The collapse and “I Told You So”


As the Toronto Maple Leafs’ losing skid goes from “normal” to “concerning” to “I’m pretty sure we’re watching a fictional movie”, there’s a lot of emotions being expressed across the fanbase. A lot of them seem to be of a weird and confusing delight, which is the topic of everybody’s usual arguments. But should those who “saw it coming” be bragging? I feel the answer is complicated.

The Lead Up

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A lot of people were warning of the flaws of this team heading in, and as the season progressed. Last year’s team featured a bunch of players who had the best shooting percentage of their careers, and James Reimer standing on his head (yes, it’s possible. He’s done it for like, his entire healthy career). The Leafs, reacting to ten minutes of hockey in a 5500 minute season, made wholesale changes.

The issue, of course, is that these changes involved stripping out the players that had below average years, instead of the ones who seemed to suddenly break out of nowhere. Maybe the idea was that they were regressing. More likely, the idea was that they didn’t mesh with the direction of the team. So changes were made. The lucky were kept, the unlucky were scrapped, and the “heart and soul” were brought in to get lucky.

For a while, it worked. But ultimately, this was a team winning based off of a near-Vezina starter (“1A”, they said for months), and a very good quality backup in net, and a couple of players shining. This was a team that would, once again, leave you holding your breath, waiting for the inevitable, and pull a win out of their butts. We’re 76 games into the season now, and only 18 times have the Leafs skaters felt “hey, it might be worth taking a shot” more often in a game than their opposition, who have littered the net enough to put this team on pace to be near the most shots ever allowed in a season, while being mediocre headed the other way.

Except, again – the pucks were occasionally going in when they needed them to, and at the same time, they were staying out. No betting man would rely on these results unless they have an addiction.

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Leafs fans have an addiction. It’s pro sports. Not just that, it’s what we’ve been exposed to since we were young children. Hell, my first memory as a human being comes from pre-school. I remember grabbing a laundry basket (the ones with the vents), calling it a goalie mask, and declaring myself Felix Potvin. 

As such, when the minority, driven by a curiosity and passion for the intricacies of the game, raised there hands and said “eventually, this is going to be a problem”, many argued. It was the equivalent of putting your ears and screaming LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU LALALA, in a sense, but it came from people who didn’t care about the means that the Leafs got the job done, just that it happened.

That’s respectable; some people aren’t that invested into it, and just want positive entertainment out of their entertainment product. But the arguing, it was bad. It lasted months. Both sides degraded into exaggerated insanity. Bernier was the saviour, or he was destined to crash like a meteor. Tyler Bozak was a fringe star, or he was a fringe AHLer. Punches decided the games, whether they were wins or losses. Every player, every aspect had it’s polarizing debate. 

The plummet itself doesn’t make the skeptics correct. Nobody in their right mind had “eight game (and counting) losing streak will derail the team” in their season preview, unless somebody decided to write one that was the opposite of the plot of Moneyball for a laugh. But what it did was bring the long-term result to something more in line with the “fringe team that likely misses” expectations.

The Answer

Should those who called this be bragging? From my personal perspective, the best choice is to feel vindicated, but not superior.

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I, like many others, have been expressing my concerns about this team throughout the year. In some regards, I’ve been harsher than others. In some, I’ve been softer, and in some, I’ve been on about the same page. But I took a lot of heat for going against the grain of the standings. If I engaged in every single bone someone tried to pick with me, my last sleep would have come before the last draft. 

To have a lot of my speculation come out to be correct in the long term feels good. From a selfish, personal standpoint, it means that the effort, research, and thought process I’ve committed myself to over the past year and a bit is played out like expected, and is losing areas to be disputed by it’s opponents. In that respect, it’s a good thing.

On the other hand, this shouldn’t turn into an state of gloating. One should express viewpoints and opinions for two reasons; either to get a legitimate conversation going, or to provide information and perspective to those who are willing to listen. Screaming “LOOK AT HOW RIGHT I AM” is no method to win a person over. All it does is aggravate and kick people while they’re down, rather than open to what you’re saying.

This also ignores the fact that outliers to statistical analysis do exist, and two weeks ago, this was a team that looked like one. Last year, they were one. There’s a difference between “I wouldn’t count on it lasting” and “It definitely won’t last”. If you were speaking the latter, you’re technically more correct than those who were full on “this team is awesome”, but that doesn’t make you right either.

Not to mention that there’s still time left in the season. The odds are low that this team can turn it around, but let’s not pull out the “Mission Accomplished” banners before the war is over, especially when there shouldn’t be fighting in the first place. You’re all on the same team, but take different approaches in how you consume what you like. 

At the end of the day, take the opportunities to explain what went wrong, long term (I’ll have a lot of content along those lines up over the coming weeks). But don’t be a sore winner; no matter how much criticism your opinions have gotten up to this point, by reacting in this way, you just sound like somebody who has more interest in being seen as smart than someone who has a passion for what you’re talking about.

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  • On July 5 I wrote a big post about how much worse off Kessel is with Bozak as opposed to away from him (his scoring is up 78% this year when with Bozak, percentages or otherwise) and had a post where the TITLE was “David Clarkson is a good hockey player”.

    It kind of goes both ways. Analytics guys were right about Kadri, Fraser, MacArthur, Clarkson’s contract, Bolland’s health and the need to improve the D. Analytics guys were wrong about Clarkson (most had him pegged for 15 goals or the area), Bozak and Bernier=Reimer.

    I was personally wrong about Cody Franson.

    I’d say the “victories” from the stat guy component of the blogosphere outweigh the “losses”, but it’s a bit closer than people might have you believe.

  • You analytic guys are just running a “lucky streak” with your predictions here. You could do as well flipping coins and sometimes get several prediction correct. Is that a reason to feel superior?

    How was the prediction go that the current 6th worst Corsi team would miss the playoffs? Ohhh that was bad luck but your leaf prediction was all skill.

    Face it guys , you guessed right with your prediction and now you feel that you can flip head all the time. Fact in point, Corsi suggest the leafs are the second worst team in the NHL and not a wild card competing team. I’m not sure what kind of victory you can claim here.

  • CheezWhizard

    you are completely misunderstanding or misrepresenting analytics and what corsi means. No reasonable person says there is a !:! correlation between corsi and win % – that would be ridiculous. There is more to winning games than just outshooting your opposition at even strength – luck, goaltending, and special teams all play a role as well. Corsi is a proxy for puck possession, and all other things being equal, the team that has the puck more scores more and wins more games. Everything isn’t always equal, but if you look at playoff teams, the vast majority are 50%+ teams, while the vast majority of non-playoff teams are 50%- teams. Toronto isn’t the second-worst team in the league – they have great goaltending and an elite top line which allows them to win games when being outshot – but that top line and goaltending tandem aren’t good enough to beat the odds two seasons in a row.

  • CheezWhizard

    That should read 1 : 1 by the way, not !:!. The Nation Network really needs to add the ability to edit posts!

    Two things of interest: I looked up the top teams in Corsi Close %, and 11 of the top 15 teams are in the playoffs. Most of the noise I’ve been hearing about cup contenders has talked about five teams: LA, Chicago, Boston, San Jose, and St. Louis – those teams are 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 in puck possession in the NHL. (#5 is New Jersey who are like the anti-Toronto – fantastic puck possession the past two seasons and an inability to put the puck into or keep it out of the net).

  • Anyone who had a clue knew this team was destined for a spectacular collapse.

    3 years in a row and everyone involved is signing big contracts or extensions after accomplishing absolutely nothing. Nonis should be chased out of town for hand cuffing this team for the next 6-7 years for absolutely no reason.

    Unless there is a clean house and proper rebuild this tire fire will continue for years. It’s sad but true.