Why I Remain Optimistic About the Toronto Maple Leafs and Kyle Dubas

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27: Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens covers Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Five of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on May 27, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 27: Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens covers Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Five of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on May 27, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have failed to win a playoff series so far during the Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner era.

While the Toronto Maple Leafs continued failure to get beyond the opening round of the playoffs is disappointing, it’s really more about bad luck than anything else.  The Leafs may not have won anything yet, but you can’t sit there and pretend like Montreal is a better team just because they advanced in the playoffs.

The Leafs lost only four times in regulation to Montreal in 17 games.  Every single underlying number we have, not to mention the regular season, suggests the Leafs are not only a better team, but vastly superior.  (All stats from naturalstattrick.com).

When people ask me why I maintain my optimism about the Leafs, I tell them it’s because of the underlying numbers.  Results can be crazy, especially in a short sample size.  But the underlying numbers always predict what will happen.  Eventually.

Toronto Maple Leafs Will Win the Stanley Cup and Win Over the Haters

In this case, the Leafs are clearly a team on the verge of success.  Their first three playoff losses of this era should be written off due to them being a young team on the rise.  They were learning experiences in seasons where the team, by all rights, shouldn’t even have made the playoffs. 

It really shouldn’t stretch anyone’s credulity to suggest that a team that had the better expected-goals rating in 11 straight playoff games but happened to lose two series in that span just got unlucky. This is a fact that is beyond obvious, but the world of sports is enveloped in a pathetic, machismo-driven, result-are-the-only-thing-that-matters culture that is so outdated and sad it honestly makes it hard to even like sports sometimes.

During the Leafs last two playoff losses they shot under 5% at 5v5.  That means that opposing goalies had a roughly .960 save percentage.  The best all-time goalie in the history of the NHL playoffs has a .933 career playoff save percentage.  Bad teams would be unlucky to score so infrequently, let alone a team with arguably the best (and at worst, 3rd best) goal scorer in NHL history on them. This is absolute proof that the team got unlucky. No defense could produce these results over an 11 game sample.

These would be crazy numbers for any team (all NHL teams can be expected to shoot a minimum of 7% over any significant amount of time (and even then, only really bad teams).  The Leafs, say what you will, do not have a problem with scoring.  In fact, for the last three regular seasons combined, they are 3rd highest in the NHL in shooting percentage.

The Leafs weren’t shut-down by Montreal or Columbus (their rate of high-danger scoring chances barely changed from regular season to the playoffs). That is the lazy narrative to defeat all lazy narratives.   All that happened was that the goalie got hot, the shooters got cold.  Defense didn’t factor into it.

Kyle Dubas Is an Objectively Good GM

In the age of the internet, people usually just read what they agree with.  This leads to them being brainwashed into thinking that the only people who could possibly disagree with them are idiots, and  forces them to act rabid when confronting them.  They just are not conditioned to understand that perfectly reasonable people can disagree. (This is a worldwide problem that has far worse repercussions than making it hard to talk about the NHL, and has resurrected such thought-to-be defeated concepts  as fascism, vaccine hesitancy and arguing about the shape of planets).

Often times, when these people realize that the person or people they disagree with is/are probably more informed,  knowledgeable and smarter than them, they are forced into indiscriminately yelling BIAS at anyone who doesn’t hold their same exact views. (This should be considered to a factor of 100 when the person doing the insulting is hiding behind an anonymous user name).

So, according to many anonymous internet users,  people who think the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the right track are just people who love Kyle Dubas are either total idiots, or just the kind of people who will praise him for anything he does. (Which is ridiculous, because most people don’t act like that in real life).   I can’t speak for others, but I have no personal feelings for Kyle Dubas. I don’t know him, I am not friends with him, and I have no vested interest in him succeeding.  Yes, I think he’s done a good job and has been sandbagged by results, but that is really what I think.

He earned my respect, I didn’t just give it to him because I was a fan. In fact, before he worked for the Leafs, I didn’t even know who he was.  But he has done a great job and gotten pretty unlucky with the results.

And the numbers to back that up are irrefutable (without resorting to name-calling and yelling BIAS).  Teams generally do not shoot under 5%.  Teams do not generally lose in  the playoffs when they completely dominate their opponent.  Injuries actually do matter.

And most of all, when your top two scorers (who, in a full season would have combined for roughly 75 goals and 200 points)  go absolutely ice cold (but still put up great underlying numbers) there is nothing to be upset about.  In fact, if you have to lose, it’s the best possible reason why, since it’s an indication that your team is actually good

Chances Mitch Marner just sucks in the playoffs and always will? Roughly zero.

Chances the Leafs beat Montreal if Marner produces even a single goal?  Roughly 100%

The Toronto Maple Leafs deserve my optimism (and yours) because they are a team filled with young, exciting players who are among the best this franchise has ever had.  They are run by a management group that puts the process over results.

This is a recipe for success, and the team can’t get unlucky forever.  Had John Tavares not been kicked in the head two minutes into the series against Montreal, I’d have spent the last two months saying I TOLD YOU SO, and not defending a team whose Original Six fanbase should be savvy enough about hockey statistics to ignore the unlucky losses and embrace the most exciting version of the Toronto Maple Leafs in history.

Next. How the NHL's Most Exciting Young Team Got an Undeserved Bad Rap. dark

I don’t just believe in what the Leafs are doing.  I know for a fact that they are on the right track.  Their rebuild is very successful just by making the playoffs in five straight years.  They are now entering the primes of the three best players they’ve basically ever had, and you should expect them to win multiple Stanley Cups and President’s Trophies over the next five to seven years.