Toronto Maple Leafs' Fall Isn't Imminent, It Has Already Happened

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistNovember 22, 2013

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 16:  James Reimer #34 and Jake Gardiner #51 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate the teams win over the Buffalo Sabres during NHL game action November 16, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
Graig Abel/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not a very good team, and their record proves it.

"Now hold on a moment," the reader is doubtlessly saying. Toronto is 13-8-1 on the season and, entering action on Friday, sits fourth in the Eastern Conference. It’s one thing to argue that the team isn’t good, but how does its record show it?

That’s the argument that will be made below, and in some detail, but the simple explanation is as follows. Thanks to a bunch of (mostly unrepeatable) factors, Toronto got off to a 6-1-0 start. Since then, the team has barely trodden water, going 7-7-1 despite elite goaltending.

Again, the reader is not expected to take our word for it. Let’s look at the difference between the Maple Leafs’ start and what they have done lately.

We’ll start with special teams, since that’s where the most interesting numbers are to be found.

On the penalty kill, Toronto currently boasts an 82.4 percent success rate, good for 16th in the NHL. What’s interesting is the split. In the first seven games, where Toronto went 6-1-0, the team went 24-for-27 while down a man (88.9 percent). Since then, Toronto has killed just 46 of 58 opposition power plays (79.3 percent).

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

What happened? Let’s look at some of the team's numbers in four-on-five situations:

Toronto Maple Leafs, four-on-five
SegmentShots AgainstShots Against/GameSave Percentage
First seven games497.00.959
Last 15 games1016.70.881

Shot rates are virtually unchangedthe only difference is save percentage. Are the Leafs getting a bad run of play from their goalies? Not really. According to Behind the Net, a 0.881 save percentage would have ranked ninth in the NHL last year.

It’s the 0.959 save percentage that was inhuman and made the Leafs’ penalty kill look better than it really is.

What about the power play? Toronto currently ranks third in the NHL with a 23.6 percent success rate. Again, though, that’s heavily influenced by those first seven games. Toronto went 9-for-27 on the power play in that span (33.3 percent success rate).

Since then, the Leafs have gone just 8-for-45, a 17.7 percent success rate that would rank the team in the bottom third of NHL teams.

To see what happened, let’s look at the five-on-four numbers:

Toronto Maple Leafs, five-on-four
SegmentShots Shots /GameShooting Percentage
First seven games456.417.8
Last 15 games714.711.3

Are the shooters snakebitten? A little bit, perhaps. An 11.3 shooting percentage would have ranked 21st in the NHL last year, so there may be room for improvement there. The Leafs won’t likely get back to that 17.8 shooting percent number they had in the first seven games, though. That would have been the second-best number in the NHL last year.  

So far, we’ve seen that unsustainably good special teams have crashed and are dragging Toronto’s record down with them. What about even-strength play?

Let’s start with the five-on-five goal scoring numbers:

Toronto Maple Leafs, five-on-five goal-scoring
SegmentShots Shots/GameShooting Percentage
First seven games13819.79.4
Last 15 games28318.98.5

Again, we see the numbers dropping, and again it isn’t a case of the Leafs being especially snakebitten. A 9.4 shooting percentage at five-on-five would have been fifth-best in the NHL last season, while a 8.5 percent conversion rate would still have been good for 11th.

The Leafs’ five-on-five goal scoring has dropped off and there is little reason to expect it to come back.

Do the goals-against numbers at five-on-five offer any comfort?

Toronto Maple Leafs, five-on-five goals against
SegmentShots AgainstShots Against/GameSave Percentage
First seven games17825.40.933
Last 15 games39826.50.950

Not even a little bit. In fact, these numbers suggest that things could be about to get much worse for Toronto.

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 8:  Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Toronto Maple Leafs defends the goal during NHL game action against the New Jersey Devils November 8, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Ima
Graig Abel/Getty Images

A 0.933 save percentage would have been the second-best total in the NHL last season. A 0.950 save percentage is inhuman and impossible to sustain over a long stretch.

Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have both played like an in-his-prime Dominik Hasek over the last 15 games, and that’s been the only thing keeping Toronto around the 0.500 mark over that stretch.

If, as seems likely, that duo cools off in the coming games, there won’t be anything to stop the Maple Leafs’ fall.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used here come from NHL.com, ExtraSkater.com or BehindtheNet.ca.

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!