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Photo Credit: James Guillory / USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs’ Season Series, in an Aggregate System

In recent years, I’ve started watching a lot more soccer. It’s nice to have a sport to enjoy that doesn’t double as your job, and I played a lot of it as a kid, so it was a logical fit (by the way, today’s Champion’s League draws? As a Juventus fan, I’m terrified). One thing that I really appreciate in the beautiful game that hockey will absolutely never adopt is how they approach a playoff series.

In a lot of leagues, these games will be settled through aggregate scoring. Each team faces each other twice in a home-and-home, the goals are counted up, and if there’s a tie at the end of it, there are two ways to break it. First, you give the edge to the team that scored the most goals on the road; after all, they broke through home field advantage. If that doesn’t work, you go to extra time, and maybe even penalty kicks.

An aggregate system would never fly to decide a Stanley Cup, after all these years of doing best of X series to decide who advances. But it’s fun to think about. So, for example…

  • Last night’s 5-0 win over Tampa Bay basically negated the late October blowout loss they had against the Lightning and put Toronto up 10-9 on aggregate (we won’t be counting overtime/shootout goals since extra time wouldn’t exist in a soccer-based system) with one game to go.
  • Tomorrow will decide the season series with the Chicago Blackhawks. Toronto’s 5-4 overtime loss at the United Centre puts them up 4-4 on away goals. To win the series, they need a regulation win or a game that goes to overtime/shootout that is lower scoring than the last one.

With that in mind, here are the series’ that are already decided in this format.

Team Leafs Opp Diff GP GR Winner
Anaheim Ducks 4 8 -4 2 0 Ducks
Arizona Coyotes 6 3 3 2 0 Leafs
Carolina Hurricanes 7 4 3 3 0 Leafs
Calgary Flames 4 3 1 2 0 Leafs
Colorado Avalanche 7 3 4 2 0 Leafs
Dallas Stars 6 7 -1 2 0 Stars
Edmonton Oilers 6 4 2 2 0 Leafs
Los Angeles Kings 2 9 -7 2 0 Kings
Minnesota Wild 4 6 -2 2 0 Wild
Montreal Canadiens 7 11 -4 4 0 Canadiens
New York Islanders 13 11 2 3 0 Leafs
New York Rangers 7 8 -1 3 0 Rangers
Ottawa Senators 13 14 -1 4 0 Senators
Philadelphia Flyers 11 7 4 3 0 Leafs
San Jose Sharks 3 5 -2 2 0 Sharks
St. Louis Blues 2 6 -4 2 0 Blues
Vancouver Canucks 8 5 3 2 0 Leafs
Winnipeg Jets 8 8 0 2 0 Leafs*

Note that both Toronto and Winnipeg scored 4 away goals (both games were 5-4 OT home wins). I’m going to use total shots as the tiebreaker there since my initial idea (overtime goals) also lands at a tie; the Leafs outshot the Jets 77-54.

Overall, Toronto is 9-9 so far this season, and save for the Kings (which includes a 7-0 blowout loss), they weren’t really chased out by any of the teams they lost to in total goals. The cast of teams that they’ve lost to is interesting as well: six of the nine teams that have outscored them on aggregate are in the Top 10 of the standings right now, and the other three (Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis) are out-of-conference and have been considered to be underachieving this season. Toronto’s wins have come against bubble teams, bottom feeders, and the province of Alberta.

Here’s what they have remaining:

Team Leafs Opp Diff GP GR
Boston Bruins 14 7 7 3 1
Chicago Blackhawks 4 4 0 1 1
Detroit Red Wings 11 6 5 3 1
Florida Panthers 13 12 1 4 1
New Jersey Devils 8 6 2 2 1
Nashville Predators 6 2 4 1 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 2 5 -3 2 1
Tampa Bay Lightning 10 9 1 3 1
Washington Capitals 9 7 2 2 1
Buffalo Sabres 7 7 0 3 2
Columbus Blue Jackets 2 5 -3 1 2

There’s still a lot of winnable series’ here. Chicago and Washington will be tough, Columbus will require some luck, and Pittsburgh is very unlikely, but just about everything else is open season, with Boston and Detroit being safe bets. Toronto needs to win six of these 11 to win more series than they have lost, which I don’t think is horribly unrealistic.

Breaking this up in this fashion doesn’t tell you that the Leafs are an elite team in disguise or anything, but it does hint that they’ve been able to keep up with just about the entire league this year. A single bad night will be the cause what might be the only -5 series they’ll have this year (knock on ice), and there’s a very real chance they’ll beat out more teams than they succumb to. Considering that last year’s team went 9-20 and got chased by a 5+ margin by nine different teams, that’s a marked improvement.