We are almost halfway through the season and the Leafs are in 11th place—a position fans and players alike are getting uncomfortably use to. An agonising position for everyone who follows this team. Close enough to possibly make the playoffs, not low enough to get a better chance at John Tavares and the other hot prospects.
The 2007-2008 season was a year in which coach Paul Maurice said the team had a great chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup. This season, Cliff Fletcher came out and said to the faithful to not expect anything other than failure.
The '07-'08 squad had, on paper, a very solid team: Sundin, McCabe, Tucker, Raycroft. The team came up short. Very short. The '08-'09 team was changed significantly, the top guns were traded or "retired" and in return, the Leafs acquired much less talent and less expectations.
A position above 11th position would not be expected. Some analysts predicted the Leafs would come last in the conference.
Let us look statistically (with some degree of error for the '07-'08 season), at where the Leafs were this time last year and where they are today. Thanks to ESPN and NHL.com for the numbers. (The 2007-2008 season will always figure first.)
After much consideration, however you regard these things—positive or negative, statistically—the Leafs haven't shifted a bit. The Leafs look like finishing the regular season in between ninth and twelfth.
At the halfway mark last year, the Leafs had won about 16 games; this year, they have won 15. Goals for the Leafs in '07-'08 stood at 114, for this season, similar at 114. Goals against, 199 to 198. Total team points, 313 to 312.
Where the Leafs of this season have improved marginally is in the Power Play Goals. Season '07-'08 stood at 31, this season 34. Power play assists sit at 58 to 60. Shots on goal slightly less at 1271 to 1234 and conversion percentage .089 to 0.92.
The 2008-2009 Leafs have improved on the power-play goal percentage 17.8 to 20.4; however, they have dropped off on the Power-Play Kill percentage, 78.2 to 73.2.
At home this season, the Leafs are 7-7-4. At the end of the regular season of 2007-2008, Toronto at home had a record of 18-17-16. Away, the Leafs of this season are at 08-10-2, the 2007-2008 Leafs Away record was 18-18-5.
So what can be gleamed then from all of this? The many theories as to why the Leafs failed last year are numerous. There is no doubt though, that the team of 2007-2008 was a stronger outfit than the team of 2008-2009.
What can be said quite confidently is that the team of 2007-2008 played below expectations. The team of 2008-2009, even though not a Stanley Cup contender, are playing above expectations.
So where does this leave the organisation, trying to rebuild, trying add some first-round prospects into the cupboard. Coming in 11th again in 2008-2009 does not help the Leafs rebuild and does not make the fans any happier missing the playoffs for another year.
Brian Burke has a dilemma. Should he push (under pressure from MLSE) for a playoff berth this year with some big trades? Or as he has stated publicly, trade his stars for draft picks and lesser players, destroy the current outfit, and hopefully finish in the deep bottom of the conference?
What Burke does between now and trade deadline will have a lasting effect on the hopes of the Leafs, eventually bringing home a Stanley Cup.