Special Teams, Special Season for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his goal (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his goal (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Midway through 2021-22, the Toronto Maple Leafs are enjoying a special season and much of it has to do with their special teams.

As I relayed at the start of the season, according to Scotty Bowman, to determine true-contender status, special teams should amount to a league-standing total of 10 – let’s call it the “Bowman number.”

Now at the half-way point of the season, the Leafs are clearly in the “Bowman conversation” – and for only the fourth time since special-teams record-keeping began in 1963-64 – including pre and post-expansion eras of 6, 12, and 17-team leagues.

And in the “modern” era of 20+ teams, starting in 1979-80 – over 40 years ago – the Leafs are where no Leafs have been before.

Bowman’s Number

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: it’s not that the Leafs have never had both special teams inside the top 10 before; in fact, it has occurred multiple times – however, the NHL didn’t expand beyond 18 teams until 1979-80.

Back then, being top 10 meant mediocrity.

In the era of 20+ teams, it has occurred on four occasions (from most recent):

  • 2016-17 (PP #2 and PK #10)
  • 1992-93 (PP #7 and PK #8)
  • 1980-81 (PP #5 and PK #10)
  • 1979-80 (PP #4 and PK #10)

But to have both special teams amount to Bowman’s number has only been done four times in franchise history – and all occurred before the competitiveness of 18+ teams (starting from the first year of special teams record keeping):

Six-team league

  • 1963-64 (PP #5 and PK #1)
  • 1964-65 (PP #1 and PK #4)

Twelve-team league

  • 1967-68 (PP #9 and PK #1)

Seventeen-team league

  • 1978-79 (PP #4 and PK #6)

2021-22 Toronto Maple Leafs Special Teams

At the halfway point of the 2021-22 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have the highest Bowman number in the franchise’s history (PP #1 and PK #3) and are tracking to set franchise and league records.

For the franchise, the Leafs haven’t led the league in PP since 1964-65; certainly never in the “modern” era. (all stats hockeyreference.com).

For the league, it would be only the 4th time in league history with a 30% PP – trailing only the 1978-79 Islanders (31.2%), the 1977-78 Islanders (31.4%), and the 1977-78 Canadiens (31.9%). And the Leafs now have a chance to top them all.

Credit Spencer and Dean

Sitting at 42 GP with 40 to go, perhaps the most overlooked additions of the Leafs  2021 off-season have proved to be resoundingly successful – PP Maestro Spencer Carbery and PK Specialist Dean Chynoweth – and deserve more credit and attention than they get.

PP #1 – 30.5% – trailed by the Oilers and the Blues (tied at 28.5%).

PK #3 – 84.4% – trailing the Penguins and the Hurricanes (87.5% and 89%, respectively).

Next. Overrated Manson Not What the Leafs Need. dark

What the Leafs are doing now, in a 32-team league, is nothing short of incredible. They are indeed having a special season with their special teams. The only question now is, can they maintain it?