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The Optimist/Pessimist Guide To The Leafs’ Playoff Race

Our split personality Leafs fan looks at the Leafs’ run to the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

In a recurring feature on this site, I structure an argument between the Optimistic and Pessimistic sides of my Leafs’ fan personality. Here we go.

Will they make the playoffs?

Optimist: Obviously they’re going to make the playoffs.

Pessimist: But what if they don’t?

Optimist: They will.

Pessimist: But what if....they don’t?

Optimist: They have 93 points with ten games left. There is a strong chance—HockeyViz has it at 90%!—they could go 0-10-0 and still make it. If they win two of their last ten games they will have 97 points. No team has ever missed the playoffs with 97 points. They’re going to make it.

Pessimist: But what if............................................they don’t?

Optimist: Please stop this.

Pessimist: Remember 2014? Speaking of teams that lost eight of their last ten. The Leafs were coasting to a playoff spot and then—

Optimist: Don’t say it.

Pessimist: THE 18-WHEELER WENT OFF THE CLIFF

Optimist: I hate so much about who you choose to be.

Pessimist: Or going further back, I can think of a time the Leafs seemed dead certain to advance, statistically so very certain to advance, and then they collapsed. It only took ten minutes. Are you really feeling confident with ten games left?

Optimist: Even in this insane scenario where we lose every remaining game in regulation the Panthers would have to get 16 points in 13 games to tie us, which is a better points percentage then they’ve had up to this point in the season. We’re literally favoured to make the playoffs in the situation where we lose all of our games and get no points. Every prediction model I’ve seen has us either at 100% or so close as to make no difference. There is no mathematical reason whatsoever to worry.

Pessimist: Of course there isn’t. But you’re going to worry about it anyway.

Optimist: Goddammit.

Where will they finish?

Optimist: Third in the Atlantic, assuming Boston or Tampa Bay doesn’t collapse like you keep saying we will.

Pessimist: Yeah, probably. Then they get to go up against one of the best five teams in the NHL without home-ice advantage. Neato. The Leafs have actually lost more road games than they’ve won, by the way.

Optimist: Yeah, but the Leafs have actually been a surprisingly good road team in underlying stats. They can definitely survive being the lower seed.

Pessimist: About that—

What are their chances against Boston?

Optimist: Better than even. The Leafs have owned Boston in the regular season the last two years, Toronto has better scoring depth, and Boston’s super-two-way C Patrice Bergeron is currently injured. If he’s less than full-power, Toronto is an excellent bet to win.

Pessimist: Yes, when has Patrice Bergeron ever played through injuries in the playoffs? The Bruins lead the league in CF% at 5v5, and they’re second in xGF%. They have probably the best top line in the league Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak, and they have actual scoring depth to back it up with now. Charlie McAvoy is a great young defenceman, too, and Zdeno Chara is still somehow effective despite being older than God.

Optimist: You wanna talk about scoring depth? The Leafs are going to have a 30-goal scorer on each of their top three lines again this year. That’s not considering dynamite playmaking RWs in Mitch Marner and William Nylander, both of whom have way more points than anyone not on the Bruins’ first line. Don’t tell me Danton Henein is a real scoring talent and don’t tell me I need to be scared of the remains of Rick Nash. The Leafs have the firepower.

Pessimist: And the right side of the Leafs’ defence group is currently, uh, Hainsey, Polak and Carrick. Pick your poison.

Optimist: Rielly and Gardiner will get the puck up, Dermott is blossoming, and we’re going to have enough puck support to get the puck to the forwards.

Pessimist: And the Bruins have former Leafs draft pick Tuukka Rask!

Optimist: YOU CANNOT TORMENT ME WITH THAT TRADE ANY LONGER. The Leafs have a better goalie than Rask now. It’s done. Freddie has been damn near the best goalie in the NHL since November started. We are ready to rock.

Pessimist: If Freddie is healthy. And I haven’t even talked about Auston yet.

Optimist: He’ll be back in plenty of time. Probably grateful for the extra rest. He’s going to dazzle.

Pessimist: Ah, the Bruins injuries are going to debilitate them, but our injuries are basically a vacation. Awesome.

What are their chances against Tampa?

Pessimist: 0.

Optimist: >0.

Pessimist: 0.

Optimist: >>>>>0.

Pessimist: 91 + 86 + 77 > 34 + 29 + 44.

Optimist: That’s cheating, Lou won’t allow numbers over 60.

Pessimist: Is it cheating that Tampa also has a better GM than we do?

Optimist: How many Cups has Yzerman managed his way to? Lou has three.

Pessimist: Yzerman’s probably about to bag his first. He has two of the best forwards in the league, scoring depth galore, and the ability to play a top-pairing defenceman pretty much the entire night. Hedman + Stralman + McDonagh + Sergachev is death on wheels. In front of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who may well win the Vezina.

Optimist: Okay, so it’s a little uphill. But Tampa’s underlying numbers, for all their vaunted skill, are a little below Boston’s (fifth in both 5v5 CF% and expected goals percentage). The Leafs probably have the better goalie—Freddie’s faced greater degree of difficulty in his shots against.

Pessimist: So we’re giving the Leafs more credit because they give up worse chances? Cool.

Optimist: Toronto isn’t that far back in raw goals at 5v5, either. Tampa’s first in the NHL, but Toronto is 5th. Maybe, yeah, the Leafs are underdogs against the Cup favourite. But they’re in with a fighting chance. That’s good, two years out of last place.

What counts as a successful season?

Optimist: If they put up a good fight, I’ll be happy.

Pessimistic: They put up a fight last year. Are we happy with a six-game moral victory again? This team ought to be progressing, not just cheerfully taking a couple of games and bowing out to the real contenders.

Optimist: Sure, I’d like to win, but again, we’re two years out of last place. Most teams do not turn it around that quickly. Hell, look at Buffalo, they’d be over the moon just to be in the playoffs, much less seeded, much less with a fighting chance against a top-five team. And maybe it’s just a puncher’s chance, but the Leafs have a real shot at the Cup.

Pessimist: If the 18-wheeler doesn’t go off the cliff.

Optimist: I will strangle you, I swear.

Poll

What counts as a successful Leafs season for you?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Good fight in round one
    (152 votes)
  • 62%
    Win one round
    (715 votes)
  • 24%
    Win two rounds or more
    (286 votes)
1153 votes total Vote Now