The Best News About the Toronto Maple Leafs Upcoming Playoff Series

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - OCTOBER 26: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skating up the ice in control of the puck against the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell on October 26, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QUEBEC - OCTOBER 26: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skating up the ice in control of the puck against the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell on October 26, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs will be playing the Columbus Blue Jackets in a best of five play-in series beginning August 2nd.

The Toronto Maple Leafs figure to be a huge favorite against the Blue Jackets, who lost several of their best players, including should-be league MVP Artemi Panarin, last summer.

Despite the fact that the two teams finished the regular season with the same amount of points (81 in 70 games) there is a huge gap between the qualities of their respective rosters.

The Blue Jackets over-achieved on the backs of the NHL’s 5th best 5v5 save percentage.  Despite having only marginal (if at all) better defensive stats than the Leafs, the Blue Jackets goalies were unsustaibably great this year.

The Leafs, on the other hand, had the NHL’s 5th worst 5v5 save percentage, as Freddie Andersen has by far his worst NHL season to date.

Toronto vs Columbus

The teams might have the same points, but it would be foolish to think that means anything.

The NHL season was only 70 games long, and from a mathematical standpoint that isn’t even a big enough sample size to reasonably expect roster strength to be a bigger factor than luck in determining the standings.

The Leafs switched coaches, drastically altered their playing style on the fly, and played 23 games without their best defenesman.  Nine without their two best.

But we already know all that.

Here is the great news:

For the first time in recent memory, the Toronto Maple Leafs will not dress two of the NHL’s worst players in their top-four for a playoff game.

Gone are Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey.

This year, playing for Ottawa, Zaitsev was a ridiculous -2.1 WAR making him one of the worst players in the NHL by far.  In fact, Zaitsev has three straight seasons of negative value, and it’s incredible that Mike Babcock ran him out in a top four role.

As for Hainsey, he was nearly as bad and the Leafs had him on the top pairing, which seems impossible to believe.

Hainsey was worth negative value this year, and two years ago. Last year, despite his partner having a Norris-worthy season worth over 4 wins, and despite playing with elite players on every shift, Hainsey was worth just a half win.

This year, the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have a top-four set in stone, because no one is sure who they will choose to partner with Morgan Rielly, but the odds are that it is  vastly better than what they had the last time they made the playoffs. (All stats from @jfresh player cards).

Next. Are the Blue Jackets Really Superior to the Leafs Defensively?. dark

Of course, if they make the error of playing Cody Ceci in the top four, then all bets are off.