The Most Annoying Thing About the Toronto Maple Leafs

TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 06: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes the ice prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on August 06, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 06: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes the ice prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on August 06, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /
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The most annoying thing about the Toronto Maple Leafs is that there is really nothing wrong with their team.

When a team has a weakness you can complain about it and give yourself some satisfaction knowing that it will likely be addressed.  But the Toronto Maple Leafs are a team that just about won the President’s Trophy, and who have had a positive expected goals rating in 11 straight playoff games.

The Leafs lost because their two best players – Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner – went cold at the absolute worst time, and because of some untimely injuries.  They had great goaltending, defense, and depth scoring.  They had solid penalty killing.  The only thing that they didn’t have was offense from the players who almost always provide offense.

The Most Annoying Thing About the Toronto Maple Leafs

When the Leafs clearly needed a better blueline, and a better coach, and maybe some more leadership and toughness, it wasn’t too hard to figure out why they lost.  In the last two seasons, they addressed every single one of those issues.

Still, they lost.

When the team has nothing wrong with it, and loses due to it’s biggest strengths, it’s weird because technically it’s the best possible situation to be in for a losing team – your team should have won and doesn’t have any issues to address.  Simultaneously,  it also makes it harder to lose, since your expectations are higher and there is nothing you can look to for blame – losing is a lot easier if you can say “they need better defense.”

For example, three years ago, Mike Babcock was an obvious problem. Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev were obvious problems.  Kyle Dubas fixed all that.

Last year, the Leafs were actually a great team after they fired Babcock. A six game losing streak should have ended their playoff aspirations, and a mid-season injury to Morgan Rielly (and playing games sometimes with five or six regulars out, including, for a large chunk of schedule, both the team’s top defenseman) should have been the nail in the coffin.

Somehow, the Leafs were a top team after Keefe took over.   Then, in the playoffs they got excellent special teams, great defense, great goaltending and lost when their biggest strength – scoring goals – failed them.

Their top two players went cold at the worst possible time.

The next season they almost won the President’s Trophy.  They entered the playoffs as one of the largest favorites in recent NHL history.  They had a 3-1 lead.  They were the better 5v5 team.  They had superior offense, defense and special teams.

They lost.

Again, due to their biggest strength: scoring goals.

Auston goal-per-game Matthews scored once on 35 shots.  A complete and total fluke.  In a series that the team lost by one goal, this was the difference.

In their last 12 playoff games, the Toronto Maple Leafs have the better expected-goals rating in 11 of them (also in 11 straight).  They also have a team 5v5 shooting percentage of 4.32%.  You can take any 30 team 240 game sample from any three years and the lowest shooting percentage you’ll see an NHL team ever have is in the low 6’s.

The Leafs are not the worst shooting team in the history of the NHL, and even if they were, it would still be unlikely for them to shoot under 5% for 12 games.  This isn’t to make excuses or say that the Leafs couldn’t have played better at certain times or had better coaching strategies or player usage. (all stats naturalstattrick.com).

It is just to say that it’s kind of annoying that you wait your whole life for the Leafs to have one of the best teams in the league and no one notices because they randomly got a bit unlucky.

The thing to remember about the Leafs is this: if you flip a coin and get heads both times, you still have a 50/50 shot on the third flip – the coin doesn’t know that you flipped it and “are due” for tails.  The Leafs got unlucky against Columbus.  The Leafs can still get unlucky against Montreal.  It probably isn’t even that unusual to go on a 12 game cooler.

In their last 12 playoff games, the Leafs have an incredible 5v5 save percentage of 93.47%.  You could easily go your whole career and never lose a series where your goalie posted such a save percentage.  That is the kind of goaltending and defense that wins championships.  To get it, then lose because Austom Matthews went on the first cold streak of his life, is frustrating as hell.   Then again, since you know Matthews will almost certainly never go such a streak again, it can be reassuring. It’s all in how you look at it.

The Toronto Maple Leafs would deserve the scorn being heaped on them if they played poorly and lost.  The facts are different, however.  The Leafs, for the most part, played great in 11 of their last 12 playoff games.  The played well enough to advance and I think we should be able to look at that and see progress.   Progress that was defeated by luck, but progress just the same.

Next. Every Single Free Agent Option for the Leafs. dark

The Leafs are in a great spot right now, and set up for years of success.  The results obscure it, but it will soon be apparent to all.