The Toronto Maple Leafs were a notably bad team in 2015-16.
It’s okay. It was by design. They got Auston Matthews, after all, didn’t they?
Now, it’s with Matthews’ help that they’re trying to do what they fell extremely short of last season: make the playoffs.
As things currently stand (before any games played on Jan. 10), the Leafs have 44 points in 39 games. They’re four points back of a wild card spot; two points back of being one of the top three teams in the Atlantic Division.
Go by points percentage, though, and right now they’re in. The Leafs aren’t going to pick up any more points while they’re on their bye, but they still have games in hand to hopefully make use of. And going by points percentage, they’re the third best team in the Atlantic.
We’re about halfway through the season.
Which brings us to one of Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts (#22):
Toronto ... is trying to become the third team this century to go from 30th to the playoffs. The Islanders did it in 2001–02, acquiring Michael Peca and Alexei Yashin, improving by 44 points. Philadelphia did it in 2007–08, rebounding from a rare, disastrous, injury-plagued season, improving by 39 points.
See, the Leafs still being clearly in the race after all this time has been exciting, but I hadn’t even considered the historical implications of it.
And probably the best part of it? The Leafs haven’t had to go out and acquire anyone to make this push: they’ve had the pieces in place. With easily the strongest rookie class in the NHL this season, the Leafs aren’t buying to make a playoff push: they’re building.
So even if they don’t make the dance this year, there’s some very well-established hope for the seasons after.
That’s what all of this was for, after all.