Sports is all about numbers. Talk to any true sports fanatic and they will be able to tell you all about their favourite player or team and a good portion of the conversation will surely entail the 'numbers game'.
'Will there ever be another .400 hitter in baseball?' - 'Will there ever be another player in baseball to hit 70 homers in a season - without steroid help?' - 'Is it possible for Kobe to make 75% of his shots from the field?' - 'Will T.O. break Randy's record of 23 touchdown passes?' 'Will Tiger pass Jack in all-time majors?'
You can go on and on and that is why sports is so special. To understand sports is to understand basic mathematics such as addition, subtraction, multiplying and dividing. In the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League their whole season has come down to a simple numbers game and here is the plain and simple truth as to why a local mathematician in Toronto has given the Maple Leafs and Leaf Nation a tiny 4.2 % chance of making the post season in 2008.
This present Leaf season has been all about the numbers 1, 5, 13, 15, 16, 24, 31 and 35. Let's start of with the number 5 - no not Bill Barilko...God rest his soul - no number 5, as in the number of Maple Leafs that have no trade clauses built into their contracts. At the trading deadline, interim General Manager Cliff Fletcher had his hands tied by previously dismissed GM John Ferguson Jr. who had given Captain Mats Sundin #13, Thomas Kaberle #15, Darcy Tucker #16, Brian McCabe #24 and Pavel Kubina #31 - all had received no trade contracts. At the recently past trade deadline.. a man once known as 'Trader Cliff' - turned into 'Stand Pat Cliff'. Once Mats Sundin made it clear that he was 'standing pat' and staying put in Toronto, the other four Maple Leafs with no trade clauses dug in their heels and told Fletcher, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and ultimately Leaf Nation..'Screw you people, we are all in this shipwreck together!' The Captain and his mates were all going down with the ship known as the 'SS Maple Leaf'
This brings me to the numbers 1 and 35 and these two numbers are the real reason why - with ten games left on the schedule - the Maple Leafs find themselves on the outside looking in (for the third year in a row) for a playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference.
The Leafs presently sit 5 points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and six points back of the Boston Bruins for the 7th and 8th and final playoff spot in the East. They play Boston twice more in their remaining games and have finished playing Philly for the year after sweeping them in a home and home series earlier this week.
The Leafs have been the third hottest team in the 15 team conference in the past 10 games going 7 (wins) 2 (losses) 1 (overtime loss), while only the New York Rangers and Carolina Huricanes have been hotter then the Maple Leafs of late.
The real reason why the Maple Leafs - with 10 games left - have been only given a 4.2% mathematical chance of making the playoffs is what I will call - Goaltending By the Numbers. We have #1 worn by back-up netminder -Andrew Raycroft and we have #35 worn by starter and in my view team Most Valuable Player - Vesa Toskala. Let's start with #35 and his statistics - GPI (games played in) = 58, GAA (goals against average) = 2.59, Record = 29 wins, 21 losses and 6 ties, Shutouts = 3, Save Percentage = .908. Now let us look at # 1 and his numbers.. GPI = 17, GAA = 4.07, Record = 2 wins, 8 losses and 4 ties. Shutouts = 1. Save Percentage = .868%. The Maple Leafs overall record is 32 wins, 30 losses and 10 overtime and shootout appearances. Good for 74 points. To make the playoffs the Leafs will need to win-at least -8 of their last 10 games. Traditionally 90 points is the benchmark set for obtaining the eighth and final playoff spot. (For the record Toskala has started the last 24 games for the Maple Leafs and Raycroft has not played in a game since January 20th - against the New jersey Devils.)
Without wanting to sound like or act like Albert Einstein - I think that it is quite easy to see that if Head Coach Paul Maurice had have studied a little more math in grade school - he probably would have noticed - that the balance of probabilities in the Maple leafs making the playoffs with Andrew Raycroft playing in the Maple Leaf net 17 times this year (with his pultry numbers) was not going to be enough for the 'points challenged' Maple Leafs to make the playoffs. Granted - in fairness to Maurice - Toskala was injured for 6 games earlier this year; however, when Maurice started Raycroft in the very first game of the season, after signing Toskala as a blue-chip free agent last summer, Maurice was telling Leaf Nation that you are in for one crazy cruise this season and it ultimately led to a shipwreck on the same island as the castoffs of 'LOST'.
Think about it - Leaf Nation - it is all in the numbers!