Even in a year when the Toronto Maple Leafs went nearly a half season (36 games) winning over 80% of their points, and where their best player is scoring goals at a rate that borders on the best of all-time, I still tuned into the radio the other day and heard a consensus that they weren’t a true “playoff team.”
Now, in my opinion, that is both a ridiculous and totally understandable thing to think. It’s ridiculous because it’s easy to prove wrong (Montreal, a team the Leafs lost to 4 times in regulation out of 17 games went all the way to the final with a team that not only didn’t play “playoff hockey” but which wouldn’t even have made the playoffs in a normal season) but it’s understandable because that’s what people always say and if you challenge it, people just make fun of you, so no one does, even though the very concept is idiotic.
It didn’t seem to matter to anyone in the Legacy Media that Leafs lost a series where a) Matthews could barely shoot the puck b) Hyman skated on one leg c) Muzzin missed game seven d) Nick Foligno could barely walk, let alone play effectively and e) John Tavares missed all seven games.
Even with those injuries, they still had to lose a game where they outshot Montreal 12-0 in overtime before a knuckle puck beat the goalie from 80 feet out. In their last 11 playoff games, they have four multi-goal comebacks to force overtime. That is an accomplishment born of heart and determination – the exact things that supposedly define “playoff hockey.”
But guess what? If you don’t ultimately win, it doesn’t count. Even if you lose in the most improbable way, and in a way that doesn’t include even one of the weaknesses people say you have.
The reasons listed above for why the Leafs lost to Montreal didn’t include a single thing that could be blamed on an inability to play “playoff” hockey. If the Leafs had of won that game where Carey Price made 12 consecutive saves in overtime before his team had a single shot, which they would likely have done 99% of the time, people would have said that it was a gutsy playoff-style win.
A total fluke ends the season, and so that doesn’t matter. Ignoring literally everything that happened in the last two playoff season, we are right back at the “You can’t win with this type of team” BS.
All that changes if they win. The NHL is a copycat league.
A team like Florida appears very much to have modeled themselves after the Leafs, and they are doing alright. If the Leafs win, expect other teams to draft for skill, build their teams around a small group of stars, forget grinders at the bottom of the lineup, take chances on younger managers, and focus more on skill than ever before.
While among the fans you’ll hear people say they believed all along, and the acceptance of statistical analysis will quadruple overnight.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, the NHL is going to be remade in their image. This is the best thing that could possibly happen to the NHL, and I predict it will be a start of a great renaissance of skill based hockey.