Atlantic Division Playoff Spot Still in Reach for the Toronto Maple Leafs

0
atlantic division playoff spot
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 25: Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) celebrates scoring a goal during the third period in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on February 25, 2017, at the Air Canada in Toronto, Ontario Canada. The Montreal Canadiens won 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Nick Turchiaro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With this season’s trade deadline now put in the past, it’s much easier to get a sense of the Toronto Maple Leafs plans for the near future.

Leafs nation saw their team make two trades before the deadline. One of them brought in arguably the best fourth-line centre in hockey from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brian Boyle, for this year’s second-round pick and AHL center Byron Froese. The second trade had the Leafs send fan-favourite, Frank Corrado, to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for centre Eric Fehr, defenceman Steven Oleksy and the Penguins 2017 fourth rounder.

Neither of these trades carry enough significance to have a notable effect on Toronto’s valued future. There’s nothing damaging about them given how minor they really are. But knowing how much there is at stake when talking hockey in Toronto, discussion revolving these trades can easily go on for a few more days. The rest of the league was busy at the deadline, while Toronto made some minor adjustments. But what other teams did or didn’t do is something Toronto should take note of moving forward for this season, more specifically their own division. With the NHL into its final stretch of the season, an Atlantic Division playoff spot is still in reach for the Leafs.

Atlantic Division Playoff Spot Still in Reach for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto is currently exceeding expectations this season. They’re not necessarily over-performing, but surely a team coming off a rebuilding year with a plethora of rookies on their roster doesn’t scream “playoffs” at first glance. But this team has managed to put that narrative aside, and are currently in a playoff race with the rest of its division in the month of March.

Toronto’s early success made the Atlantic Division a little bit more interesting than it already is. Relatively speaking, it’s the closest division with only 21 points separating the last-placed Detroit Red Wings and first-placed Montreal Canadiens. Before any deadline activity began, the Atlantic was looking to be wide open with Montreal progressively slowing down since the beginning of the season. Now there’s a better perspective after the Red Wings became the only team to have taken itself out of the playoff race by dealing away players like Thomas Vanek, Brendan Smith, and Steve Ott.

Home-Stretch Race

This still leaves Toronto to compete with six other teams for a Atlantic Division playoff spot. Throw in the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, whom the Leafs will have to compete against for the last wild-card spot, and the Leafs will have to battle eight teams for four spots.

What makes things more entertaining down the stretch is that out of the Atlantic teams who were busy at the deadline, there isn’t one on paper that is a clear-cut favourite to run away with the division. Montreal, who is in the best position for the playoffs, addressed their anticipated postseason run by focusing on physicality rather than some much-needed scoring up front. The Ottawa Senators made some minor adjustments by bringing in top-nine guys like Alexandre Burrows and Viktor Stalberg but that’s nothing to drop a jaw at.

The Boston Bruins added a little bit of depth on the wing by adding Drew Stafford. The Lightning had to get rid of Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula for assets that are no help for them this season. It could be argued that they were sellers and are out of the playoff race, but they sit three points out of the playoffs. The Florida Panthers made a nice little splash by getting Thomas Vanek, but other than that nothing notable makes them a playoff contender. Lastly, the Buffalo Sabres, who sit five points out, were non-existent on deadline day which hurts their chances at making the playoffs.

Unanswered Questions

There are many questions left unanswered after the deadline if you’re a fan of an Atlantic Division team. What is certain is that the division is still wide open for any team to run away with. There are just under 20 games remaining on the schedule, and the tight division should see an exciting playoff race.

The odds of having an easy ride to the end of the season aren’t in Toronto’s favour, but with the Leafs in the position they’re in, anything is possible.

Even though Toronto’s schedule may be the biggest obstacle regarding playoff contention, the team is still playing well enough to land a top three spot in the division. For the purpose of this article, we’ll compare Toronto to the top five Atlantic teams because with how tight the standings are, Toronto should be aiming for a divisional playoff spot rather than the second wild card.

What the Stats Suggest

Among the five best teams in the Atlantic, Toronto currently sits at fourth place with 18 games remaining. As you can see from the table below, they rank third in corsi-for percentage, second in expected goals-for percentage, and second in scoring chances-for percentage.

Atlantic playoff race since January 1st:

Atlantic Teams Points (Div. Rank) CF% xGF% SCF%
MTL 82 (1st) 51.46 (2nd) 49.67 (3rd) 49.16 (3rd)
OTT 76 (2nd) 48.92 (4th) 48.68 (4th) 47.76 (4th)
BOS 74 (3rd) 56.41 (1st) 58.35 (1st) 56.88 (1st)
TOR 70 (4th) 50.79 (3rd) 49.85 (2nd) 51.33 (2nd)
FLA 69 (5th) 48.79 (5th) 46.31 (5th) 45.41 (5th)
*all stats 5v5, score and venue adjusted. Courtesy to www.corsica.hockey*

What does this mean? Well, this table alone tells us a lot. The underlying statistics mentioned above are commonly used to predict winning, so we can get an idea of how Toronto performs through on-ice events and compare it to their actual divisional rank. As we can see, Toronto looks to be competing well enough to be a top three team in the division since the start of the calendar year. If the Leafs can continue to outpace most of their division rivals until the end of the season, it will make the path to the playoffs a little bit easier.

But making it to the postseason isn’t as easy as a table might suggest. Puck luck can affect on-ice percentages which can make or break a season. Toronto’s rookies will be put to the test with their first playoff race as a unit. Even the under performing Bruins are a team to keep an eye on as their stats suggest they’re a much better team relative to their division. These are just a few of the many ways Toronto’s season can be affected, and in a physical game of hockey that’s full of randomness, just about anything can happen.

The next month and a half will be a stressful time in Leaf land. It’s all part of assembling a team for the future, even though the future is already knocking at the door.

Main Photo.

LEAVE A REPLY