By Stan Smith
I am as excited as any Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan. My team finally broke the 19-year jinx and won a playoff round. It was a huge step for this team. The pressure on them to win Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning had to be tremendous.
I shudder to think what Leafland would be going through right now if the Maple Leafs had lost that game and went on to lose another Game 7. We can be assured that nothing positive would have come out of them making another first-round exit in the postseason.
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But the Maple Leafs Won
But they didn’t lose. They won. Finally.
Now the reality is that winning a round of the playoffs is simply that, and nothing more. What If the Maple Leafs were to follow that up with a loss to the Florida Panthers in Round 2? Would it sound much better to hear the Maple Leafs had won one round of playoffs in 20 years than it would he hear they won zero playoff rounds in 20 years? It doesn’t sound much better to us.
The monkey is gone. He’s off their backs. That’s all great. However, this team is supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender. What If they fail to make it to the Eastern Conference Final? What if they aren’t in the fight for the best team in the East? Would this season still be looked upon as a failure?
The Maple Leafs Have Been a Good Team for a While
For years now the Maple Leafs have been considered good in the regular season but terrible in the playoffs. Rightfully so. It’s a badge they have earned. What would it take for the Maple Leafs to be considered as good in the playoffs as in the regular season?
The Maple Leafs have finished in fourth place overall during the regular season in both of the past two seasons. If we combine the points over the past two seasons, they once again come out in fourth place overall, behind the Boston Bruins, the Carolina Hurricane, and the Colorado Avalanche.
When we look at the playoffs, we know that half the teams in the league (16 of 32) qualify for the postseason. Eight teams are eliminated in the first round. Four more are eliminated in the second round leaving four remaining teams.
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What Would It Take for the Maple Leafs to Be Considered a Great Team?
For the Maple Leafs to be considered just as good a team in the playoffs as they are in the postseason, they need to make it past the second round and into the conference final. While it still isn’t winning the Stanley Cup or making the Final, it would still be considered a successful season by any reasonable person.
Of course, there will still be those who say the team has failed if they don’t win the Stanley Cup. However, deciding success or failure solely on winning the Stanley Cup is a fool’s game.
With everything being equal, there are 32 teams in the NHL. At the start of each season, each team has just a 3% chance of hoisting the Stanley Cup. We do realize that in reality, everything isn’t equal. Some teams don’t have a chance of winning right from day one. Other teams are perennial favourites and contenders.
At the start of each season, the favourite team to win the cup is usually only given a 10% to 15% chance to finish that season by hoisting the Cup. Even those are extremely long odds.
Each Season, NHL Teams Work to Improve
As the regular season and the postseason wind down and teams are eliminated from the playoffs, each of those teams begins the process of making changes to improve the following season. This happens season after season. The 25th-place team is trying to figure out what changes to make to hit the top 16 and a playoff berth. The third-place team is trying to figure out how to become the best team.
Each team makes the moves it thinks will help – without the benefit of a crystal ball. They make their moves based on what they think, or hope will happen in the future. No team can know for sure if the acquisition of a certain player will have a positive or negative effect on the team. Will that player improve or regress, or even stay healthy?
Then there’s luck to consider. Hockey is supposed to be the sport where luck plays the biggest part in the final outcome. It’s all a crap shoot.
The Odds Of Winning Lord Stanley’s Cup Are Ridiculously Long
The odds of any team winning the championship in a given season are ridiculously long. So yes, basing success or failure solely on a team winning the Stanley Cup is bound to end up in frustrating failure.
So how do we gauge success with the Maple Leafs? How a team fares in 184 games played against each of the other 31 teams in the league is a pretty good gauge of how good that team is. Using that as a guide, the Maple Leafs are presently the fourth-best team in the league. If they were to defeat the Panthers in the second round to qualify for the conference final, they would be one of the four best teams in the 2023 playoffs.
Doing that would mean they are as good a team in this postseason as they have been over the past two regular seasons.
If they should win the conference final and make it to the Stanley Cup Final, the 2023 postseason would have to be considered more successful than the regular season. Of course, winning the Stanley Cup would be considered the ultimate success.
Winning It All Is Winning Moment By Moment
For the present moment, success is all about winning a game, winning a period, or winning a shift. All we can do is watch, and hope.
It doesn’t get any easier for the players or the teams as each game progresses. As well, it also doesn’t get any easier for any of us as fans, either.
All we can do is sit, watch, hope, and pray, that our team can take the next step.