As you well know, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had a pretty disappointing season to date.
I do, however, want to qualify that, because it's not like this version of the Toronto Maple Leafs is terrible. It's not. It's actually very, very good. Just not good enough.
The Leafs might not have won anything except a single lousy playoff round, but for the last five years they were a top team and an indisputable Cup Contender.
Their core ensures they can still win the Cup, but they looked to be on the verge of something special and then they hired a new GM and took a major step back.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Aren't Guaranteed a Playoff Spot
There is just no way that the blue-line or goalie situations are acceptable. It's concerning to think where the Leafs would be without improbable, random, excellent results from Simon Benoit and Martin Jones.
The fact is, this Leafs team is much, much worse than last years. It might not have been exciting, but Alex Kerfoot, Michael Bunting, Sam Lafferty, Noah Acciari, Aston-Reece, Ryan O'Rielly, and before him Envall and Kampf (as a pairing, very good. As solo practitioners, not so much) made the Leafs so defensively solid, that their floor was perhaps the highest of any team's in hockey.
This year, their bottom six flat-out sucks. Their blue-line is worse. They are a playoff team only because Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly insist on it. Even as they are, they could still win the cup with a couple lucky weeks of hot goaltending, it's just unlikely.
The fact that we're even talking about missing the playoff is a joke, given what Treliving started with (a great core, and $20 million to spend).
With one game in hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs are seven points out of the Atlantic Division title. That spot guarantees a much easier path through the playoffs, and without it, things don't look good.
Given the extra games the Leafs main wildcard contenders have played, the Leafs are in decent shape as far as making the playoffs go, but keep in mind their starting goalie right now is Martin Jones, and no matter how good he's been this month, he hasn't finished an NHL season above a .900 save percentage in a half-decade.
Tampa currently holds the last wild card spot, and the Leafs have four games and two points in hand over them. That's good, but Tampa isn't going to suck this much for the entire season.
The Devils and Penguins are both currently out of a playoff spot, and both teams are highly likely to make the playoffs. Therefore, the Leafs really want to at least finish top three in the Atlantic and avoid the wild card altogether if they can help it.
I continue to find it concerning that the Leafs are only eight points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs should be competing for 32nd and the Leafs for 1st. I do not consider being in the middle of where Boston and Montreal sit to be a successful first half of the season.
The last two games have been good, but the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to sit in 19th place overall in the NHL by Expected Goals Percentage. To be clear, I think the Leafs will almost certainly make the playoffs, but it shouldn't even be a conversation with 2 x MVP candidates on the roster.