We’re now at approximately the halfway mark of the season. The Leafs have played 39 of 82 games and we have more than enough to go on to establish an opinion on what’s going to happen to the Leafs this season.
There’s no question that every one of us would be ecstatic to see the Leafs make the playoffs. But how many think it’s possible? Let’s find out.
I think the Leafs will come ‘oh-so-close’ but they won’t quite make it. I think they will only just miss out on a wildcard spot by the skin of their teeth. The team is a little too new and too young to take it all the way this year; Freddy needs to get his groove back; and they need to find him a backup that lasts longer than a couple of games. But I think that ultimately, not making the playoffs will be the best thing for this team. To go from 30th in the league, to almost scraping into the playoffs? For a lot of other teams, that would be the work of a good season. The kids on the current Leafs roster, though? They strike me as the type that would see that as not quite there, not quite good enough. And while I pray for their overachieving psyches, it does mean that they will come back next season wanting to wreck the place.
Listen, anything can happen at an instant. Auston Matthews can skate into Mitch Marner head-on-head tonight while backchecking straight into Frederik Andersen, and the season will be toast at that point. But assuming we’re still in the world where the best hockey teams tend to win out in the long term, the Leafs are going to make the playoffs.
The Atlantic Division is just as bad as we thought it would be, though the outlier teams ended up looking a bit different (congrats to the Habs for being what I thought the Panthers were). Toronto, as any team full of rookies will, has been improving at warp speed, and have both elite offensive numbers and top-half underlying percentages in just about every metric. They’re not significantly far back from Boston with six games in hand, or Florida with four games in hand, and they’re tied with Tampa with four in hand. Mike Condon isn’t going to save Ottawa forever. The Leafs are making this thing. They might even finish second in the division at this rate, so maybe I’ll have to see you all at Game 1 instead of Game 3.
As strange as this will sound to some, I have faith in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not actually sure if it is faith in them or faith that the Atlantic Division will continue to suck. After some early season volatility, the Leafs have settled down some. They are prone to blow a lead or two but that is due to the style of play that I believe lends itself to the high scoring and blown leads. The addition of McElhinney and the constant need for a back up could make this season more interesting then it needs to be. If Andersen goes down (then again anyone can get injured in a moments notice, shouldn’t make predictions when trying to figure out the randomness injuries) the season may end up being a wash.
The Florida teams should scare the Leafs some as they have yet to find any solid play, they have a solid group that could push late in the season if they get healthy. Ottawa should fade down the stretch and Boston should stick around with their solid underlying numbers. 39The Leafs have a strong chance at taking third in the division but it wouldn’t surprise me if they took over the Flyers’ spot in the wild card either.
The Leafs should make the playoffs, but that’s the main word, *should*. If things continue to progress the way they’ve been doing, Toronto should be able to ride the percentages good enough into ending up in the postseason.
However, there’s a scary thought with the teams that the Leafs are battling with. Questionable front-office and draft moves aside, Boston is a possession monster and for all the talk about experience, well, they’ve done this whole thing many times before. And despite their struggles, Florida and Tampa Bay are both headed by smart front offices. Not that the Leafs aren’t, but well-run teams are well-run teams, and it’s hard to argue these teams will at the very least put up a strong fighting chance.
Honestly, I’m not really sure at this point. On one hand, this team has the potential to finish within the top 3 in the Atlantic Division. There’s a very good possibility they will just barely nab a wild card spot, but because the team is so young, it is hard to foresee where they will place. Their play has seen significant improvement over the course of the season, and given the current state of the rebuild, they are doing much better than expected. Their window for success has just began to open, and a few games of playoff experience will be of great value to the younger players.
On the other hand, it is also plausible that they will just barely miss the playoffs in true Toronto Maple Leafs fashion. The overtime losses and the extra points that were given up in those unfortunate scenarios could prove costly for the team. Whether or not this year’s Leafs will make the playoffs is a true toss-up for me, but regardless, I see them finishing anywhere between 3rd and 5th in the division.
The Leafs currently sit in 5th in the Atlantic Division, just 5 points away from the Bruins’ 2nd place spot, having 5 games in hand over them. The Leafs also have a games in hand against all the teams they’re competing against for playoff spots. They have a better goal differential than any of the teams they’re competing against except the New York Rangers. They have a better Score-Zone-and-Venue-Adjust Corsi For % than any of the teams they’re competing against except the Boston Bruins. Barring a complete injury disaster, it’s happening folks. The Leafs are making the playoffs. Probably in the 3rd spot in the Atlantic Division, or the 2nd Wild Card spot. But it’s happening.