Toronto Maple Leafs Need 88 Points to Make Playoffs

Jamie ThainContributor IIIMarch 5, 2012

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 27:  A general view of The Stanley Cup during the NHL Fan Fair at the Ottawa Convention Centre on January 27, 2012 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Each year the actual number of points needed to make the playoffs is slightly different. It depends on the distribution of wins and losses. In 2009-10 where the overall spread between top and bottom was closer, the number of points needed to make the playoffs was 88 points. 

Through mathematical wizardry and a fancy spread sheet it is easy to calculate what the number required to make the playoffs if the distribution stays as it is today. That number is like in 2010: 88 points. 

The Leafs, with 67 points and 17 games remaining, need 21 points to contend for the playoffs. That means they need to play .624 hockey down the stretch. 

In the last month with the boys in blue looking more like the local Girl Scout troop winning just one in 10, it almost seems impossible to make a true run. 

Some years teams need 92 or 93 points to make the playoffs, and the spread between the worse teams and the best teams is wider and more overtime wins occur making the overall distribution higher. Now, the overall distribution could change between now and the end of the season, but currently with 80 percent of the games played the magic number is 88. 

Eighty-eight points is four to five points lower than the normal 92-93 points it takes to make the playoffs.

The upside of this year's distribution there is still hope, and Toronto fans need hope. Here we are in hockey center of the universe, the mecca of hockey, the home of the hockey hall of shame (Air Canada Centre), and we have to walk around hanging our heads saying, "We didn't make the playoffs. Again!" 

Lord Stanley lives on Front Street, and each year it's shipped off to American destinations, spending the summer in swimming pools of the rich and not-so-famous hockey players in their local neighborhoods of the boroughs of such places as Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh

Toronto needs a cup and it needs one soon. 

Eighty eight is a number the team can work with. It is like nine wins and tree ties (overtime losses) in the next 17 games. If the the Leads return to the form of January where the team played .750 hockey, they stand a chance. 

I like to joke that to be an excellent golfer I only need to improve three aspects of my game: driving, pitching and putting.  For the Leafs to play .630 hockey and contend, they only need to improve three aspects of their game: offense, defense and goaltending. 

Randy Carlyle looks like he understood that and made some small but significant changes to the overall team play.  On the defensive side he played the top pair of Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson for more than 20 minutes while he played the other four in a more balanced 17 to 18 minutes each. In the past month the top pair were carrying the load and the bottom pair were mostly warming wood. 

The defense will be key to winning games. It has to keep the puck out of the slot, block shots and let the goalies see the puck. 

Happy Ron is Gone to the land of No
Happy Ron is Gone to the land of NoMarianne Helm/Getty Images

On the offensive side, Nikolai Kulemin moved down to the third line and Matt Frattin moved up to the second line. The current book on the Leafs is shut down Phil Kessel and the second line will not hurt you. Mikhail Grabovski responded with not one but two goals in the game.

For the Leafs to win they need consistent secondary scoring. If the top defensive pair are facing Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, then Grabo and Clarke MacArthur need to fill the net. 

Lastly, on the goaltending front, both James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson need to attack the puck at the top of the paint and be more aggressive to the rebounds. In January Reimer returned to back-to-back shutouts where he was aggressive, and the defense kept players off the top of the crease. 

Since then, however, Gus and Reimer have looked shaky and like they are expecting to be run down at any moment. As the defense improves, so will the goaltending. 

With this year's playoff number currently around 88 points, the Leafs look like they could contend, and the playoffs will be decided on the last day of the season.