Much like Charlie Brown trying to figure out whether Lucy will pull the football away, the hockey world is transfixed on the Toronto Maple Leafs, and whether they will finally get out of the first round in the NHL salary cap era. And if you want to bet on it in Ontario, we have Toronto odds and the special sign-up offers at legal sportsbooks.
Will Toronto Break The Curse?
For Leafs fans, the traumas of their past have the fanbase … well … traumatized, and understandably a little paranoid:
- Blowing a 4-1 lead in Game 7 in 2013
- Game 7 loss in 2018
- Game 7 loss in 2019
- Losing to their own Zamboni driver on Hockey Night in Canada in 2020
- Losing in the fake, pre-playoff round in the 2020 bubble
- Blowing a 3-1 series lead in 2021
This year, however? The Leafs ( to win the Stanley Cup, to win Eastern Conference) are really, really good – and they’re going to make a deep run.
The Case Against Toronto Odds
Let’s start with the case against the Leafs, which is simple – the East is really good, and the Leafs couldn’t even beat a Montreal team that came 18th in the regular season last year despite having a 3-1 lead.
Throw in the fact that the Leafs have a three-headed goaltending crew where none of them are reliable, or particularly good right now, and you have a recipe for the Leafs making a first-round exit again – their sixth in a row and seventh since the 2012-13 lockout.
That they might not have home ice in a series, given the unpredictable nature of Boston, Tampa, and Toronto’s standings finishes, is another knock on their chances.
That all said, this is the best Leafs team of the Shanahan Era, and they’re gonna make noise.
The Case For Toronto Odds
They Don’t Need Elite Goaltending
The Leafs struggles have been both real and overstated in the crease, with the team still reliably winning while they suffered from bad Jack Campbell and Peter Mrazek not knowing where his posts were, but the fear always was how it would work in the playoffs.
The problem with that narrative is, they don’t need November’s version of Jack Campbell – the elite goaltender who managed to earn an All-
Star appearance on one good month. They just need “good enough” goaltending, which is what they should be able to get from the combination of Campbell, Mrazek (if healthy), and Erik Kallgren, and what they didn’t get at key times in past runs.
In 2018, Frederik Andersen managed to only put up a .896 Save% in that loss to Boston, and the next two years, good overall series numbers masked his inability to step up in big moments – the weak Game 7 performance in 2019 and blowing the Game 3 lead in 2020.
In 2021 Jack Campbell was better than they’re likely to get this year, but Campbell both has experience in the playoffs now and he has a better team in front of him, making it easier for him.
The Defence Is Substantially Better
When fully healthy, the Leafs will only have to play one of the four players who got regular playoff minutes at the bottom of their defence core last year because of improvements, with Mark Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin serious improvements over the Dermott/Holl/Sandin/Liljegren quad of talented, but unreliable, options that were getting run last year.
Once Jake Muzzin comes back, the Leafs will be able to run three deep, defensively solid defence pairs, which will reduce the chances of brain farts costing the Leafs, as they did in the overtimes of both Game 5 and Game 6 in 2021.
With more physicality in the playoff game, the 2021 Leafs Defence core was too much skill and finesse and not tough enough, but with Giordano and Lyubushkin, that problem is solved. If the improved defence core can keep the front of the net clear, then even the Leafs goalies should be able to make the necessary saves.
Their Win Profile Is Impressive
The Leafs have 9 wins out of 15 games against Eastern Playoff teams, including recent wins over the Panthers and Hurricanes, the two Division leaders, and took 3 of 4 points off the Colorado Avalanche, the likely President’s Cup champions. So, why are they flirting with a wild card?
They took 0 points from the Arizona Coyotes and have two losses to the Montreal Canadiens and two more to the Buffalo Sabres. That they can botch easily winnable games isn’t good, but it’s better than winning all the games they should and getting consistently worked by the best teams.
If you limit it to the post-December break, and you expand to all teams currently in a playoff spot in both conferences, the Leafs have taken 21 of a possible 28 points from those games (a 10-3-1 record). They’re good – in fact, they’re really good – when they play the best teams in hockey, and that matters more in the playoffs than whether you can get up for a random Tuesday night game in Arizona.
Matthews, Marner, And Tavares Will Be Better
It is unfair to lump Tavares into this category, given his absence from the score sheet was due to a freak injury, not playing badly, but the Leafs have 3 $11M/year players on their team and they collectively scored 1 goal in 7 games last year.
The aging wonder that is Jason Spezza scored 3 times as many goals on his $700k salary than $33M of cap space managed in the 2021 playoffs.
There’s just no way that happens again.
Marner has already set a career high in goals with 27 in 56 games, and is still managing to set up linemate Matthews for a season where Matthews is on pace for 60 goals despite missing five games. That that line also has made Michael Bunting, who the Leafs signed for nothing in the summer, into a Calder candidate, is a sign of just how elite they’ve been.
On the other hand, Tavares and William Nylander haven’t been nearly as good as they should be in recent weeks, but the bar isn’t the elite series Nylander had in 2021, they just have to be good – and if college phenom Matthew Knies comes and augments that line, it could be the spark they’ve needed.
If the Big 4 click, they can’t be outscored.
All in, this is decidedly the best Leafs team of the Shanahan Era, and they’ve been putting up results against good teams when they have to. The scar tissue that Leaf fans have is real – the name David Ayres alone is enough to trip some PTSD – but unfounded.
This team is really, really good, and they’re going to make a deeper run in the playoffs.