Feb 052007

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.

Feb 022007

If you ever wonder why blogging has taken off, just read the mainstream media every now and again and you’ll realize why. Some of the stuff they write is amateurish. Today’s target: Lance Hornby. Mr. Hornby wrote an article today titles “Maple Leafs do the math” which is all about what the Leafs current position in the standings and looks at what the Leafs might have to do to make the playoffs. Since the whole basis of the article is about math, is it too much to expect that one might be able to take an accurate and objective look at the numbers? Apparently not. Clearly the focus is on downplaying the Leafs chances at making the playoffs and not at taking an accurate look at the facts.

First, Mr. Hornby projects that the Leafs would need to go 18-12 over their last 30 games to reach 92 points and a playoff spot. Now, it may take 92 points to make the playoffs in the east, but the current math does not suggest that. As it stands now, the current 7th place Tampa Bay lightning project to just 90 points if they keep their current pace over the remainder of the season and the 8th place Carolina project to 88 points. Maybe it will take 92 points, but there is a reasonably good chance it won’t and that 89 or 90 points will earn a playoff spot in the east.

Second, Mr. Hornby says the Leafs are outside of the top eight and “waiting nervously for teams to make up their games in hand.” Well, that may be true but a) even if the teams behind them with games in hand (Rangers, Islanders, Bruins) win all their games in hand, the best any of those teams could do is tie the Leafs and b) The Leafs have games in hand on 7th place Tampa (one) and 8th place Carolina (two) which Mr. Hornby conveniently overlooked that. In fact, if Toronto wins their games in hand they would tie Tampa and pass Carolina.

I know some of you are going to think that I am an apologist for the Leafs but I am not really. I am just annoyed that most of the mainstream media see the Leafs as a horrible team destined to miss the playoffs. Far too many of them take the pessimistic view and not the realist view because the reality is that as of today the Leafs are the 8th best team in the east based on winning percentage. The other reality is that if the Leafs beat Ottawa on Saturday and win their game in hand they have on Ottawa they will only be a measly 2 points behind Ottawa. Will that happen? I have no idea, but that is just an indication of how close the standings are in the east and it is irresponsible by the main stream media to only focus on worst case scenarios. I am not looking for optimism or homerism, just realism. And that is why I blog: to present a realists view to the equation.