NHL Return Plan Revealed: What’s Next For The Toronto Maple Leafs?

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 21: Tyson Barrie #94 of the Toronto Maple Leafs defends with Jake Muzzin #8 and Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 21, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 21: Tyson Barrie #94 of the Toronto Maple Leafs defends with Jake Muzzin #8 and Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 21, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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An early look at the likely opponent when the Toronto Maple Leafs return to play.

On Wednesday evening, Sportsnet’s Elliote Friedman broke the news of the NHL’s proposed playoff format, which would see  the Toronto Maple Leafs and 23 other teams returning to play.

While nothing is official yet, and plans may have to shift further depending on the ever-changing global situation, for now, it appears that the NHL will be entirely scrapping the remaining regular-season schedule and moving directly to a conference-based playoff format that will be seeded using the oft-proposed and entirely logical points percentage model.

Under this proposed format, the Toronto Maple Leafs will play a best-of-five series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Blue Jackets

In two games versus Columbus this season, both in October during the last days of Mike Babcock’s tenure as head coach, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the first game and lost the second in overtime (off a Gustav Nyquist penalty shot).

In these previous meetings, the Leafs fared well on the advanced score sheet, earning 56.8% of Expected Goals For and 51.35% Corsi rating, both of those ratings likely increase under Sheldon Keefe’s more offense-minded style of play.

After reviewing the highlights of both games, I don’t believe the Toronto Maple Leafs particularly struggled in any area versus the Blue Jackets.

Most of the goals against came from Columbus forwards capitalizing on momentary lapses in judgment in the defensive zone, which is something that the Leafs have slightly improved on since Sheldon Keefe came onboard and Cody Ceci’s role was dramatically reduced.

Depending on when this modified playoff format can begin, both teams will be reinforced with players returning from injury.

Jake Muzzin and Ilya Mikheyev will likely both be ready to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, while Columbus will be able to potentially activate Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson, Alexandre Texier, and Dean Kukan.

My far-too-early prediction for the series is the Leafs win in four games.

Toronto had no problem scoring against the Blue Jackets in their previous meetings, and all due respect to Seth Jones and Gustav Nyquist, but Columbus does not have a single bonafide superstar in their lineup that can single-handedly change the course of any given game.

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Assuming the current plan remains in place, and there is no re-seeding of the playoff tournament, the winner of this series will move into a second-round meeting with the (rested) 1st-overall seed… the Boston Bruins.

Here we go again.