New Division Will Give Toronto Maple Leafs Chance at Glory

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 8: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his 30th goal of the season against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on January 8, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 8: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his 30th goal of the season against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on January 8, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have a legitimate chance at winning the Stanley Cup this year.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been competitive since they drafted Auston Matthews, but have fell victim to the division they play in. However, with the new alignment this season, the team will have an opportunity to script a new narrative.

For the past three seasons, the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning have had the most points in the Eastern Conference and happen to play in the same division as the Leafs (Atlantic Division). As a result, the team has been forced to deal with the NHL’s terrible playoff format that makes each second and third seeded teams in the division play each other in the First Round.

Notwithstanding the Qualifying Series failure against the Columbus Blue Jackets last August, the Leafs have lost against the best team in the Eastern Conference twice and the second best team once, based on points in the past three years. It’s completely unfair that you could be the third best team in the Eastern Conference, but if you happen to be the third best team in your division as well, you don’t get to play an inferior opponent.

Let’s look at the past two seasons, once again not including the 2019-20 season. Look how differently the playoffs would have been if the NHL went back to the 1 v. 8 system.

  • 2018-19 Season
    • Old School Format: New York Islanders (4th Seed, 103 points) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (5th Seed, 100 points)
    • Actual Match-Up: Boston Bruins (2nd Seed, 107 Points) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (5th Seed, 100 points)
  • 2017-18 Season:
    • Old School Format: Toronto Maple Leafs (4th Seed, 105 points) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (100 points)
    • Actual Match-Up: Boston Bruins (2nd Seed, 112 Points) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (4th Seed, 105 points)

Who knows if the Leafs could have actually beat the New York Islanders or Pittsburgh Penguins in the First Round, but it would have been a much more fair match-up. Criticism for the Leafs not winning a playoff series is unjust because the team’s First Round match-up should actually have been a Conference Finals match-up. Taking the second best team in the Eastern Conference to seven games two years in a row is pretty impressive, if you think about it.

Obviously it hurts that the team never won those series, but they never should have had to play them in the First Round in the first place.

Leafs Will Have Easiest Opportunity to Reach Stanley Cup Finals This Season

Now that the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have to worry about facing the Tampa Bay Lightning or Boston Bruins in the First Round of the playoffs, their road to a Stanley Cup Final gets a lot easier.

I’m not saying that the team is going to cruise through their division and finish as the number-one seed guaranteed, but they’re going to make the playoffs and be a threat in the Eastern Conference. Within their new division, the Edmonton Oilers had the best record last year, and they were only the ninth best team in the NHL.

Comparatively, the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning (eventual Stanley Cup champions) were first and third in the NHL.

Every Canadian team has a few good players, but nobody is a power-house. Anyone can obviously win any night, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are clearly the favorites. Having the opportunity to play the Canadian teams compared to the ones they had to play in their previous division will give them a leg-up and will ultimately help their chances at winning a Stanley Cup this season.

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If the Leafs can’t take advantage of this 56-game sprint against the inferior opponents than their previous division, then it’ll be time to talk about blowing up the core-four. However, until then, I’d expect some big things from this young squad and some playoff success for the first time in 16 years.