Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
The Toronto Marlies are the best team in the American Hockey League, and it isn’t even close. You probably already knew this, though, especially if you’re a regular to our coverage here on The Leafs Nation. But I was curious just how far ahead they were of this year’s crop. With that considered, I dug into the numbers to see how wide the gap was. The results? Well..
The Marlies are 37-8-3 right now, giving them a points percentage of 0.802 with 28 games remaining in the season. If they’re able to hold on to that pace, they’ll become the first team in the 80-year history of the AHL to finish a full season with a record that lopsided.
But what if the team fell off a cliff? Not just started losing, not even an “eighteen wheeler” level disaster, but went on an unprecedented losing streak? Like, what if the organization decided “screw it, we’re going to send these guys to the ECHL to get the Solar Bears back into a playoff spot” and forfeited games in the meantime?
Assuming the rest of the league kept their pace, it would take a long time for anybody to catch up. The Marlies would have to lose eight in a row to fall out of first overall, and thirteen to fall out of the top five. It would take them 24 losses in a row to fall behind the Hartford Wolf Pack, who are 9th in the East. While the Marlies haven’t mathematically clinched a playoff spot yet, it would only take another 2-3 more wins before they could declare a long-term vacation and still squeeze in.
As for last place? They’d have to lose 69 in a row before they’d fall behind an at-pace Manitoba Moose. That’s a nice gap if I’ve ever seen one.
Toronto also leads the league in goals for with 193 in 48 games; an average of over four per appearance. The Texas Stars are relatively close behind with 180, but after that the drop-off is harsh; nobody else has hit 150. But again, how long would it take the league to catch up?
Assuming that the Marlies start trying to play using tennis rackets and get shut out in every game down the stretch while the rest of the league maintains their average, it would take Texas three and a half games to overtake Toronto. That’s not so bad, but then you look at the rest of the league and the gap flares up quickly. Teams like Hershey and Wilkes-Barre require a shade under fifteen games to equal a frozen-cold Toronto roster, while the average team would need about 25 games to get to 193. Once again, Manitoba trails far behind, requiring two-thirds of a season (53 games) to make it there.
What really separates the Marlies from their fellow run-and-gunners in Texas is their goal differential. The team is just as stacked on defence as it is up front and have received solid goaltending from the likes of Garret Sparks, Antoine Bibeau, and even their fill-ins (Rob Madore, Ryan Massa, and the recently released Ray Emery). As such, they’ve allowed the tenth fewest shots per game, have the fifth best save percentage, and hold the fifth best goals against average. This had led to them having a +76 goal differential, which accounts for nearly 27% of all positive goal differential in the league. Once more, though, how long would it take for teams to catch up?
This time, we’ve made the assumption that the Marlies will stay even for the rest of the year. They win a game 1-0, then they lose the next 1-0. So on and so forth for the next 28 games, finishing at their current rate. Meanwhile, the team trying to catch up will score at the same rate that they always do while replacing their starting goaltender with an unpenetrable brick wall. Shutouts for the rest of the year, basically. That… still leaves the teams struggling to keep up.
In this scenario, Wilkes-Barre would catch up the fastest, getting to +76 in 10 and a half games. But all but five teams would require at least 20 games to get there, would take the average team until the dying moments of the 28th game to eclipse Toronto in this scenario. This is an extremely best-case scenario too, so it’s safe to say that the Marlies’ edge won’t be eliminated anytime soon.
Ultimately, this isn’t a post to explain why the Toronto Marlies are so much better than the rest of the league. That’s for another day though “good systems and above-the-level young players” would be a pretty sufficient tl;dr answer.
With that said, making up these ridiculous, worst-case scenarios makes you realize just how good this team has performed compared to the rest of the league. While I still don’t buy into the idea of them being as good as an NHL team, you have to wonder if this roster, despite being used as the Leafs’ developmental franchise, is a step above their level. Part of me would love to see them go toe-to-toe with some top end European teams in games taken very seriously (something more than the Farjestad exhibition a few years ago). Realistically, though, they should probably focus on keeping the momentum going into the playoffs as the team attempts to win its first Calder Cup.