March Fools! We're Missing The Playoffs!

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Or, 'The Way It Happened'.

It's true that the Leafs missing the playoffs is unlikely to come as much of a surprise to proponents of "advanced" stats. In fact, it shouldn't have been surprising to anyone. The way they went about missing the playoffs, however, was eyebrow-raising on at least one level.

Let's imagine for a minute that a hockey expert watched the Leafs' entire season up to now, with all the scoring plays removed from the game footage. Asked to guess whether or not the Leafs won many games, you'd have to think that they would answer with an emphatic 'no', regardless of whether or not they were advanced stat proponents. The Leafs' problems were too obvious; they had trouble handling any kind of forecheck down low, couldn't generate enough clean breakouts, gave up their own zone too easily, and were porous on the penalty kill. Those goalies looked great, though.

For other hypothetical fans who didn't see even the scoreboard but checked a couple sites with "advanced" stats, the Leafs systemic problems would have been impossible to explain, but the numbers clearly said that something was wrong. Deeply wrong. Why was this team so badly out-shot?

Both the game-watcher and the stat-watcher would probably be surprised to find out the Leafs had won as many games as they have, and probably be less surprised than all of us that the team had missed the playoffs. Last summer, the long view of this team was that (perhaps outside of goaltending) it was worse than the the one that made the playoffs on a wing and a prayer in last season's shortened run, and that they were unlikely to make the post-season. So why are we still surprised, even though our half-blind hypothetical game watchers weren't?

The Leafs were lucky this season. Things could have been worse, and the team could have fallen out of playoff contention much earlier than they did. In fact, if you're an informed hockey watcher, you'd have expected a much more gradual drop-off than what actually took place.

With about 15 games left in the regular season, the Leafs held a substantial lead on 9th place in the Eastern Conference and, even if their rate of wins over the remaining games of the season matched their Corsi/Fenwick number perfectly (which no one should necessarily have anticipated) they would still have been OK. This was a Happy Gilmore putting situation. They just had to tap it in. Instead, they dropped their pants and defecated in the hole.

All I'm getting at is that even if the Leafs' percentage odds of winning each individual game were only in the low-40's, no one expected them to drop 8 games (and counting) in a row. It's like seeing someone who "hasn't aged in years" suddenly age all at once. Yes, it is shocking the Leafs are going to miss the playoffs, but not for the reasons that we're likely to hear about over the coming months. All of us here at PPP could see this coming - it was always a question of how, and the 'how' was pretty amazing.

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