At the time of me writing this blog, The Toronto Maple Leafs have reached just over the quarter season mark, what a crazy quarter it has been to say the least. We have seen everything from a coaching change, to stories of Babcock and his treatment of Mitch Marner, and finally injury after injury to key players on the Maple Leafs roster.
All these different stories set the scene for what has been an uninspiring start for the boys in Blue and White. At the 30 game mark the Maple Leafs record is 13-13-4 for a total of 30 points, and just one point behind both the Florida Panthers & the Buffalo Sabres for third place in the division. To say the Maple Leafs are playing below expectations would be an understatement, but even with this horrible start by all pre-season predictions the Maple Leafs are still in a playoff chase.
That is so important for all.of us to remember, The Maple Leafs are fortunate they are in a division that after Boston and Tampa Bay is so wide open you can drive a transport truck through. All of Detroit, Ottawa, and to a lesser extent Montreal and Buffalo are all in different stages of a rebuild. In the case of Montreal, they will never be completely out of it with Carey Price and Shea Weber on the team but the last stretch of games suggest a tear down could be in the cards come the new year. Buffalo is what Buffalo is, they have started off strong and much like the last couple of years have started to fall in the standings.
So that leaves really only the Maple Leafs and Panthers to battle over the third spot in the division and guaranteed playoff spot. For all the talk of what ails the Maple Leafs, the Panthers haven’t been able to run away from the Maple Leafs in the standings. Even with two games in hand on the Maple Leafs, Florida doesn’t scare me nor should it you.
These two teams have yet to play each other which could swing the third place spot in the division to the team who wins that season series. Games in hand are only good if you win those games, Florida isn’t burning up the league at this point so that leaves the door open for the Maple Leafs.
I have taken a lot of heat lately by the ultra extreme groups in the fan base as I don’t fit into start Rebuild 2.0 by trading everyone but the food concession guy to the other extreme who say if I am not pulling up a chair along Yonge street I have given up on this team.
I am content being in that middle ground, and have accepted that maybe that early success in the first three years of the Matthews/Marner/Nylander era was a little bit of fools gold. That isn’t a criticism of the players, that speaks to the ultimate factor of growing and developing under the spotlight that is Leafs Nation, the local media but more importantly in the NHL.
The Colorado Avalanche are the perfect example of the slight regression and then steps forward of a developing team. They went from being in the playoffs in 2015/2016 season to being out of the playoffs the following year and a lottery team if my memory serves me correctly.
The Avalanche are proof to be patient, not over analyze every second of every game or even any regression. Sometimes it takes teams time to grow into their full potential, and our last blog on Auston Matthews discusses the areas of further development that is required. The Maple Leafs, Media and some in the fan base are so quick to give up on young players.
The reality is the Maple Leafs won’t catch Boston, and Tampa still is due for their charge in standings. After that it is only Toronto & Florida battling for the final third spot in the division.
That is a bet that I will make with anyone, so maybe the team has received an early Christmas gift in the way of being in a weak division. I am confident starting this month and into 2020, that the Maple Leafs will pass the Panthers and all this will be behind us.
Exhale everyone, things aren’t as bad as they appear and now that the Maple Leafs have their full roster together and an easier schedule for the remainder of the season. I expect the Maple Leafs to firmly claim that third place spot just below Boston and Tampa. The first step in the right direction comes tonight as the Maple Leafs take on the St. Louis Blues, catch the game live on the CBC at 7:00pm.