Despite Fluke Loss, the Toronto Maple Leafs Still Among NHL’s Best

Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost one of the flukiest series in NHL history.

With a 3-1 lead, the Toronto Maple Leafs were almost assured to make it to the second round of the NHL playoffs, but they did not.

In the weeks that followed, I’ve written about the Leafs every single day, and spent many hours discussing with friends, colleagues and commenters on what went wrong.

The fact is, nothing really did. The Leafs were one of the largest favorites in modern day NHL history, and they played really well.  The results hide that, and the team’s recent playoff results further obscure it, but it is a fact. (all stats for this article from

The Leafs lost one of the most unlikely series in the history of the NHL, and if not for the combination of three things (1. 50 years without a Cup 2. losing to a Zamboni driver 3. the 2013 game 7 against Boston)  then I think people would be a lot more forgiving.

Here are some points I’d like to make about the loss:


“The Leafs have lost five series in a row” is a pretty common refrain for most fans, but how about a little context? The Leafs first three series with their current core were in years where it would have been perfectly acceptable to have missed the playoffs.

Since that is true beyond any argument (Auston Matthews was 18,19 and 20 during these years) we can’t really add these in to today’s problems to make them seem worse.

Last year’s loss to Columbus should also be ignored and considered acceptable.  A short, five games series, after a six month layoff, to a team who set the NHL modern day record for save percentage in a playoff series.   It’s completely excusable.

Finally, the Leafs 5 Year Rebuild clock started ticking when they fired Dave Nonis.  Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews just finished their 5th season.  They were two of the top five players in the NHL by WAR and they competed for the President’s Trophy until the last week of the season.

This is the first year where they really “failed” and it’s also the first year of the post-rebuild phase, at least by the standards of the NHL.

Vs Montreal

In the NHL, 5v5 Corsi and Expected Goals are the best measures we have to predict success.  If you control the puck and play in a way in which, variances aside, you would normally win, you usually do win.

The Leafs had at least 50% puck possession in five of seven games, and had the superior Expected Goals rating in every single game.

Overall, the Leafs had a 57% Expected Goals rating for the series.  That is a massive discrepancy in play – the Leafs were far, far better than Montreal over seven games.

Here are the Leafs 5v5 stats for all seven games:  52% Corsi, 55% of Shots, 57% of Goals, 55% of Scoring Chances, 57% of High Danger Chances, 57% Expected Goals.

That isn’ t just a team that should win, those are the stats of a team that will almost always win.

The only reason a team with those stats can usually lose is through poor shooting percentage and save percentage, but even those numbers, in this series, defy belief.

Somehow the Leafs also had a higher shooting percentage and a higher save percentage.

In total, Toronto outscored Montreal 18-14 in the series.

At 5v5 Toronto outscored Montreal 12-9.  In all other situations, 6-5.  On the 5-4  power-play they outscored them 3-2.

They lost, but clearly, through no fault of their own.  Statistically this loss is almost inexplicable.  Consider also that no team – until the Leafs this year – had ever came back from a multi-goal deficit  in the 3rd period and lost in overtime twice in the same series.

Consider that one Montreal goal was scored on a two-on-0 in overtime, and ask yourself how many two-on-0’s did you see this season outside of 3 on 3 ?  The answer, I’m pretty sure, is zero.

Consider also that Montreal won a game where Alex Galchenyuk was elbowed in the head on a play that should have been a suspension, but which went uncalled, second before Montreal won the game in overtime.

Consider also that Auston Matthews – the undisputed best goal scorer in the world – scored once on 35 shots, a roughly 75% drop in production.

Consider also that John Tavares – someone who would be the Canadiens best skater – played just two minutes in the entire series.

The facts are that the Toronto Maple Leafs entered the playoffs as one of the NHL’s best teams, and then thoroughly  and clinically destroyed their opponent, only to suffer a weird and unlikely result, due to a series of unlikely events that do not reflect their team, talent or dedication to winning, which looks worse than it is because of the team’s history, and some recent (explainable) results.

dark. Next. Leafs Player Grades

The current version of the Toronto Maple Leafs is one of the NHL’s best teams and should be for the foreseeable future.  I get the frustration in the immediate aftermath, but any reasonable person should be able to come to the same conclusion I have: This is a great team that just got unlucky.