the last month and despite playing primarily 3rd pairing minutes before Rielly's injury, Gio has looked every bit of the Norris Trophy winner that he once was. If you count yourself among those who view him as the Leafs' current MVP, you'll get no argument from me. He's absolutely a viable candidate.

Nylander is a player who has been at the forefront of a lot of chatter in Leafs Nation over the past several seasons, dating back to 2018, when he infamously held out until December 1st and squeezed the Leafs for every penny he could get on his previous deal. Well, with the remainder of this year and one more season on his current deal at ~$6.9M, there's no denying that Nylander is earning his paycheck and more over these past few seasons. He not only leads the Leafs in goals with 20 this season, he's also 2nd in shots on goal, 3rd in power play points, 3rd in assists and tied for 2nd in points with Matthews, behind only Marner. Nylander also has the highest shooting percentage of any player on the team with more than 10 games played this season. He's on pace for over 90 points and certainly deserves some recognition for his willingness to play down low and along the boards, battling for pucks and putting forth a much more concerted effort at both ends of the ice this season than we're used to seeing. He's a more complete player this season than he has ever been and is certainly worthy of your midseason MVP votes.

While these three stand out as the main MVP candidates in the first half of the season, there is still a lot of hockey to play. Come April, we may have a very different list to talk about.
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