Toronto Maple Leafs: Why Home Ice Needs To Be Sweeter if Team Wants Success

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst INovember 25, 2010

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 16:  The Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a 2nd period goal against the Nashville Predators during game action at the Air Canada Centre November 16, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

Home sweet home.

Unless you're the Toronto Maple Leafs in the past few seasons, that is, because home has been anything but sweet for them or their fans.

It is no secret that the most successful teams in the NHL are lethal on home ice, and a great home record often is your ticket to the playoffs. They call it an advantage for a reason.

Your home city. Your home crowd. You don't have to worry about uncomfortable hotel beds the night before a game. Bed bugs, anyone?

Last season, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals were a mind-boggling 30-5-6 at the Verizon Center, while every other playoff team was above .500.

Teams cringe just thinking about that goal siren sounding and the crowd going insane. It's not just the players on the ice who make the difference, it's that winning atmosphere that has visiting teams leaving with their tails tucked tightly between their legs.

Of the 16 playoff teams last season, just two (Boston and Los Angeles) had a better road record than home record.

It's clear that when you can take advantage of the 41 games each season that your team plays in your home city, you have a much better chance at playing hockey past early April. It's not science, it's common sense.

Good teams are hard to play against when they're at home.

For the Leafs, on the other hand, the only difference between playing games at home and on the road: They get booed more loudly after a loss in Toronto.

It has not been pretty in the center of the hockey world, and for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2003-04, they often watch as the visiting teams thrive in the bright lights of Toronto.

The Leafs were a paltry 18-17-6 at the ACC last season. Forty-one games, 18 wins. Last place in the Eastern Conference. There's nothing intimidating about coming into a building that holds that record.

The season before that (2008-09), the club went 16-16-9, and in 2007-08, they finished once again with an 18-17-6 record. Not a playoff berth to be found.


The last time the Buds came within a sniff of the postseason was in 2006-07, when they missed the dance by one measly point, just behind the New York Islanders. You all remember watching the shootout save by Scott Clemmensen that kissed the Leafs season goodbye.

But what was the Leafs home record that season, in which they were within one save of a playoff berth, you ask?


Huh, funny what a little home cooking can do.

The season before that, they were 26-12-3, a great record at home, and though they missed the playoffs by two points, it was that home record that got them close.

The last time the Leafs made the postseason, in 2003-04, they finished 22-14-3 at the ACC. They had 103 points and had the fourth seed heading into the first round (and you don't have to think very hard as to who they found themselves up against).

So it's obvious, home ice success usually means season success, and when you don't have that you don't get a chance to dance for the Stanley Cup in June.

This season, through 12 home games, the Leafs are a respectable 6-4-2, and after Wednesday night are just four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. With 29 games remaining at the ACC, they have plenty of opportunities to pad the win column in the standings.

If the club wants to even come close to a playoff spot this season, they have to improve on home ice. If there isn't some sort of intimidation for opponents arriving in Toronto, knowing that they're going to get the Leafs' best effort every home game, then the Leafs can once again watch the playoffs from the comfort of their own home.

And in this case, I mean "home" as in the one where they'll be eating Cheetos and Timbits on the couch in front of the TV. Yeah, that home.

They're off to a good start this season, and though the majority of fans are usually more worried about pleasing their clients and not getting mustard on their ties than the action on the ice, more wins might eventually change that.

If the Leafs want playoff hockey this season, they're going to need for "home sweet home" to apply to the Air Canada Center. Because, for far too long, home ice for the Leafs usually has the fans leaving sour.


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