Many pundits and fans are claiming the sky is falling for the Maple Leafs. In many ways it is, but missing the playoffs isn’t very probable for the oft lifeless Buds. Howard Berger, of Berger Bytes, forecast the Leafs as an outsider this Spring. He cited their lack of a competent backup goaltender as the main culprit for this unthinkable outcome. Berger also pointed to the traditional amount of points required to go to the postseason dance as an insurmountable obstacle for the disappointing Toronto team.
He is half right.
Last year the plucky, yet talentless Montreal Canadiens amassed 96 points, missed the wildcard by a measly 2. They trailed the Leafs by 4 for third position in the stacked Atlantic. But this year – and Im just going to say it – the Atlantic Division sucks. Its trash. Its a tire fire. Every single team not named the Boston Bruins have stumbled during the first 30 games this season. For this exercise, we are going to be realistic and stop pretending the Habs have a hope in hell of making the playoffs. Currently 1-9 in their last 10 games, they are one of the worst teams in the league. So we will focus on the 4 teams from the Atlantic who actually have a realistic shot at taking up one of the 2 Atlantic spots and 2 wildcards available. You may as well just go ahead and pencil Boston in at this point.
Tampa Bay Lightning
They are a perennial Cup favourite, but this year have been really brutal. Perhaps getting the shit beaten out of them in 4 games by the lowly Blue Jackets left a hangover for the Bolts. In any event, they do not resemble the team that ran away with the President’s Trophy last year. But despite losing 4 of their last 5, you have to think Tampa Bay is a lock for one of the 4 playoff spots remaining. They are just too talented. They sit right in the thick of the playoff hunt, but have 4 games in hand. Go ahead and pencil them in.
Who knows what to make of this team. They look like they have finally rounded out their team with some nice additions, specifically Victor “Goal-ofson” Olafsson. Buffalo always looks so legit early on, before always shrinking back into…well…Buffalo. But I think they will be right there this year. Buffalo began the year 8-1-1, then hit the skids as always, but they haven’t just rolled over in years past. In my best Pierre McGuire voice: GET EXCITED SABRES FANS! YOU’RE NOT THE WORST TEAM IN THE LEAGUE THIS YEAR!
I have not watched many Panthers game this year, and it would be extremely phoney of me to sit here and try and paint myself some expert on them. I’ll leave that kind of fake bullshit to the other guys. You can always tell when someone is trying to pretend when it comes to hockey. I can, anyways. But I digress, Florida’s record is intriguing. After looking at their results, they have had some impressive wins. Beating Boston was one of the few games I did watch. It was lovely. They’re a pretty good team, but I don’t think near as talented as the others.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs, and I hate making excuses for them, have had a pretty rough go of it. They’ve played an incredible amount of back-to-backs, and lost the second game every damn time. As Berger mentioned, they need a backup goalie. Kyle Dubas does not appear to be in a rush to get one (or do anything else for that matter), so that problem appears to be here for a while. Despite the Leafs softness, lack of defence, lack of a backup, etc. There is still quite a bit of reason to think their year will get better:
- Mike Babcock is gone. Sheldon Keefe is letting them play to their strengths
- Their schedule, especially the next 10 games, gets considerably easier
- Their team is now fully healthy. Tavares or Marner have been out for the bulk of the year, compromising their top line.
The main reason the Leafs will make the playoffs this year is solely due to the struggles of the other teams in the Atlantic. Money Puck currently has Toronto’s odds of making the post-season at 39.2%, but I think its much higher. Tampa Bay is only 49.4% statistically, but thats why you can’t always trust the math. I’d bet everything I own that the Bolts make the Wildcard at the very minimum. Its important to look at the current point totals for the teams in the Leafs division/ conference:
As I stated earlier, we are going to just go ahead and remove Montreal from the equation. They aren’t making it, period. What’s left is Toronto, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Florida, fighting for 2 spots. In addition, you have the 2 wildcards currently occupied by Pittsburgh and Carolina. This would be my own personal rankings of the 6 teams:
Im sure there will be tons of arguments in favour for any of the teams below the Leafs to be ranked higher. I have the Pens ranked 4th, and they have been riddled with injuries, yet still holding onto a WC spot. But on paper, None of them match up with Toronto’s forward depth. Any team with a 1-2 punch up the middle of Tavares and Matthews is special. Frederik Andersen may very well be the best goalie in the world at the moment. The Leafs are no question an underachieving team, but they are better than that. They are second only to the Bolts in my opinion.
No matter how you slice it, there is only 3 points separating 4 teams in the Atlantic. No matter how much you disagree with the rest of my analysis, you cannot disagree with that. It makes all these eulogies being delivered pointless and irrelevant. There is absolutely no way someone can use a necessary point total from last year to determine what will be needed this year. Its an entirely different beast. Everyone in the Atlantic has struggled.
You don’t have to be the fastest guy in the group to outrun a lion. You just cannot be the slowest.