Well, Leafs Nation, time for a reality check. The Leafs are not a good team with little-to-no chance of making the playoffs. In my opinion, good teams make the playoffs on regular basis. The Leafs haven’t made the playoffs since…..since…..since…well, a while anyway. Earlier this season, the Leafs over achieved, teasing all us loyal Leafs fans. The club was playing well, and a certain portion of Leafs Nation was planning parade routes on an almost daily basis. However, lately the Maple Leafs have plummeted down the standings in the Eastern Conference. Since the All-Star break the Toronto Maple Leafs have 4 wins. The All-Star game was Sunday January 29th, and as I write this blog, the calendar is reading March 1st. The Leafs have four wins in that span. Four wins in a month. Four. Four! They have the worst record in the NHL since the All-Star game (the Wild sit at four wins as well). Three of the four wins came early in February, with a three game winning streak between February 1st and February 6th. The Maple Leafs then promptly lost four straight games. Toronto pulled off their last win of the month on the 15th, with what many fans considered a lucky OT win in Edmonton. Toronto has not won a game since then, and are mired in a six game losing streak. This team has found ways to lose close games, has been blown out and has blown leads to lose games. Good teams do not do this. Good teams find ways to win close games, rarely get blown out and close out games they are leading. Let me say it again. The Leafs are not a good team. Toronto was a team most experts thought would be in the race for the final playoff spot. Well, they were, for a minute or two anyway. But the month of February has sealed this team’s fate for this season. Heed my words Leafs fans, the playoffs are out of reach. The way I see it, there are only two ways for the Leafs to get into the playoffs now – a) play extremely well and win out or b) get some help from the remaining schedule.
It’s March 1st, February is a thing of the past, and the Leafs can’t leave February behind fast enough. The top line of Kessel-Bozak-Lupul is putting up some great points this season, I won’t argue that. In February the top line led the team in production, but that doesn’t mean they played well. In fourteen games last month Kessel had 17 points. Joffrey Lupul wasn’t far behind with 14 points in 14 games and Bozak ended the month with 10 points in 14 games. Decent numbers right? Don’t let the offensive numbers cloud your judgement. Kessel finished the month with a ‘0’ rating in the plus-minus category. Even though Kessel averaged more than a point a game in February, he was on the ice for a lot of goals against. Lupul was a +1 and Bozak was a – 2. This line may be scoring a lot (41 points in Feb.), but they were collectively – 1 for the month. The NHL is not one dimensional, a top line on a team like Toronto needs to be responsible at both ends of the ice.
The second line appeared to be heating up lately, but they too, were unable to play two-way hockey. Mikhail Grabovsky finished February with 7 points (7 assists, 0 goals) in 14 games. Clarke MacArthur ended the month with 8 points (4 goals and 4 assists) in 14 games and Nikolai Kulemin finished February with five points (2G, 3A) in 14 games. Not fantastic numbers for a second ‘scoring’ line, but not horrible either. However, at the other end of the rink, Grabovsky was a + 1, MacArthur was a – 2 and Kulemin was a 0 in the plus-minus category. Like the top line, a collective – 1 for the month.
The third and fourth lines did not have a good month at all. Now, in looking at these last two lines, one has to understand that there were not distinct 3rd and 4th lines throughout the month. Ron Wilson changed up the lines on a regular basis. For the most part, the top two lines remained intact, but as the struggles continued, Wilson juggled the bottom forwards quite often. The remaining three centremen on the roster are Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi and David Steckel (Darryl Boyce was on the roster as a centre, but played in only six games and was traded). Connolly had 4 points in 14 games, Lombardi had 3 points in 13 games and Steckel had 1 point (an assist on Feburary 29th) in 14 games. According to my calculator, that adds up to 8 points in 41 games. That is not good, and it gets worse. Connolly was a – 3, Lombardi was a – 7 and Steckel was a – 8. A combined – 18 for these three 3rd and 4th line forwards. The winger’s numbers were not much better. Joey Crabb had 2 points in 11 games, Mike Brown had 1 point in 14 games, Colby Armstrong had 1 point in 9 games and Matt Frattin ended up with 1 point in 3 games. The trusty calculator says these four players totaled 5 points in 37 games. And the plus/minus stats looked this way: Crabb – 5, Brown – 6, Armstrong – 2 and Frattin – 1…….for a total of – 14. The seven players that made up the 3rd and 4th lines combined for 13 points (Kessel alone had 17 points) and were a brutal – 32!!!! The bottom half of the line-up rarely put the puck in the net and were scored on frequently.
Let me repeat that, the top two lines totalled 61 points, and was a – 2 overall. The rest of the forwards combined for 13 points and a – 32 overall. A massive drop-off in point production after the top two lines and a lot of goals getting scored against all four lines. Good team’s numbers don’t look that bad.
The defence’s month was not much different. Team captain Dion Phaneuf led the defence with 9 points in 14 games, Franson had 6 points in 13 games, Schenn had 5 points in 13 games, Gardiner had 4 points in 14 games, Liles had 1 point in 14 games, Gunnarsson had 0 points in 11 games and Komisarek had 0 points in 3 games (Aulie, traded at the deadline, had 1 point in two games). Phaneuf, Franson and Schenn put up some decent offensive numbers, at least, on Toronto they were decent offensive numbers. But as with the forwards, the defencemen were on the ice for a lot of goals. Phaneuf was a – 6, Franson a – 5, Schenn a 0, Gardiner a – 2, Liles was a – 9, Gunnarsson a – 3 and Komisarek was a – 3. The defence put up 25 points total and were collectively a – 28. Only two players on the entire roster were on the ‘plus’ side of the plus/minus category, Lupul + 1 and Grabovsky + 1 (Aulie was a + 1 in three games). Combined the club was a – 62 for the month of February.
I am not going to even touch on the goaltending situation. In my opinion there is no reason to, it is what it is. The goaltending was a question mark before the season, and it is still a question mark as we near the season’s end. The Maple Leafs lack of scoring depth and bad defence is not going to get the club into the playoffs. Based on these numbers, I don’t believe Toronto is playing well enough to win the number of games necessary to earn a spot in the postseason. This means that the only way the Leafs make the playoffs is by catching a break. By that I mean the club’s remaining schedule will have to benefit the team, allowing the club to continue playing poorly and still find a way to stumble into the playoffs.
The Leafs currently sit 10th in the East with 65 points and could drop to 12th spot by the end of Friday’s games if both the Sabres (64 pts) and Lightning (64 pts) win. Since the All-Star break the Sabres are 8-3-3 and the Lightning are 8-5-2, (Leafs went 4-9-2 and have 65 pts). The Sabres and Lightning are clawing their way past the Maple Leafs. The Winnipeg Jets are three points ahead of the Leafs in 9th place and since the All-Star break, the Jets have posted a 8-5-2 record. The Washington Capitals currently occupy the 8th and final playoff spot in the East with 69 points. Washington has been struggling, but not nearly as bad as the Leafs. The Capitals have a 6-7-2 record since the All-Star game. These five teams are fighting for one playoff spot, and Toronto has the worst overall record the last month. In the end, I don’t see the Leafs finishing ahead of these teams and making the playoffs. Especially when I look at the Maple Leafs remaining 18 games. All 18 games are against Eastern Conference teams. Four of those games are against teams currently below the Leafs in the standings and are teams not expected to make the playoffs. The Leafs play the Canadiens twice (Saturday and the last game of the season on April 7), who are dead last in the East with 58 points. As much as I would like to believe these two games should result in four easy points for Toronto, the Canadiens always play well against the Leafs and both games are in Montreal. The New York Islanders (61 pts) come to town once as do the Carolina Hurricanes (61 pts). Again, based on the standings, Toronto should come away from the Islanders and Hurricanes games with four points. However, the Canadiens, Islanders and Hurricanes have had a better record over the last month than Toronto. The Lightning and Sabres could be ahead of the Leafs by the end of Friday night’s games. Toronto plays Tampa Bay and Buffalo twice before the end of the season. That’s a total of 8 games against teams currently below the Leafs in the standings. Even if the Leafs were to win all 8 of those games, in my opinion, that’s not enough points. Because there are ten more games on the schedule, and let’s be honest, the way the Leafs are playing, no one is expecting Toronto to take all 8 games against those teams. The other ten games include two games against defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins (77 pts) and two games against the Philadelphia Flyers (75 pts). The Leafs play single games against the Pittsburgh Penguins (79 pts), the New Jersey Devils (74 pts), the Washington Capitals (69pts), the Ottawa Senators (76 pts), the Florida Panthers (72 pts) and the New York Rangers (86 pts). That is not what I would call a favourable schedule to look forward to. Looks like the schedule isn’t going to be much help……
Let’s face facts. The Leafs are not playing well enough to win their way into the playoffs. And it really doesn’t appear Toronto is going to get any breaks with their. In fact, Toronto has an extremely tough schedule over the last 18 games. I don’t expect them to lose every game, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. The Leafs missing the playoffs again shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The Maple Leafs were supposed to be in the playoff race this season and for most of the year, they were. Mathematically Toronto still has a chance, realistically though, it’s over. Stick a fork in the Toronto Maple Leafs, they are done.
Leafs nation! Yet another long, dreary Leafs-on-the-golf-course-early summer is almost upon us.
The next really crucial date on the Maple Leafs schedule is June 22. That’s the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Maybe Toronto will have a really high draft pick when all is said and done.