Toronto Maple Leafs: Narrative About Size Over Skill Is Preposterous

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 3: Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leaf celebrates his second goal during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at the Scotiabank Arena on January 3, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 3: Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leaf celebrates his second goal during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at the Scotiabank Arena on January 3, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images) /

 The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Bruins because the Bruins are tougher.

The Toronto Maple Leafs just don’t hit enough or play heavy enough to win.  You know what wins in the Playoffs? Size and Grit.  That’s right.  It becomes “even more important than skill” at “this time of year.”

Want proof?  Just look at the two teams left standing.  And look who won last year.

Now is this a convenient narrative that was arrived at by working backwards?  You tell me.

Skill > Size/Toughness

This happens every year.

Whatever team wins just happens to play the EXACT way you’re supposed to. Great leadership, overcoming adversity, and of course they WANT IT THE MOST!!!  And this is the champion of every sporting event, ever and always.

It definitely has nothing to do with ascribing our own values onto those who win, after the fact, while ignoring the real reasons they won. (Usually they had more skill or luck).

I thought we all realized how random the NHL was when a rookie goalie led the last place team in January to the Stanley Cup Finals, and five of the six best teams in the league lost in the first round.

Instead of St. Louis and Boston (who aren’t even really grinding teams at all) it could easily have been Tampa/ San Jose. Or Toronto / Winnipeg.

This year, there is a sizable contingent of people intent on painting the Bruins and Blues as prototypical hockey teams who “play the right way,” in order to justify their ongoing denial about the way in which the game is changing (it’s getting faster and more skilled).

Pretending, however, that those teams play in a superior way involves ignoring the most glaring thing of all: This year’s playoffs were anything but typical, and therefore it would be foolish to draw any conclusions based on the results.  The first round featured more upsets than usual, but not because those teams were ill-prepared for “playoff hockey,” but because that is what sometimes happens.

Since it is the Blues and Bruins, and they kind of, sort of, represent old-school hockey (if you squint and focus on like five players) we can graft the narrative right on there.

Learning a “lesson” from which two random competitors just happened to make it to the SCF is a pretty bold choice, seeing as it ignores things like math, reason, logic, history, etc.

Skill Wins Championships

“Hey did you know the Toronto Maple Leafs outhit the Bruins in most of their games?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about.  The Bruins seemed heavier.  You can’t measure that.”

Which is a convenient way for saying you can never be wrong.  Except you can measure it, and it’s complete non-sense.

The Leafs have a team that is – on average – taller and heavier than the Bruins.  Neither St. Louis or the Bruins are in the top five of either category.  Neither team was in the top ten for penalties taken, either.

Why are the Blues and Bruins still playing?  Well, they are two of the five best PDO teams (shooting percentage + save percentage).  The Bruins have the best power-play in the playoffs, and the Blues have the highest 5v5 shooting percentage (of teams that went beyond one round).

That pretty much sums it up.

Last year’s Capitals rode a record playoff save percentage from Brayden Holtby to the Finals.  But sure, it was toughness and size.  I guess. If you want it to be, then don’t let facts get in your way.  Might as well throw leadership in there too.

In reality, the NHL Playoffs are an extremely random tournament featuring a significant amount of teams that don’t differ much from the other.  Random variance plays the biggest part in deciding a winner. (Stats from

Should the Leafs change their entire outlook and roster construction because they lost to a team that went on a PP scoring binge, had two of their best defenseman barely able to walk, and had one of their best players suspended for being too grindery and too tough?

Keep in mind that the Leafs outplayed the Bruins, and the Bruins needed at least twelve or fifteen unlikely events to occur in order for them to sneak by with a win.

Should the Tampa Bay Lightning change their record setting roster because they lost in completely random fashion to a team that wouldn’t likely beat them again if you replayed the series a hundred times?

Of course not.  Drawing conclusions based on who won or made the Finals is ridiculous.  The NHL is a Copy Cat League – so goes the cliché – and if that is true, then it will be even easier for smart teams like Tampa and Toronto to win in the future.

Hate to break it to you, but the Red Wings, Penguins, Bruins, Blackhawks. Capitals and Kings won the last twelve straight Stanley Cups.

It is no coincidence that those teams featured Datsyk, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Crosby, Bergeron, Kane, Kopitar, Doughty, Toews, and Malkin.  Basically the ten best players in the NHL during this time.  These players were the reasons why their teams won, not some insane nonsense about how tough or big the teams were.

In fact, should the Blues prevail, they’ll be the first team in 12 years to win the Cup without a sure-fire, no-doubt, best-of-all-time type player on their roster.

Seems like a lot bigger sample size with which to make a sweeping generalization than say using three of the last four teams to make the Final.

Since the narrative about size being more important than skill seems to stem from the desire people have to point out that the Toronto Maple Leafs will never win with their current roster, I think the generalization we should draw is that you need an all-time player on your team to win the Stanley Cup.

Guess what? The Toronto Maple Leafs have at least two of those, and maybe three depending on how Mitch Marner develops.  If anything, this team needs more talent and more skill. What they don’t need is outdated ideas about grinding out wins with body checks and monster trucks.

Next. Zero Chance of a Nylander Trade. dark

The Blues and Bruins are not even that big or that tough.  But even if they were everything they were conveniently being described as, it wouldn’t matter because with no one doing anything differently, the Final could easily feature the Lightning, Leafs, Sharks or Flames.

It is only through pure chance, not body checks, that they aren’t.