The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. They haven’t been any good in years. So this past offseason, they decided to shake things up. The Leafs inked coach Mike Babcock, previously of the Detroit Red Wings, to the richest coaching contract in NHL history. They said goodbye to their best player, winger Phil Kessel. And they embarked on a unique rebuilding campaign, one with a future Hall of Fame coach at the helm.
Nobody expected immediate dividends from the Maple Leafs’ rebuilding project. But, most expected the Leafs to at least show some signs of improvementa��some indication that this was all worth it, that the team would be good sometime soon (with Babcock at the helm, tanking in 2015 didn’t seem to be the plan).
Instead, we’ve seen an even worse team than expected. The stumbling Leafs have just 25 points right now, and are easily one of the worst teams in the league. They’re dead last in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division, and are third-worst in the conference (the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets, both of the Metropolitan Division, are the only Eastern Conference teams that are worse off). So what happened? Why are the Maple Leafs this hopeless?
Their Offense is Terrible
You can’t win hockey games if you can’t score. Unfortunately, the young Leafs haven’t figured out how to score yet.
Right now, Toronto is averaging just 2.4 goals per game. That’s good for third-worst in the 30-team league, above only the Philadelphia Flyers and the surprisingly inept Anaheim Ducks.
Their young players aren’t clicking just yet. James van Riemsdyk has a +/- of -2. Morgan Rielly is at -7. These are young guys with lots of time to develop, but many of us had hoped the development would start this year. van Riemsdyk leads the team with 17 points; that puts him in a tie for 93rd place in the NHL.
The biggest problem with the Leafs early on this season was goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who was absolutely awful. Bernier stumbled through the first few months of the season, going 0-8-1 with a putrid 3.28 GAA and .888 save percentage. Bernier played so poorly that he lost his starting job, and eventually his spot on the roster. He’s been assigned to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.
The good news is that Bernier has already recorded a shutout with the Marlies, then Saturday nighta��back with the Leafsa��against the L.A. Kings, so he may yet regain some of his old form. But the damage is done: Bernier is one of the biggest reasons that Leafs fans have gone from hoping for mild improvement to actually rooting against their own team, which brings us to our next section.
Is Losing a Good Thing For the Leafs?
Okay, so the Maple Leafs aren’t showing progress just yet. But could that be a good thing?
They are still years from contention. A really poor record this season could help them by giving them a high draft pick in the next NHL draft. Then they could just start the slow slog back into relevancy next year, and forget all about this season.
Frankly, this is what most teams would doa��it’s just not something we expected from them, since they brought in Mike Babcock and appeared to want to start improving right away. But if that’s the way this goes, there’s still reason for Leafs fans to be optimistica��just not about this year.