Why the Leafs could win the Stanley Cup

If you had asked me a month ago whether the Leafs should be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline I would have said sellers. But since then a lot has changed and now I believe they have the potential to put together a playoff run not unlike the Oilers last season. Why the change you ask? Well, let me explain.

First off, let me start by saying that I believe that any kind of playoff success absolutely requires top tier goaltending. Last year Cam Ward had a .920 save % and Roloso was at .927. Both excellent numbers. In 2003-04 Tampa won the cup with Khabibulin at .933 save % and Calgary was the western conference representative with Kipprusoff at .928. In 2002-03 we saw Brodeur at .934 and Giguere at .945 in the finals. Up until mid-January I didn’t think Raycroft was good enough to win the Stanley Cup. He just couldn’t put together more than a game or two of quality goaltending in a row. But in his last 7 games he has posted a .934 save percentage and gave up more than 2 goals in just one game (5 goals in an 8-2 loss to Pittsburgh). That is the kind of goaltending Raycroft produced in his rookie year and that is the kind of goaltending it takes to win the Stanley Cup.

So, if this play by Raycroft become the norm and not just an anomoly then one has to ask if the rest of the Leafs have what it takes to be Stanley Cup contenders. Well, the Leafs have a lot of good things going for them.

First, the Leafs, depsite what many have predicted, are a good offensive team. They currently sit 6th in the NHL in goals per game and that is with Wellwood and Tucker, two of their better offensive players, having missed 18 and 14 games respectively.

Second, the Leafs have a lot of depth. Depth is important in the playoffs because often the NHL playoffs become a war of attrition. Injuries take their toll on teams, but the Leafs have a lot of depth. There aren’t many teams in the NHL with their 5th/6th defensemen being as good as Gill/White. For that matter there are only a handful of teams with their top pairing being as good as Kaberle/McCabe or Kaberle/Kubina as has recently been the case. In the east Buffalo and Ottawa would be the only comparables. Offensively the Leafs have 13 players with 8 or more goals. To put that into perspective, no other team has more than 10. What is important about depth is that teams cannot focus on a single line or a small number of players. It also means that you can withstand injuries much better. That bodes well for the Leafs come playoff time.

Finally, the Leafs have a lot of players with playoff experience and success. Sundin, McCabe, Kaberle, Tucker, Peca and Green all have 50+ playoff games under their belts. Kubina and Devereaux are cup winners while Peca (twice), O’Neill, and Battaglia have also been in the Stanley Cup finals. The Leafs also have a coach that has successfully taken a team to the Stanley Cup finals. All of that playoff experience and success bode well for the Leafs.

Too many people believe that having a lot of top end talent is what wins but that is not the case. If it was, Ottawa wouldn’t have had all the playoff failures they have had. Goaltending, depth and experience win in the playoffs. If Raycroft can provide top tier goaltending, as he has done since mid-January, then there is no reason why the Leafs cannot go on a lengthy playoff run. I know many will scoff at that idea, but it is reality. And honestly, are the Leafs any worse of a team this year than the Oilers were last year? I don’t think so.

This article has 20 Comments

  1. No offense, but you’re remarkably wrong when assessing the Stanley Cup finals experience of the Thrashers.

    Rucchin, Havelid and Vishnevski all went to the finals with Anaheim, Scott Mellanby did it with Florida and Jon Sim (Dallas), Greg de Vries (Colorado), Bobby Holik (NJ x 2) and Slava Kozlov (Detroit x 2) all have Stanley Cup rings, as does Bob Hartley.

  2. Actually I took that section out because the Rangers have playoff experience too. Got lazy in my research and it came back to bite me.

  3. David, I’ve been at war with myself, trying not to let myself think so positively, to get caught up in a winning streak. But this play of late is the type of play that wins seven game series.

    I’m glad you had the gonads to post it.

  4. I’ll either look really stupid or really smart but I do think the team is good enough if Raycroft is up to the task.

  5. I don’t think you’re wrong, but I also think your logic is basically premised upon “you can’t discount eighth seeded teams, and that includes Toronto if they make it.” Well…sure. The last two years have proven that, yes, if an eighth seeded team’s goalie gets hot (or they trade for a good goalie) that they can go the whole way. I don’t contest that. But the Leafs specifically? No more than any other eighth seeded team could surprise everyone.

  6. Excellent article and well stated. The Leafs, as well as many other teams, have the same amount of chance. Buffalo could’ve went 82-0 in the season and still lost in the playoffs. The point is anything can happen and this article explains there chances perfectly. Once the Buds get their team back to a complete roster they’ll be rolling in the victories especially with the way they have been playing of late.

  7. But thats irrelevant. there are 16-20 teams out there who have a legitimate shot at the cup if everything goes well. theres parity in the NHL now and thats what u get, 20 teams possibly winning the cup in february.

    i mean u could also make arguments for st louis since theyre playing on fire now.

    your basing your article on the premise that raycroft continues his play of late. sure thats a valid point. but look at statistics. hes only play 7 good games. too early to tell if this is only a streak or a trend. he could go on to play15 more good games and still fall apart at the end of the season. the real question is come crunch time will raycroft be able to handle it?

  8. I think some of you are missing the point. My point is, Toronto has a very good team. Good offense. Good defense. Good depth. Good experience. They are a very good team and very few teams have that combination. St. Louis doesn’t. St. Louis has 5 players with 8+ goals, Toronto has 13. The Blues top scoring defenseman is Dennis Wideman. Yeah, you probably asked ‘Who is he?’. Their top point producer has just 38 points in 52 games. There is a difference in being a bad team on a hot streak (St. Louis right now) and a good team struggling with inconsistent goaltending (Toronto much of the season). Even the supposed elite teams lack some of what the Leafs do have.

    Anaheim lacks experienced depth. Kunitz, Getzlaf, Perry, Penner, Beauchemin, O’Brien, DiPenta are all important, but relatively inexperienced players for the Ducks. The same can be said for San Jose. Ottawa has no players with significant playoff success on their team and have a lot of young, inexperienced players. Atlanta is severely lacking at the center ice position. New Jersey struggles to score goals and depends significantly on youngsters Parise, Zajac, and Oduya. Vancouver lacks depth and offense. Dallas lacks an offensive punch.

    The point of the article was that the Leafs don’t have a lot of those holes that many other teams do except for goaltending. Because of that Leafs could never seriously be considered a Stanley Cup contender because there was next to zero evidence that Raycroft could carry the load. But, his recent sustained success is evidence he might in fact be able to carry the load and if he can then the Leafs have to be considered a quality Stanley Cup contender because of all those other reasons.

  9. It’s a wonderful thought and I commend you for having the guts to post it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    If Raycroft has proven anything, it’s that he’s very inconsistent and inconsistent goaltending won’t win you many playoff games.

    I also think playoff experience is over-rated. Edmonton, Anaheim and Buffalo weren’t exactly loaded with playoff veterans last year…nor were Tampa the year they won it.

    Factor in that no eighth seeded team has won the Cup since expansion – no team seeded lower than 5th in their conference has won the cup in the past 27 years – and I don’t like this club’s odds…

    Re-title your post “Why the Leafs could make the post-season” and I think you’d be on to something.

    We can always dream though…

  10. Oilers had Peca with lots of playoff experience, Pronger had a lot of playoff games under his belt and Smyth who has played in a lot of big games internationally in addition to his playoff experience.

    Buffalo had Drury wiht a Cup ring. Lydman was a part of Calgarys cup run in 2004. McKee was a part of the Sabres cup run in 1999. Numminen had 54 playoff games experience. More experience than Ottawa who they beat.

    Factor in that no eighth seeded team has won the Cup since expansion – no team seeded lower than 5th in their conference has won the cup in the past 27 years – and I don’t like this club’s odds…

    Who said the Leafs had to finish in 8th spot? Toronto is only 6 points with a game in hand behind 4th place Montreal. 6 points with 29 games left is nothing to make up. The Leafs could still get home ice advantage in the first round.

    It is unfortunate that so many people think the Leafs are lightyears behind every other team ahead of them. They aren’t. I challenge you to compare the rosters of Toronto and Montreal and tell me who has the better roster? If you do an honest comparison you will realize that Toronto has better forwards and has a better defense. The only difference has been in goal. Montreal has given up the second most shots per game in the NHL but a team save % of .916 has saved them. Toronto’s supposedly porous defense has given up the 20th most shots against in the NHL. Fewer than Ottawa. Fewer than Calgary. Fewer than Nashville. Fewer than Buffalo. But the Leafs defense gets penalized because of shakey goaltending. But if the goaltending is there, this is a very good team and I’ll stand by that statement.

    Think about it guys. Toronto gives up the 20th fewest shots against and takes the 5th most. That’s not to shabby of a combination.

    Not one of you has given me any evidece that Toronto, aside from goaltending, is not a very good team.

    And now that Raycroft is starting to show some consistency, like he did in his rookie season, Toronto might have to be considered a very good team with goaltending.

  11. Hey david, first time i’ve ever written a comment. As a hardcore sens fan, I don’t like the idea of leafs doing anything this year. But I respect certain players on the leafs. The three I don’t like on tml are hall gill, darcy tucker (only because he can do things that he’s shouldn’t do that is BAD for his team), mccabe, and for sure belak. However, my respect for #13 Mats Sundin is almost as much as daniel Alfredsson. Sundin never left this team, though thick and thin. This team’s heart is Sundin. Tucker could be said to be the heart, but I think if Sundin is traded or leaves, this team loses that spark. I defintily like kaberle (even last year when McCabe waas scoring, i still thought K was better), but there is one person that is suprising me and gaining my respect. Raycroft. My only beef with Raycroft and leaf fans, has been the use of the term “RAZOR”. That name has been Ray Emery’s for yearss. Since jr. But besides that, Raycroft is playing great and will be the answer to the question: Will the leafs go far this year? My guess, and not because i’m a sens fan, but the leafs cannot win the stanley cup. Let’s be realistic, even with sens, habs, and thrahers aside, Nj with the best goalie in the world, and BUFFALO, that wetn to game 7 in the east conference finals last year, there going to be a BIG favorite.

  12. I never said they had the best shot, just that they had a shot. New Jersey isn’t actually that good of a team as they lack depth but any team with Brodeur has a shot. I think Buffalo is the best team in the east but could probably still use another quality defenseman. Ottawa has talent but it has been proven time and time again that Ottawa’s talen can be neutralized in the playoffs. Atlanta is good too but I just have a hard time seeing them win without getting a top center. Holik and Rucchin just isn’t going to cut it. Montreal isn’t very good. Some people say that Montreal needs to find a second line that can score. I say they have a second line, it’s the first line that they need to find. I am not sold on Pittsburgh yet and I don’t think a team lead by three players 20 and under can win in the playoffs.

    The best 3 teams in the east (in terms of liklihood of making the finals) I would say are Buffalo, New Jersey and Ottawa. If Raycroft can play as good as Emery, I’d say the Leafs are pretty much right there with the Senators.

  13. Yes, I think Calgary is the best team in the NHL. I have been thinking of writing an article on just that topic.

  14. In terms of scoring depth David. I will definitely agree with you that toronto has the lines to get the winning goals. But your argument based on Raycroft’s inconsistency that toronto has an above average defence is quite deceiving. Sure using Raycroft’s inconsistency and shots allowed you can say that you have a better defense. But really, who in their right mind will consider Gill and McCabe being good defensemen now. The same goes for Kubina, he might just be on a streak too after being dormant for the first half of the season. We have seen time and time again that lousy play and penalties in their own end on their part you the game, not to mention their questionable on ice behaviour at times which also cost the game, you only have to look a week back for that (a la Pens 8-3). I dont think you can blame Raycroft at all for the inconsistency alone. PK is 78%…means defense is to blame for the odd PP goal collectively.

    Again, toronto has the scoring essentials, but the defensive essentials not so much. And as for Raycroft, we still have to see that if its really a streak or a trend.

    And we are all forgetting one small thing, toronto ALWAYS loses throttle pressure on their so called gas pedals during the third period. Means this team lacks the grit and heart that you mention. They nearly gave up the game to Ottawa too, i mean its a fact you cant ignore. In toronto’s best interests the point should not have gone the other way. Similarly, if toronto is lagging by a 2 or more goal margin in the third, they have a hard time containing the other team, let alone coming back.

    So there are a lot of individual stats, there is the deceptive season record for the leafs, but there are certain major parts of their game that can be exploited

  15. i agree with what your saying. fact is. theres 19 other teams out there that aside from that one thing have a legitimate shot at the cup. if tampa could get some goaltending. if carolina can get a stud on defense. if if if. theres ifs for every team out there. so while your statement holds for toronto, its just as good for everyone else. u could make the argument that if montreal gets 5 on 5 scoring they would be a cup contender. they have the goaltending and the special teams, 5 on 5 has been their achilles heel. so while i agree with your statement, u cant count out the other top 10 teams in the conference because IF they get that IF settles, they are all contenders. ottawa needs steady goaltending, that has haunted them in their past post seasons runs, if emery can get some consistency, theyre a threat, if pittsburg can get some depth players and a defensive unit to step up, they have the superstar factor going and along with fleury in nets they are also a serious threat. would u want to bet against crosby in the playoffs? i certainly wouldnt.

    i could honestly write about how 19 other teams than the leafs have a legit shot at the cup.

  16. David, I’m suprised by your comment. The last projected standings I saw from you had the Leafs not making the playoffs, and in fact finishing 11th in their conference I think. Toronto needs to show they can play at home like they have been playing on the road. They need to show they can hold a lead, and they need to continue to show they can win low scoring games. Before their current streak they were something like 1-19 when they scored less than 4 goals. Recent games have started to improve that stat, but they need to continue to show they can win those low scoring games. They really are on a great run in 2007, but they need to keep it up or they won’t even make the playoffs. Great start to 2007. Can they keep it going?

  17. The Leafs problems all year have been Goaltending , Penalty Killing, and the inability to protect leads or come back in the 3rd period.

    A large part of the problem that’s shifted was also inconsistent production from secondary sources. Injuries have a lot to do with this (Antropov, Ponikarovsky, Wellwood, Tucker, Sundin have all missed time at one point or another this season). The Leafs DO have depth, in every spot except goal. Aubin is one of the worst backups in the league, and if Raycroft doesn’t play up to his ability the Leafs chances are nil.

    The Leaf PK is 4th worst in the NHL. Combine with that the fact that they’re taking the 9th most penalties in the league and you get an explanation of their flaws. They also have the 4th fewest Short Handed goals in the league. Basically getting Peca back would be HUGE for this team.

    Pointing out how much the Leafs score is also misleading since this stretch of wins has basically been since the All-Star break. Over that stretch they have the 6th fewest goals scored in the league, and the 3rd fewest total shots. On the other hand they’ve got the best save percentage in the league since the break (by 5% no less), the 5th best PP still, and their PK is ranked 16th in the league.

    Basically this win streak is PURELY on the strength of improved goaltending and penalty killing. Their ability to score has nothing to do with it. They aren’t winning games by shooting the lights out, they’re shutting teams down. If they were combining the two I think this would be more to write home about, but frankly I think they really do miss Tucker and Wellwood.

    Oh and one more thing, about the Leafs and Home Ice Advantage in the playoffs. Considering their home record, and ability to score on the road, I would think their odds of making the Cup Finals are HIGHER if they finish 8th than it would be if they finish 4th. They’re way more complete on the road than they are at home.

    I also would like to point out that the D has improved drastically since Tucker has been out of the lineup. His Team worst -13 rating more than makes up for the goals he provides on the power play.

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