Now that the Leafs have been officially eliminated from the playoffs it is once again time that those in the media, and to a somewhat lesser extent those in the blogosphere, try they hand coming up with reasons why they sucked so bad this year, why Pat Quinn and John Ferguson Jr. should be fired and why at least half the players should not return next year. As usual, I am going to take a different tact but starting with the claim that no, the Leafs didn’t suck this year. In fact, the Leafs were/are a pretty good team. And no, that isn’t just in the last 2 weeks when it didn’t matter and when the young guys were given more ice time.
The Leafs woes this year come down to just 18 games between January 10 and March 4. In those 18 games the Leafs were a dreadful 3-13-2. During the rest of the season (with one still to play) they were a very respectable 37-20-6. To put that into perspective, had they played at that pace for the whole 82 games they would have ended up the season with 104 points. That would be more than all but a half dozen or so teams. Not too shabby if you ask me. When you add in that the Leafs play one of the tougher schedules in the eastern conference it isn’t a stretch to say that for the most part they are a pretty solid team.
So, what happened during those 18 games.
Offense: They scored 2.7 goals per game during that stretch which is a bit below their season average of 3.03 but they did score 3 or more goals 11 of the 18 games and that should be good enough to win a few games.
Defense: The Leafs defense gets severely criticized in the media but during the 18 game stretch they gave up 529 shots or 29.4 shots per game which is actually lower than their season average of 30.6.
Goaltending: During that 18 game stretch the Leafs goaltending had a dreadful .858 save %, well below the .895 save percentage they have had over the course of the year and the almost respectable .905 save % during games other than the 18 games in question.
So why have the Leafs missed the playoffs? The answer is simple. Goaltending. If the Leafs had good goaltending they would certainly be a playoff team and most likely be a 100-105 point team. So as the media and the fans get so quick to lay blame just remember, it is the goaltending that is 90% of the Leafs problems. Otherwise, they are a pretty good team.
Update: The guys at Battle of Alberta have calculated how many points each team has gotten by 20 game (quarter season) segments. In the first quarter season Toronto had 24 points, good for 6th in the east. In the second quarter season Toronto had 25 points, good for fourth in the east. In the fourth quarter season Toronto has 29 points, good for 2nd in the east. It was the 3rd quarter that killed the Leafs as they got just 10 points which put them 14th in the east ahead of only Pittsburgh’s 8 points.