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How likely is it that Boston overtakes Toronto?

It’s that time of the year again when fear + arithmetic = wild predictions of doom.

NHL: OCT 22 Maple Leafs at Bruins Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last season, as we neared the trade deadline, Maple Leafs fans got in a froth over the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers taking first place from them. It wasn’t impossible, so what was left, however improbable was totally going to happen, if they lost 10 in a row, they were out!

This season, as the Leafs are planning to play all their remaining games with the goalie pulled, fear of the team in fourth place has its grip on fragile emotions. It doesn’t help that the team is now Boston. Certainly a more formidable rival than the Jets or the Oilers.

This is the standings as of Friday afternoon in the Atlantic:

Atlantic Division

Team GP W L OT PTS P% RW ROW GF GA DIFF Points if P% Holds
Team GP W L OT PTS P% RW ROW GF GA DIFF Points if P% Holds
Florida 58 40 13 5 85 0.733 31 38 243 170 73 120
Tampa Bay 57 37 14 6 80 0.702 28 35 197 166 31 115
Toronto 58 37 16 5 79 0.681 31 35 217 176 41 112
Boston 58 35 18 5 75 0.647 29 33 177 158 19 106
Detroit 58 24 27 7 55 0.474 13 21 170 218 -48 78
Ottawa 57 21 31 5 47 0.412 17 20 151 183 -32 68
Buffalo 59 19 32 8 46 0.39 16 17 157 210 -53 64
Montréal 57 15 35 7 37 0.325 11 13 140 217 -77 53

Two things are clear: the Bruins are four points back, and if they and the Leafs carry on at the pace they’ve been on for 34 of the season, they’ll finish six points back. It takes a long time or a big change in play for points spreads to grow in the NHL.

One other thing that’s clear is that no one at all is saying: you know the Bruins are right behind the Lightning, should they worry?

For the Bruins to surge while the Leafs maintain their overall points pace, they’d need to finish out the season at a points percentage of .792 to get 113 points. Not impossible over a short run of games. Highly unlikely.

But, you’re saying: The Leafs are in freefall, and they lose every game. Of course they don’t. They actually can maintain something like a decent maintenance points pace while they have zero saves from anyone because they do score a lot. They aren’t going to overtake the Panthers with the current situation unchanged, but they have earned 12 points in their last 10 games. To fall behind the Bruins while they maintain their pace requires 105 points for the Leafs, and they only need .542 to do that. Much less than their last 10 games of .600.

Four points seems like nothing. It’s only two wins! And yet it isn’t. It’s two more wins. So the Bruins need to win two more than they normally do, and the Leafs have to lose two. It’s four games, in its way. Not two.

And with 24 games left, four games is a big chunk of the season where both teams need to change their level of play to swap positions.

Now, I know people love to look at the schedule and make up scenarios, but I think it’s just a whole lot easier to find a mathematical model that takes into account past performance, current roster and injuries, and let it crunch the numbers. Here’s one now:

It is entirely improbable that Boston overtakes the Leafs. That doesn’t mean impossible, though. And you won’t stop hearing about it until it’s actually impossible.