There’s nothing sportswriters like more than calling attention to something previously unnoticed, misunderstood, or misconceived. We’re professional Well, actually-ists. Pick just about any topic and we delight in finding a twist. Oh, you thought having a lot of giveaways was bad? Well actually, the top-20 players in giveaways each year are almost always elite players. Last year’s “leader” was Mathew Barzal. It means you have the puck a ton.
Our draw to the Well Actually topics means you don’t see a lot of columns that say “Hey have you noticed that really great and widely celebrated player is really great and worthy of celebrating?”
That void in direct attention leads to weird conversations like “You know who doesn’t get enough love for the season he’s having? Mitch Marner.”
Of course Marner gets enough credit for the season he’s having. For crying out loud, of course. It’s just that he gets so much that it’s identified as something not really worth going into by sportswriters, because again, we get it, we know. With that attitude though, we can miss the chance to contextualize where an “obviously great” season really sits in comparison to the many great seasons being had around the NHL, or with that franchise.
So, I say let’s do this. Marner’s having a great season. We know. But how great has it really been?
First, try to ignore whatever the heck it is Connor McDavid is doing this season because it doesn’t even make sense. If you can bring your eyes and attention back down to Earth, Marner is currently fourth in NHL points, just ahead of such hobos as Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, and Sidney Crosby.
He’s been a huge driver of the Maple Leafs’ vaunted offence (3.35 goals per game) which sits inside the league’s top-five and just a breath (0.01) outside the top-three.
Marner has 67 points on 181 Maple Leafs goals (37 per cent), which as a percentage of team goals is the fifth-highest share this season.
When the Leafs score, there’s a decent chance Marner’s had something to do with it.
You don’t get into the top-five in NHL scoring without both consistency and some big outbursts, and his numbers reflect both.
The consistency: Marner has a point in 40 of his 54 games played this season. His 40 games with at least a point are third-most in the NHL.
And the outbursts: He has seven games with three-plus points this season, tied for fourth in the NHL.
(Hey! I told you not to look at McDavid’s numbers. Eyes off the top line, those are for a thousand other stories.)
A crazy fact about Marner’s statistical run this season: He has zero (0) power play goals. Zero! All 20 of his goals are even strength, and his 5-on-5 total of 17 goals is currently fourth in the NHL. That’s doing it the hard way. Not bad for a guy you just think of as solely a disher.
What’s interesting about the package below is there’s at least a few goals that made me think “Man that’s not the fastest release,” but then he just … shoots it past the goalie. It’s to his credit that he creates himself opportunities that allow him time to get it off, because when he does, he’s awfully good at hitting his spot and scoring. And of course, when he has to get it off quick he’s able to, but for that to work he has to be in pretty tight. The point is, Marner’s excellent at creating what he needs to score.
Where his season has really gone from good to great has been in concert with the guy likely to finish second in Hart Trophy voting this season, Auston Matthews.
We all know what hell McDavid and Draisaitl hath wrought on the North Division this season, but the two Leafs are pretty devastating in their own right. The percentage of goal output between those two players has made up for roughly a third of all Maple Leafs goals this season.
Where Mike Babcock was hesitant to use the two together (the idea being they could both drive a line), Sheldon Keefe has cashed in hard on the idea of one of the world’s best passers being paired with one of the world’s best shooters, which admittedly sounds obvious when phrased that way.
The results have been unbelievable.
Marner has assisted on 25 of Matthews’ goals this season, which is the most goals assisted on by a single teammate this season.
Matthews excels at finding soft spots, which is the perfect complement to Marner’s poise and vision.
They’ve combined on 40 goals through 54 games, which is the second-most of any duo around the NHL. And as you’ll note from this list, there’s some good ones out there.
This season Marner has averaged 1.24 points per game, which even without adjusting for era just qualifies for a top-10 offensive all-time season for a Toronto Maple Leaf. It’s been a show.
During this strange, condensed, fan-less NHL season, nothing was promised and nothing was predictable from player performance. Through it all Marner has been one of the world’s best players, and one of the driving engines powering the Leafs to their first division title in over 20 years.