The Leafs: A story of 18 games

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.

This article has 29 Comments

  1. The team really seemed to get better once Allison got hurt….sure he scored a bunch of points, alot on the PP, but oh my god is he slow! I went to a dozen or so games this year…when you put his speed in perspective against the flow of the rest of the game it’s like watching a C division mens league player on the ice.

    Other than that I agree with your take

    Leafs should be back to form next year with $20M to burn in the offseason. I hope they hang on to Kilger, Poni, and the other young guys that stepped it up in the end. Part ways with McCabe, Allison, Antropov, Domi (if possible)

  2. I think they could get by with Allison in the lineup if they could add some more speed around him. Same goes for Antropov. I actually like Antropov. He hasn’t developed into the first line player that one might have hoped but to get a 10-15 goal scorer, with his size and strength, to play on the 3rd line for $1 million isn’t too bad. And he has killed penalties and has the best +/- (by a large margin with Ponikarovsky) on the team. If he could manage to stay healthy for a full year I could see him getting 20 goals, 50 points. Plus he can play center or either wing so he is very versatile. If you could resign him for $1 million again, I would go with that.

    How the Leafs do next year will depend on their goaltending. I would like to see them sign someone for a couple of seasons while Pogge and/or Rask develop. They are the future but they are also 2 years away. I think Roloson (or someone like him) would be a great fit as he has been a co-#1 netminder in the past and could share duties with Aubin or Tellqvist (whoever wins the job).

  3. Sure the Leafs sucked during the 18 game stretch there, but every team has a mini-slump of their own. Throw out the period where Montreal went 5-12-3 and we end up at a 108 point pace.

    Really, Toronto played to their talent. Some guys did better than expected (McCabe), some struggled or got hurt (O’Neil, Allison, Lindros), but that’s to be expected. Toronto had potential to do better, but that would take a pretty optimistic point of view to guess that.

    And you can’t blame it solely on goaltending (even 90%). Sure, give Toronto a goalie like Kiprusoff and you’ll easily make the playoffs, but even with average goaltending, they still wouldn’t be much higher than 6th or 7th in the standings.

  4. Most teams go through a bad stretch somewhere in the season. Example – the Flames started 4-7-1 and everbody thought they were finished…

    Why don’t the Leafs try and get Raycroft from Boston? Yes, he had a terrible year and lost his job to Thomas – but, maybe a change of venue would help him. I think it’s a low risk chance, I thought the Canucks might pursue him.

  5. Why did the Flames get off to a poor start? Goaltending. Kipprusoff gave up 18 goals in his first 4 games, losing 3 of them. Goaltending is the key in the NHL and if you don’t have it you won’t win. The only reason Montreal is even in the playoff race is Huet. He has 7 shutouts in 32 starts and an awesome .930 save%. If his save % was .900 Montreal would be back with Florida and the Islanders in the standings.

    Raycroft is a possibility but I would prefer to have a veteren around to help out Aubin/Tellqvist over the next year or two and the Pogge/Rask further down the road.

  6. Good start IMO

    TORONTO (Ticker) – The Toronto Maple Leafs re-signed left wing Chad Kilger to a multi-year contract on Monday.

    Terms were not disclosed.

    A 10-year veteran, Kilger scored a career-high 17 goals and added 11 assists this season for the Maple Leafs, who failed to make the playoffs. He also leads the team with 145 hits.

    The Maple Leafs claimed Kilger off waivers in March 2004.

    The fourth overall pick in the 1995 draft, Kilger has recorded 83 goals and 90 assists in 578 NHL games with Anaheim (1995-96), Winnipeg (1996), Phoenix (1996-98), Chicago (1998-99), Edmonton (1999-2001), Montreal (2001-04) and Toronto.

  7. The reason the Leafs missed the playoffs is front office, GM, and coaching. The Leafs didn’t suck? What color glasses did you have on while you were watching them?

  8. For 18 games they sucked, particularly their goaltending but overall they are a solid team. There is no doubt they are a better team than Tampa and Atlanta. Only an easier schedule has them a few points ahead and thus a playoff team. If it weren’t for Huet the Leafs would easily be better than Montreal too. So, where does that put them? If a fair and unbalanced schedule were played at worst they are a mid-level team (7th-8th of 15) in the east. If that sucks, what adjective would you use to describe Pittsburgh?

  9. I hate the Leafs but i will admit that had Sundin not had that eye injury, this team would be in the playoffs. They went through a tough stretch without him and any team would suffer without their best player.

  10. We are not talking about Pitt. We are talking a majorly under achieving team in Tornto. And to say that Quinn had nothing to do with this is a complete joke. He kept the same old horses out there way too long. He is still coaching an old style of hockey. Only the last couple of weeks when he started benching said old horses the team perked up.

    BTW, I would describe the team in Pittsburgh as swallowing.

  11. The main thing you can blame Quinn for is playing Belfour too much when it was clear he couldn’t do at age 41 anda after back surgery (and aparently needing another) what he did 2 years ago. The rest of the team is actually not that bad.

    As for underachieving, there were a bunch of people predicting that they would at best be a borderline playoff team and that pretty much is what they were. Not sure that is underachieving.

  12. So you keeping Domi?……He do anything for ya? Quinn kept him out there way too long. How about Lindros? Money badly spent there. Who woulda’ thunk that he would of gotten hurt again? Quinn had his figers on those two. Two off the top of the ole noggin’ right there.

    Bottom line….The Leafs should of made the playoffs. That’s why they got Lindros. That’s why they made other moves. This isn’t Carolina or one of the southern teams. When the Leafs don’t make the playoffs it’s a problem. I’m sure it’s a zoo around the Leafs now.

  13. Domi didn’t have a very good season. At his age, and being undersized for a goon anyway, I don’t expect him to fight a whole lot anymore. But he wasn’t the high energy player he needs to be to be effective. At times, particularly later in the season when he was on a line with Ondrus and Wilm, he showed some of that high energy game but just not consistantly enough.

    He is signed through next season which means they either have to keep him, trade him or just release him. I am not sure what they will do with him. It might depend on what Domi himself wants to do and whether any other teams might show any interest in him. If he plays the high-energy game he could still be a useful player but at this point a young guy like Ondrus seems to be the better choice for that job. But Domi isn’t going to make or break the Leafs regardless of whether he is on the team or not.

  14. With all do respect this is crap.

    I wish I had more time to back up these points but:

    1. They suck on even strength

    2. Quinn and Belfour have been the only reasons they’ve been competitive lately (this and the past few season(s)) – he obviously gave up when decided to change lines so frequently. And well, Belfour pillaged the coffers but stole more games more often then any Leaf.

    3. Slow transition

    4. Overhyped – Wellwood, Staian? Harrison, White, Wozsnoozeski? Come on man!

    5. Highest scorer up until lately has been a defenceman Who probably won’t re-sign.

    6. They face another season of rebuilding, goalie questions.

    7. Poor Shoutout record – Hello extra point here?!

    They need to spend again. On quickness. Grab Elias or something.

    Sign McCabe and get a goalie.

    You’ll have to trade Rassk away or something,

    but they’d still be out of the playoffs whatever they did this year.

    They’ll suck again next year. Especially with JFJ sitting up there still.

  15. Montreal and Toronto have been jockeying together for most of the season, even before Huet took the starting job in Montreal. Without Huet, Montreal would probably be exactly where Toronto is now (just like without Aubin Toronto would be even lower in the standings than they are now). No way would Toronto “Easily” have been better than Montreal.

  16. -Theres more to it than just goaltending i think. Ya Belfour was shit this season at times, but you cant blame him for all the Leafs troubles. Belfour was only as good as his defense core. We all know the Leafs were bad on defense this year with the likes of Berg, Klee, Colaiacolvo, and McCabe getting schooled enoug times. You cant leave the goalie along with the shooter. In this game the shooter has a huge advantage to score, anyone who plays hockey will tell you that.
    -The Leafs had many problems such as not being able to score 5 on 5….way to depended on the power play.
    -Quinn mizes up the lines too often game to game. Put together good lines and stick with them. Let the guys build chemistry together.
    -Quinn didnt rely on Sundin as much in the first half of the season as he should have. Sundin is one of the best players and best leaders in the NHL. He is the “go to guy”, he along with Kaberle are the quaterbacks of this team. Quinn finally smarten up towards the end and used Sundin a lot more..its about time Sherlock!
    -Quinn is too much all about the dump and chase game. All the Leafs play along the boards all the time! This is the new faster NHL, he has to get rid of his old system. It doesnt work in this day and age.

    OVERALL: whats the main problem in Toronto?? Quinn, Ferguson and Peddie. Fire all 3 starting from the top. Hire a new GM such as Rutherford and a new coach such as Marc Crawford or even better yet call up Paul Maurice from the Marlies. In my opinion this is the first and biggest change the Leafs need. With new management and new direction, the same players we had this season would do alot better.

  17. A note to Adam. Doubtful the Leafs will re-sign McCabe. McCabe is asking for 5 million or more. The Leafs wont give that to him as they shouldnt. McCabe is not worth 5 million dollars. Kaberle earns 4.5 million now and Kaberle is much better than McCabe anyday. McCabe is nothing more than a hard shot from the point ..thats it. Bad on defense, and in the last few months he did nothing offensively. Teams have learned Quinns power play system and rush the defensemen before shooting. This is why Sundin has more points on the power play as of late becuase he and Wellwood are left open more often cuz players are rushing to Kaberle and McCabe before they shot. I can see McCabe signing for over 5 million dollars in New Jersey. The Devils love to build teams starting with defense and McCabe can score so hes a huge asset to the Devils. McCabe also lives and owns a home in New Jersey. This destination is very likely for him.

  18. Elias would be a good addition to the Leafs without a doubt. Personally I think the Leafs should focus more on obtaining some more talent on the blue line, head coach and a worthy GM. The goal situation is up for grabs also…yes the Leafs could go with Aubin as starter next year but that wont be likely. Aubin will probably be the back up and tellqvist will make his way out of Toronto in a deal most likey. Lots of rumours hoovering around Matt Gerber of Carolina being interested in Toronto as seasons end. Also, Nabokov has been rumoured of being traded to the Leafs if he would wave his no trade clause (SJ made the playoffs so Nabokov has a no trade clause…if they didnt make the playoffs he can be traded). Nabokov has a huge contract but San Jose will be looking to unload him and his huge contract to make way for hot Toskola.

  19. I’ll probably write an article on how I would improve the Leafs this off season but here is what I think would be a good start.

    1. Sign or trade for a goalie that can fill the gap for the next 2-3 years until Pogge and/or Rask are ready. I think Roloson would be a good choice. Next year have Roloson and one of Aubin and Tellqvist be your goalies. Pogge with the Marlies and Rask might spend another year in Finland.

    2. Sign a stud defenseman to play with Kaberle. It could be McCabe but so long as they don’t over spend for him. Other options are Redden, Chara, and Jovanovski. Chara might be out of their budget and I suspect Redden will stay in Ottawa but Jovanovski would be a great choice.

    3. Sign a good #3 type defensemen. Pavel Kubina from Tampa or Kaberle’s brother from Carolina would be decent choices.

    4. Sign Richardson as your #6/7 defenseman. I think he has done a decent job so far and I like how he plays physical.

    5. The other 3 defense spots go to youngsters. White for sure. Colaiacovo probably gets a spot too. Harrison, Kronvall, Wozniewski and Bell can compete for the other spot.

    6. Up front I would consider resigning Lindros if you can get him cheap enough. Again, I like his size and I think he played fairly well when he was healthy. Most importantly sign a speedy winger who can score goals to play with Sundin. Elias would be a good choice but depending on what they do on defense and in goal he may be to expensive. Anson Carter, who really wanted to sign with Toronto last summer, is an option too and would come quite a bit cheaper. Vancouver might not be able to afford him as well.

  20. How does writing an article on how you would improve the Leafs do any good? no offense but this is all speculation. Im sure everyone has good ideas on how to make the Leafs better, doesn’t mean they will come true. More importantly David, you keep stating all these problems with the Leafs yet you keep miscluding the obvious….Quinn, Feruson and possibly Peddie. Don’t you think the problem starts at the top? Wouldn’t it be a great geasture to all the die hard Leafs fans out there to prove that winning comes first and money isnt what this organization is all about. Proving that would including firing Quinn and Ferguson for sure. Peddie is a toss up..yes hes a good business man and chances are he wont get canned. I think he should…they all should. Send a message thru the organization that losing and not making the post season WILL NOT be tolerated in Toronto. Not now….not ever.

  21. In my opinion David, you writing on article on who should stay and who should go in Toronto would be more pleasing to the eyes. Start in house. Rather than throw suggestions on who the Leafs should sign in the off season because that would be all guessing and speculation. In reality during the offseason, ALL of the free agents could be possible signee’s for the Leafs. We could sit here all night and discuss who the Leafs should sign. Doesnt make scense tho..too early for that. SOme players who will be free agents im sure will have a great playoff and return to their respected team next season and so forth. That’s all im suggestion is write an article starting in house with the Leafs. Much easier to determine whos staying and going. Thanks 🙂

  22. Here are my assumptions and predictions for the Leafs for next season:

    -Quinn and Ferguson fired

    -Belfour will be bought out at aprox. $2 million

    -Sundin, Kaberle, Tucker, Aubin, O’Neill, Khavanov, Ponikarovsky, Steen, and Belak are all under contract. Assuming none of these players retire or get traded.
    (O’Neill and Domi may retire, and Belak will most likely will not be playing next year, possible buy out)

    -Leafs will re-sign Stajan, Wellwood, Colaiacolvo, Richardson, Antropov, Lindros and Chad Kilger. Leafs may re-sign McCabe at a possible $4.8 million per year as I have heard rumoured. His first choice if not to re-sign with the Leafs will be New Jersey and NY Islanders. My guess is if the price is right and under $5 a year..the Leafs have to re-sign McCabe.

    -Leafs will not re-sign or bring back Berg, Belak, Wilm, Tellqvist and Allison.

    So with all that said, that leaves the Leafs aprox. 6-8 million dollars of cap room. (This is all depending on how much each unsigned player is signed for…6-8 million is a rough estimate) With 6-8 million dollars of cap room it is obvious that the Leafs will not go out and re-sign a ton of free agents at top dollar. This is a delusion Leaf fans. Majority of the team will be back next year. My hunch will say O’Neill, Domi, Berg and Khavanov would are all signed will NOT be back with the Leafs next season.

    Unless the Leafs clean house starting at the top with Peddie, Ferguson and Quinn… this team will not be a playoff team next season as well. Cap room wont allow them to do enough to make a difference….unless of course the Leafs step up and play to their potential…this is always possible of course…and i hope so 🙂

  23. I was giving names of the type of player the Leafs should look at signing. i.e. A veteren goalie, a #1/#2 defenseman, a skilled scoring forward, etc.

    I don’t think Quinn or Ferguson or Peddie are the problem or the reason why they Leafs missed the playoffs. But if there are personality conflicts or power struggles going on between them (or between the ownership groups) then they should be resolved. I suspect Quinn might be let go because he and Ferguson don’t seem to get along and Ferguson might want ‘his guy’ in there and not the guy who he replaced as GM.

    Up front the Leafs have Sundin, Tucker, O’Neill, Ponikarovsky, Steen, Kilger, Domi and Belak signed.

    On defense they have Kaberle and some of the youngsters (White, Wozniewski for sure and maybe one or two of the others).

    In goal they have Tellqvist and Aubin

    Total salary committed is about $20 million not including Belfours buyout of just over $1.5 million.

    If the cap is around $43-45 million that would leave about $20 million to spend to fill out the roster.

    Stajan, Wellwood are probably going to be signed for probably no more than $1.5 million combined. Richardson should be signed for say $750,000.

    That would give the team 10 forwards, 2 defensemen plus several youngsters, and 2 backup goalies and ~$17 million to spend.

    Here is what I suggest:

    Commit up to $2 million on a goalie (i.e. Roloson, Huet, trade for Weekes, etc)
    Commit up to $5 million on a #1/#2 defenseman
    Commit $2 million on a #3/#4 defenseman (Kubina, F. Kaberle, etc.)
    Resign Antropov for $1 million
    Resign Lindros for $1 million (if he’ll sign for that amount)
    Sign a skilled sniper for $4-5 million


    Sundin, Tucker, Ponikarovsky, Steen, Wellwood, Lindros, Stajan, Kilger, Antropov, O’Neill, Domi, Belak, Ondrus, Sign a skilled goal scorer

    Kaberle, sign a #1/2 defenseman, sign a #3/4 defenseman, White, Coliacovo, Richardson, Harrison, Bell, Kronvall, Wozniewski, Pilar


    Sign a veteren goalie

    That would be a solid team and would have a good chance to make the playoffs. You have to remember that several teams may not be as good next season. Ottawa will lose some players. Tampa might as well. Philly’s defense will be another year older and a bit slower too.

  24. Well glad you are looking at things more logical now than just saying it was just the goaltending and 18 games was the reason they didn’t make the playoffs. The only way Lindros would get a contract would be the minimum with a ton of incentives. But we all know what he and his daddy will say to that. Considering that they slammed the Maple Leafs about the care he received from thier doctors I don’t think he will exactly have an open door for the next season.

  25. Ummm, I still think it was mostly weak goaltending that let the Leafs down during that 18 game stretch and that 18 game stretch is the reason why the Leafs didn’t make the playoffs. Goaltending is the key in the NHL. Not many teams make the playoffs with mediocre goaltending and not many teams with excellent goaltending miss the playoffs. The Leafs for much fo the season, and especially during those 18 games, had very mediocre goaltending.

  26. I think there were many reasons to Toronto not making the playoffs again. One thing I would expect them to do in the offseason is get somebody to replace Ed Belfour in net. He had success when he was with Dallas and won the cup back in 1999. I don’t know where that went when several years ago when he went to Toronto. But the goaltender is only as good as his defense. Three of the defensemen, Alexander Khavanov, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Andy Wozniewski, were on injured reserve (as of April 2). Tomas Kaberle and Brian McCabe were forced the whole year to be the big guys on the #1 line, with Wade Belak, Aki Berg, and Luke Richardson taking up 3 more spaces, not really players you hear making headlines. But the defenseman has to work harder if the forwards turnover the puck. With Jason Allison on injured reserve for the millionth time since being traded from Boston to Los Angeles during the 2001-2002 season. Mats Sundin played below expectations and had other players simply had bad seasons. All in all, you can’t blame one particular field for their falters and expect to see improvements in each position.

  27. i disagree Kevin…Sundin had a great year ….he is the only consistant Leaf we have. Without him we have nothing.

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