Comparing Last Year’s Toronto Maple Leafs to This Year’s Version

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 24: Wayne Simmonds #24 (C) of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates with teammates Mitch Marner #16 and Auston Matthews #34 after scoring against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 24, 2021 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 24: Wayne Simmonds #24 (C) of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates with teammates Mitch Marner #16 and Auston Matthews #34 after scoring against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 24, 2021 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

The Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the unofficial second half of the NHL season last night against the Flames, and hopefully they made good use of the return of Wayne Simmonds, but this was written ahead of time, so I guess we’ll see.

The Toronto Maple Leafs began the season on an insane run that saw them win virtually every one-goal game they played in, by virtue of near-league high shooting and save percentages.

While the narrative was that the Leafs had learned how to play defense and finally turned the corner, the reality is a little messier and more complicated.  The Leafs did, after all, post the 8th best record in the NHL last season once Keefe took over (they are also eighth right now, by points percentage), and they did it while facing crippling injuries to their blue-line and getting terrible goaltending.

They outplayed the Blue Jackets in four of five games only to lose by a single goal against a team that beat them by setting a record for best team save percentage in a playoff series.

Toronto Maple Leafs: This Year vs Last

This season, by the time the Leafs had amassed a nearly ten point lead in their division this season, they were sailing along with the 3rd best 5v5 save percentage in the NHL.  The Leafs may be slightly better defensively this season, but not enough to move from 24th to 3rd in save-percentage. They were simply unlucky last season and then got a correction to start this season with a period of sustained good luck.

Yes, the results have been better this year, but the underlying stats do not suggest the Leafs are an unbeatable force. I think the stats might undersell their performance a bit, but even so, it’s not ideal to be under 50% in corsi or shot percentage.

The Leafs are doing well in  5v5 expected-goals percentage, so it’s not like allowing slightly more shot-attempts or shots is making it so they deserve to lose.  The Leafs get 52% of the expected goals, and that puts them tenth in the NHL. Add in their  top notch power play and their being eight overall in the standings doesn’t seem incongruent at all.

Last year the Leafs were an elite team with bad goaltending, and this year they are an elite team with good goaltending.  You don’t need to get great goaltending to win the Cup, but the Leafs record early this season when they were threatening to run away with the division shows how much it helps. (all stats naturalstattrick.com).  

I think the Leafs are better this year than they were last year (the young stars are better, the addition of Brodie is huge) but not by much. They could have won the Stanley Cup last year if things had gone right, and they’ve assembled a team capable of winning it this year – if things go right.

There has been a recent blip in the Leafs fortunes, having lost five of six games heading into this past week’s break, and in this time the Leafs have slipped from first to eighth.

What is nice for the Leafs is that their recent cold streak actually saw them play a ton of good hockey, and they were more or less goalied in at least three of the five losses.  During this time, it’s worth pointing out, the Leafs were 27th in the NHL in 5v5 save percentage, and they looked a lot like last year’s team deserving to win games and getting beaten by a combination of a hot goalie and their own goalie blowing it.

Going forward the Leafs are highly likely to put together another run where they look like the best team, and they are still highly favored to win the Canadian division.

Next. Every Trade Option We Could Think Of. dark

I think a reasonable assessment of the stats and standings , coupled with their recent play and stated desire to improve their team via trade, gives the Toronto Maple Leafs a good chance at the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup.