Why Mitch Marner is the Leafs' runaway MVP this season

Breaking down why Marner is Toronto's MVP amid a career year, and handing out other Maple Leafs awards as the NHL's regular season comes to a close.

With home ice locked up and the opponent set for their first-round playoff series, the Toronto Maple Leafs are primarily concerned with staying healthy, getting under the cap over the remaining two games of the season and doing advanced scouting on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As the regular season winds down, it’s a nice time to hand out a few awards for the Leafs' 2022-23 campaign — starting with Mitch Marner and his career year.

(All stats current prior to games played on April 11. Stats via Natural Stat Trick and

Mitch Marner is the Maple Leafs’ most valuable player

Marner has superseded the reigning league MVP in Auston Matthews as the Maple Leafs’ best player this season, and this is no slight towards Matthews, who is also turning in an excellent body of work. But Marner has taken his game to another level in 2022-23 and impacted all facets of the game. The dynamic winger, who should be a Selke finalist — I’d give him a top-three vote— has bolstered his reputation as one of the NHL’s premier playmakers and penalty killers amid a career year with Toronto.

Marner is one point shy of becoming just the fourth player in franchise history to reach the century mark with 30 goals and 69 assists on the year, and he’s just missed one game due to load management, a decision he wasn’t pleased with. He’s been the model of consistency and his playmaking is the primary reason why he’s elevated to a new tier this season.

Marner ranks second in primary assists at 5-on-5 and he leads the NHL with 76 takeaways, while Toronto controls 55.7 percent of the expected goals at 5-on-5 when he’s on the ice.

He’s been a two-way menace. And while the fact he ranks 108th in expected goals against/60 among all qualified players (600 minutes at 5-on-5 or more) indicates he may not be quite the human eraser he’s made out to be, Marner objectively makes life extremely difficult for opponents — often stifling chances in one end and turning them up the other way in a hurry, sometimes in one fell swoop.

Marner also became just the third NHL skater — along with Connor McDavid and Matthew Tkachuk — to record 30 or more goals and 60-plus assists in each of last two seasons, per Sportsnet Stats.

The Maple Leafs star put up the best season of his career in 2022-23. (Getty)
The Maple Leafs star put up the best season of his career in 2022-23. (Getty)

Throughout the season, Marner has been asked to drive Toronto’s offense and has almost always delivered, whether the team was experimenting with an 11-forward format, or reverting back to a traditional 12-forward look. Marner is the common denominator when the Maple Leafs experiment with their lines, knowing that his defensive tenacity and outstanding passing will translate with virtually any linemate.

Marner has also been the engine of one of the NHL's best power plays, and while Tavares leads the Maple Leafs in PP points, it’s Marner’s ability to manipulate space and thread passes through difficult angles that makes the unit tick at a 25.9 percent clip, tied for the second-best mark in the league with, you guessed it, Tampa Bay!

Marner broke a franchise record by notching a point in 23 consecutive games from Oct. 27 to Dec. 15, registering 11 goals and 34 points over that span. Mid-way through the season, we declared Marner as the runaway team MVP and not much has changed since then.

Marner will likely be paired with Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting (or will Calle Jarnkrok figure back onto the line? Could rookie Matthew Knies be a real option?) for the playoffs, but he's durable, flexible and he’s been outstanding for the Maple Leafs in every aspect of the game.

To add a proverbial cherry on top of the delicious sundae that's been Marner’s season, he’s also scored two of the best goals of the campaign. Marner scored a jaw-dropping overtime winner against the New York Rangers on January 25, getting around K’Andre Miller’s tremendous reach while cutting to the net to send Scotiabank Arena into a frenzy.

If there is one play that encapsulates Marner’s game, it may be this goal against the Edmonton Oilers on March 11. Marner picks off Ryan McLeod and with his back to the net, spins and dekes around Stuart Skinner, before tucking the puck into the net calmly. It was surreal to witness in-person and it will perhaps be one of the first highlights on his career reel when it’s all said and done.

Honourable mentions: William Nylander and Auston Matthews.

Jake McCabe has been the most impactful deadline acquisition

If Ryan O’Reilly were healthy for the majority of his tenure with the Maple Leafs, he’d likely earn this superlative. O’Reilly affords the Maple Leafs greater lineup flexibility, he’s still capable of being a two-way menace even if his defensive game was beginning to tail off with the Blues this year, and he provides a calmness that comes with his championship pedigree.

He may end up as the most impactful acquisition if the Maple Leafs win it all — or at least defeat the Lightning.

McCabe, however, has been a rock for this Maple Leafs defense corps, a talented group that has been prone to bouts of inconsistency — TJ Brodie aside, of course. The Athletic’s Kevin Papetti took a deeper dive into McCabe’s impact since joining the Maple Leafs on March 1 and they outright dominated possession, along with the share of actual goals. McCabe has been primarily partnered with Brodie, although he’s also played games alongside Justin Holl and Timothy Liljegren.

McCabe-Brodie have logged 167:55 together at 5-on-5, the equivalent of nearly three full games. The partnership controls a 56 percent share of the expected goals at 5-on-5, while being on the ice for seven goals for versus four against. McCabe-Brodie can be used as a legitimate shutdown unit, which would allow Morgan Rielly and Luke Schenn to operate as the team’s second pairing — shielding Rielly from the tougher defensive matchups while allowing him to operate as an above-average offensive contributor.

There was a brief scare Monday night when McCabe left the game after blocking a shot, but he just required stitches. He throws himself in front of pucks, he can exit the defensive zone easily, and he’s been exactly what the Maple Leafs needed on the blue line.

Honourable mentions: Noel Acciari and Ryan O’Reilly.

Mark Giordano is Mr. Congeniality

There’s a running joke between media members that Giordano is the designated speaker at morning skates. Giordano has been great to the media, he’s willing to talk about anything, he’s been an advocate of the team’s Pride initiatives and on the ice, he’s been a mentor to Holl, Liljegren and the since-traded Rasmus Sandin, all of whom played their best hockey when attached to him.

Giordano was a rock for the Maple Leafs during the first half of the year and while his play has tailed off during the second half, the Maple Leafs are going to need everything the 39-year-old has left in order to achieve their ultimate goal. Giordano’s been a steady presence for the entire room and his leadership, along with his secondary offense, will be relied upon big time this spring.

Honorable mentions: Alexander Kerfoot, Morgan Rielly, Wayne Simmonds.

Ilya Samsonov is Toronto's Most Improved Player

Many wondered what the hell Kyle Dubas was doing when the Maple Leafs elected to run Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray as the team’s goaltending duo. Murray started strong, before injuries and bouts of inconsistency took him out of the running. Samsonov, who was afforded every chance to win the Capitals’ job last season, desperately needed a change of scenery.

The bet was on Samsonov’s first-round pedigree, and it paid dividends. Samsonov won 27 of his 40 starts to go along with a 2.33 goals against average and .919 save percentage. He also ranks 10th in goals saved above expected via MoneyPuck. Although there were concerns about how the goaltending would hold up, Samsonov exceeded expectations and gives the Maple Leafs a real chance to go deep this year.

Honorable mention: Calle Jarnkrok.