NHL: Are the Toronto Maple Leafs Playoff Bound?

Mark RitterSenior Writer IFebruary 18, 2011

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  Brian Campbell #51 of the Chicago Blackhawks hoists the Stanley Cup after teammate Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 and win the Stanley Cup in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Heading into Thursday night's action, the Toronto Maple Leafs sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, a mere six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

With a record of 25-27-6, the Maple Leafs don’t really look like a playoff team, but as the rise of the New Jersey Devils (8-1-1 in their past 10 games) and close to unbeatable for the better part of a month now, anything can happen.

The question is, with three teams to pass, can the Maple Leafs get hot enough to capture the final playoff spot in the East?

The obvious answer is probably not, but as the saying goes, “stranger things have happened.”

Last season, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference earned a total of 88 points (both the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens hit the 88 point mark); the year before, you needed 93 points and the year before that, it was 94 points to make the playoffs in the East.

If we take an average of 90 points to make the playoffs, the Maple Leafs would have to go on a miraculous run if they were to find themselves in a playoff race, let alone make the playoffs.

Sitting ahead of the Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference standings are the Atlanta Thrashers (who have been struggling of late) and the Buffalo Sabres—who have equaled the Blue and Whites’ 6-3-1 streak over the past ten games.

The Sabres are fortunate enough to have one of the best goaltenders on the planet in Ryan Miller and they happen to have two games in hand on the Leafs as well, so don’t count on them blowing up anytime soon.

Ahead of the Sabres sit the Carolina Hurricanes who, while 4-4-2 in their past ten games, have been in the playoff race all season long and, as long as they do not turn into sellers at the trade deadline, should continue to play solid hockey down the stretch.

With 56 points on the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs would have to earn a minimum of 34 points in their final 24 games, which equates to a record of 17-7-0.

It says here, while I admire the progress this team has made over the past week and a half, there is no way the Maple Leafs are going to win 17 of their next 24 games.

With Brian Burke looking more like a seller than a buyer at the deadline and veteran puck moving defenseman looking more and more like he’ll be traded to the Boston Bruins, there is nothing to suggest that the Maple Leafs are going to improve dramatically and, even if they somehow manage to get hot, it’s pretty tough to pass three teams with 24 games to go in the season.

The good news is with the Colorado Avalanche (1-8-1 in their past 10 games), St. Louis Blues (3-4-3 in their past 10 games) and Atlanta Thrashers (2-5-3 in their past 10 games), are all struggling mightily.

With this in mind, the Buds have a very good shot of getting out of a lottery position— which, given the Boston Bruins hold the Maple Leafs first round draft choice in the upcoming draft, would soften the blow on the Phil Kessel trade ever so slightly.

So, as much as it pains me to rain on the Leafs Nation’s parade, it appears pretty certain that the Maple Leafs will not be making the playoffs this year but, as the saying goes, “there’s always next year.”

Then again, I think it’s safe to say Maple Leaf fans are growing very tired of hearing that saying!

Until next time,