The Toronto Maple Leafs have not made the playoffs for six straight seasons. Brian Burke has built a team that he hopes will end that streak and bring the Leafs back to the promised land.
The Leafs are in the Northeast Division, a division that could have anywhere from two to four teams make the playoffs depending on how the other fringe playoff teams fare. For the past few seasons, the Leafs have ended up finishing in fourth or fifth place and were in no place to contend for the playoffs.
How the Leafs fare against their fellow teams in the Northeast Division will go a long way to determining whether the Leafs make the playoffs or not. With six games against each team, that adds up to 24 divisional games. That means 48 points are up for grabs. How many of those points will go the Leafs' way is the question.
In the Northeast Division, the Leafs have two big teams that will force them to earn every point they get against them. One of those teams could easily finish higher or lower than the Leafs, and the other presents an opportunity to collect a bunch of points.
The Boston Bruins are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they won’t be giving up their position atop the division without a fight. The team that will give them the most fight is the Buffalo Sabres. They have given the Leafs problems for the past few seasons and with the improvements they have made, it could be even harder for the Leafs to win points against them. The Leafs will need to get at least half of the points available to better their chances at the playoffs.
Where will the Leafs finish in the Northeast Division?
The Montreal Canadiens are a team that finished just ahead of the Leafs in the standings. Judging by the improvement the Leafs made and the lack of any real improvement by the Canadiens in the offseason, the Leafs have a real chance at passing them. Seeing that the Habs have been a playoff team for the past few seasons, passing them could mean a playoff spot.
The Ottawa Senators present a real opportunity for any team in the Northeast to rack up points. With the Sens rebuilding, points could be ripe for the Leafs' taking. The way the Leafs have been playing the Sens in the preseason brings credence to that fact as the Sens won’t be showcasing that much of a different roster.
So as I see it, these are the projected final standings in the Northeast Division
Does this mean that the Leafs will make the playoffs? No. It does mean they will have improved and will definitely be closer to the playoffs. If the Leafs get a few breaks going their way for once, they could wind up ending the six-year streak. Whether they do or not, we’ll have to wait until April to find out.