The 2019-20 NHL season did not go particularly well for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs underachieved last season – from a six game losing streak that prompted the firing of Mike Babcock (the NHL’s highest paid coach), to a loss in the NHL Playoff- Play-In to the Blue Jackets, the results left a lot to be desired.
There were, however, many bright spots – the Leafs were a much better team than the results indicated, and the experience they gained through adversity will prove to be helpful in the future.
The Leafs may not yet have achieved the expected results that come with the talent level of their roster, but here, at the outset of the 2021 season, it appears the stars are aligning for a successful season.
Toronto Maple Leafs in 2021
One of the major tenets of “advanced stats” is that results can sometimes be misleading, so it is important to understand the underlying numbers so that you can know whether or not you got unlucky or weren’t good enough in the first place.
The reason that the Toronto Maple Leafs failed last season but made no major changes to their roster (the biggest was signing a UFA defenseman) is because all things – other than the results – suggest that they are a good team. (All stats naturalstattrick.com).
Last year the Leafs were the NHL’s sixth best possession team (including the Babcock games), and had the sixth highest percentage of total scoring chances. Once Keefe took over, they had the sixth highest percentage of expected goals, and finished 9th overall by points percentage.
That they were able to do that while getting the 25th best goaltending is remarkable and highly suggestive of future success.
In fact, if Freddie Andersen had had just a career average season last year, the Leafs would have finished much higher in the standings, even though they made an on-the-fly coaching chance and played a not insignificant portion of the season without both their two best defenseman.
Also, in games not started by Michael Hutchinson, even with the bad performance from Andersen, they still were one of the top teams in the NHL.
The fact is, last year the Leafs had better underlying numbers than results, and faced several weird events that will not usually happen. This summer they not only significantly improved their team, without changing it’s make-up or philosophy, but their core players – Matthews, Nylander and Marner – are all now more or less entering their primes and are yet to peak.
The roster is better, deeper and more talented. The best players are getting better and the goaltending is almost sure to be better than it was. That is why 2021 is the year of the Toronto Maple Leafs.