Will Critics Reconsider the Toronto Maple Leafs After Show of Strength?

Toronto Maple Leafs (Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)
Toronto Maple Leafs (Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have won four games in a row.

They’ve also won nine of their last ten, and 14 out of 16.  The Toronto Maple Leafs are (as I write this, at least) in first place in the NHL.

The Leafs are getting unreal goaltending, and this  makes their defense look better than it is.  Their defense isn’t really that good. They are ranked 12th in expected-goals against per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time.  This means they are OK defensively, but not great.

This isn’t a bad thing, however.  Hockey is a dynamic game and being good at one facet usually involves sacrifice of the other.  In my opinion hockey analysis far too often focuses on just one single component and not the integrated hybrid that matters in real life.

Does the Toronto Maple Leafs Success Cast a More Realistic Light on Previous Faliures?

The Leafs strength continues to come from their offense – it’s the best in the NHL by expected-goals for per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time. When you combine offense and defense, they rank 2nd in expected-goals percentage, which is fantastic because it means that the Leafs are for real. 

It is better to be 12th in defense if you’re 2nd overall, than it would be to be first in defense with a lower overall ranking.  This seemingly obvious distinction is usually ignored when people are “Yeah, but”-ting the Leafs success.

Fifth in Corsi.  Second in Xgoals%. First in points.  Sixth by points-percentage, and still just scratching the surface of what Matthews and Marner can contribute to the team.

The Leafs are a scary team, and I think everyone agrees that they are one of the NHL’s best teams at this point.  So I have just one question:  Can we admit that last season’s playoffs were complete fluke yet?

OK, two questions: Can we also admit that given the Leafs have now competed for 1st place in two seasons of a flat cap, that spending all that money on four players was the correct move?  

The Toronto Maple Leafs media and fans love to talk about “five straight playoff losses in the first round” as if three of those were not totally expected and excusable because they were from a young team trying to establish itself against a couple of Legacy Teams.

The fourth series was against Columbus and was five random games in August after a six month layoff.  In this series, the Leafs somehow had the lowest 5v5 shooting percentage in a series in modern day NHL history, and lost despite being the better team in four of five games.

That series was the textbook example of getting “goalied” and should not cause anyone to look at the Leafs in a negative way.

Last year, they played without John Tavares, and Auston Matthews couldn’t shoot the puck. Jake Muzzin missed game seven.  Zach Hyman played on one leg, and Nick Foligno was so badly hurt Mike Foligno probably could have done better, despite being probably 60 years old by now.

Considering how good the Toronto Maple Leafs have been outside of the playoffs since Keefe took over, wouldn’t it be logical, fair even, to reevaluate their performance in the playoffs and consider that they really did get screwed over quite badly, and that perhaps this has caused nearly everyone in the NHL to mis-evaluate the team and underrate them significantly?

To sum up: The Toronto Maple Leafs are the best team in hockey, they only lost in the playoffs due to circumstance that was beyond their control, those “5 straight” exits only look bad if you completely ignore all context, and it turns out I was right about the salary cap, and this team, all along.   Kyle Dubas is one of the best GMs in the NHL, and the decision to keep him and fire Lou Lamoriello has been completely justified.

Next. Leafs Have Potential Superstar Defenseman. dark

I hate to say it, but, I told you so.  Just kidding. I do not hate to say it.