Toronto Maple Leafs Path to the Stanley Cup Much Easier

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs will play the Columbus Blue Jackets when the NHL resumes.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are getting a kind of a bonus with the way the NHL has organized the return to play scenario.

Instead of a situation where the Leafs were guaranteed to play Tampa in the opening round, and then play Boston in round two, this new situation is 100x more preferable.

The Leafs path to the Stanley Cup is much easier than it would have been under normal circumstances.

Toronto Maple Leafs Path to the Cup

The NHL playoffs are designed very poorly.  For whatever reason, the NHL decided that it should try to manufacture some local rivalries, so they created a system that forces teams to play through their division before moving on to the Conference Final.

In theory this sounds fine, but in practice it is problematic.

For one, the NHL already is hyper prone to upsets compared to other sports.  These can be fun, but if they happen too frequently, they diminish the importance of the regular season by adding randomness and punishing the better teams.

If the league had a playoff tournament where team 1 played team 16 regardless of conference, the regular season would take on more importance because finishing higher would have more reward.

A 1 vs 8 conference set up is more practical for travel reasons, but is preferable to the current set-up for the same reason – if better teams start against worse teams, there will be less upsets.

The divisional set-up makes teams play more likely to play teams that are more closely matched, and disproportionately punishes the second and third place teams in the division.

Making the divisional set-up even worse is the rare, and thus probably unforeseen problem of having three of the best teams in the league in one division.

If you go through the entirety of team stats, you can make a good case for Tampa, Toronto and Boston being the three best teams in the NHL.  Even if they aren’t they are close to it, as they are three of the top eight teams in the league, by points percentage, since the Leafs hired Sheldon Keefe.

Out of TB, Boston and Toronto, whichever two fail to win the division are forced to open the playoffs against one of the league’s best teams, despite they themselves being among the NHL’s best teams.

Should they win, their reward is another of the best teams.  Ironically, should such a team survive both the first two rounds, their next two rounds would be far easier.

Therefore, in the pre-Covid playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs (along with Tampa) had the most difficult path to the Cup.

But now, it could a lot easier.

The Leafs get Columbus, probably the worst of the twelve teams to make it.  Since the NHL is having the four teams with a bye to the next round play a round robin for seeding, the Leafs could end up playing Washington or Philadelphia.

I they win that, the odds are good they’ll still have to face one of TB or Boston in the next round, but that is still better than the original premise.

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This is a positive for the Leafs.  It’s not like they should be afraid of either team, but the regular set-up is extremly unfair to the all of Boston , Tampa and Toronto, and so there is at least one good to come out of all this.