Maple Leafs More Impressive than Tampa Without Kucherov

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 24: Jack Campbell #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in action 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: Jack Campbell #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in action 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) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are, in fact, the NHL’s best team.

Though they currently sit in third place overall in the NHL standings, once you put everything in context, it is clear the Toronto Maple Leafs are the NHL’s best team.

To start putting this team in context, we have to go back one year in time. The Leafs fired Mike Babcock after losing six straight games,  then proceeded to post the 8th best record in the NHL over the rest of the season, despite playing through injuries to an already weak blue-line ( they lost Rielly for half of Keef’s games last year, and Muzzin for half the ones Rielly missed).

The comeback to 8th was even more impressive if you note that the Leafs received some of the worst 5v5 goaltending in all of hockey at this time.  Teams that outperform their goaltending (i.e are ranked higher in the overall standings than they are ranked in 5v5 save percentage) are ALWAYS better than their records.

Toronto More Impressive than the Bolts

All this positive stuff really fell by the wayside when, after six months off, the Leafs returned to get bounced in the play-in portion of the playoffs by a weak Columbus team.  This was unfortunate, because it’s actually pretty dumb to make any judgements off five random games, especially after a six month layoff, but don’t tell that to Leafs fans who have been starved of winning way too long to look at things objectively.

The Leafs shot 1.9% at 5v5 in that series, and that is a  complete anomaly that should have gotten them a free pass from criticism.  The Leafs lost because their best feature – scoring goals – went cold. When that happens, you should actually be happy because, as frustrating as it is, it’s better than losing because you weren’t good enough.

What I mean is – if you lose because the other team was better than you, you’ve got work to do. If you lose because the thing you are the best at failed you, the odds are that you were just unlucky and will do better next time.

Now, fast forward to this year.  The Leafs are rolling along in first place, and people are actually starting to believe in them.  What is their biggest problem? The power play.  Except it’s not even a problem at all.  Again, this is a fluke.  The Leafs best strength is their offense, which includes the power-play, and like last year’s loss to Columbus, this is, once again, a problem that isn’t really a problem.

But even though it is something that will – 100% guaranteed – self correct, the power-play not scoring does affect the games played while it’s slumping.  If you aren’t scoring on your power-play, it’s a lot harder to win.  (To be clear here: this is not a problem in that it’s something you should worry about in the future, but it does present a problem in all the games where it isn’t working).

All of this is what makes the Leafs so impressive.  They have a record of 28-11-4 and are in and out of first place on any given day.  They’ve recently gone on a 9-1-2 streak where they picked up 20 of 24 possible points, and they did it without a power-play, or a starting goalie.

Freddie Andersen has played just 23 games this season, and when it’s all said and done, he will , at best, have appeared in 40% of the Leafs games this year.  At the bare minimum, 4th strong goalie Michael Hutchinson will have appeared in 15% of the teams, games, and they have used four goalies in total.

Combine the goalie situation with the power-play, and there is no way the Toronto Maple Leafs should be in the running for the Presidents Trophy.  But they are.  What they are doing without a goalie or a power-play is even more impressive than Tampa playing successfully all year without Nikita Kucherov.

Since the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Sheldon Keefe, they haven’t had a single stretch of injury-free, slump-free hockey, and yet they are fourth overall in the standings in the 90 games they’ve played under Sheldon Keefe – a stretch that saw Rielly and Muzzin simultaneously injured for a significant time, the power-play take 30 games off, and their goalie situation completely disintegrate.

The Leafs Trade Deadline Performance Impressive. dark. Next

Having put the last 90 games in context, it’s clear that the Leafs are even better than their very good record indicates.