Low Expectations for the Toronto Maple Leafs Are Ridiculous

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 may have the biggest discrepancy between the perception of their team by fans and analysts vs the actual reality of how good they are.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have the best forwards in the NHL, something close to the best blue-line, and a goalie coming off a records setting NHL debut as a starting goalie.

Their best players – some of whom are future hall of famers – are just hitting their primes, and the team is just starting to develop a second wave of prospects to augment the team.

Things Should be culminating in a vortex of high expectations and gushing hyperbole about finally breaking the 50 year curse.

But due to 12 games across nine months (but somehow, encompassing two seasons) where the team was never healthy, and shot 4.32% at 5v5 , expectations are low across the board, except where people use computer models that don’t include all the emotional baggage – then they’re a top three team in the league.

Toronto Maple Leafs Low Expectations

A deep team with tons of high-end talent, some rookies, some bruisers, some vets,  a lot of leadership, good coaching,  likely the league’s best GM, and a ton of playoff experience in a league where the cliché is that you have to learn to lose before you learn to win.

Ironically, another NHL cliché is the “Five Year Rebuild”  and guess what? Auston Matthews has been a Leaf for five years.  The team is built. It’s ready to rock.   (all stats naturalstattrick.com).

Maybe it’s the internet culture that produces a bizarre expectation of instant results; I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve been watching sports religiously for my entire life, and I’ve never seen a team this good, this young, with so many legitimate excuses for not having won yet (injuries, covid, shooting percentage, bad refereeing, opposing goalies) get so disrespected across the spectrum of the sport (Media, Fans, etc.).

But here is the thing: Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are due for some correction to the mean.  When next year’s  playoffs start, the odds are that the team with four high-end, elite offensive superstars isn’t going to keep shooting under 5%.

In fact, it’s an impossibility.

The thing that defies logic. regarding how the Leafs are viewed, is their shooting percentage.  In the NHL we know, for a fact, without a doubt (and to the point where anyone who says differently is wrong and should be ignored) that players have pretty much no control over their shooting percentage.

Shooting percentage will fluctuate, and players will go on cold streaks where they aren’t necessarily playing poorly.  It’s easy enough – over say, 12 games – to get in a situation where the goalies are hot, you’re hitting posts, and suddenly not putting up your normal results.

Over his last two seasons and 122 games, Auston Matthews has scored on 17% of his shots in all situations.  Over 12 games in the playoffs, he has shot 4%.

Here is a guarantee that you can take to the bank: Auston Matthews shooting percentage is going to be closer to 17% than 4% over time.  So, assuming the Leafs play in more games, he is almost 100% likely to score goals at a rate that eventually puts his playoff shooting in line with his regular season shooting.

Are the playoffs harder? Could he have played better? Sure.  But literally nothing a defenseman can do will make Matthews 75% less effective over time. That it happened over 12 games is just a combination of goalies, luck, wrist injuries, goal posts etc.

You do not need to even believe in hockey statistics to understand that had Matthews scored at even half his normal rate, we aren’t having this conversation right now.

So what should we expect from Toronto this year?  We should expect that their regular season success will translate into playoff success.  We know this will happen because the team didn’t lose because of the salary cap, bad defense, goaltending, special teams, coaching, leadership or toughness.

The Leafs literally took every single criticism about their team and defied it. They lost for one reason, and one reason only. Their biggest strength failed them – goal scoring.

So the question shouldn’t be if the Leafs are a flawed team, it should be “Are Matthews and Marner likely to ever produce in the playoffs?”

The answer that is yes, and it’s not just speculation. The Toronto Maple Leafs superstars are guaranteed to score more in future playoff games.  Their shooting percentages are 100% guaranteed to revert to the norm.

Next. New Look Top Line. dark

Low expectations for the Toronto Maple Leafs are based on one thing: Emotional frustration.  High expectations are based on something much more tangible: Numbers.   Expect them to compete for the President’s Trophy, win their division and win a few playoff series.  Their two biggest competitors for the Stanley Cup (the Avalanche and Lightning) both got worse this summer.  The Leafs didn’t.  Expect nothing short of the first Stanley Cup in 54 years.