The Toronto Maple Leafs are in somewhat of a pickle. It’s a question, one that is usually pretty easy to answer. Is it a good thing if they make the playoffs?
Entering the 2016-17 season, there weren’t that many expectations facing the team. After all, they had just finished last in the NHL the season prior. Even with a player like Auston Matthews, a team doesn’t make the transition from rebuilding team to a playoff team that quickly.
The thing is, the Leafs’ strong play (at times) coupled with a weaker Atlantic Division has presented the team with an opportunity to make the playoffs. With one of the youngest teams in the NHL, the playoffs present another chance to learn what it takes to succeed in the league. No one expects them to do any damage if they get there, so the Leafs have absolutely nothing to lose.
The Leafs currently have 76 points. That puts them one point behind the New York Islanders for the second wild card spot. They are fifth-place in the Atlantic, with the Tampa Bay Lightning also sitting between the Leafs and the playoffs. They are six points behind the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic.
A Tough Road Ahead
The problem for the Leafs is that their remaining schedule does them no favors. They play Tampa Bay twice, Chicago, Boston, Columbus twice, New Jersey, Buffalo twice, Florida, Nashville, Detroit, Washington and Pittsburgh. Only the Panthers, Sabres, Red Wings and Devils have fewer points than the Leafs. Although seeing that the Panthers gave the Leafs one of their worst losses of the season this past Tuesday, nothing should be put past this team at this point. If the Leafs continue to have the effort they showed against the Panthers, they don’t even deserve to make the playoffs.
This creates another problem. The Leafs shouldn’t be under any pressure to make the playoffs, but one decision has changed that. At the trade deadline, the Leafs traded a second-round pick to the Lightning in exchange for Brian Boyle. That is a trade a team that expects to make the playoffs makes. There is now a distinct possibility that the Lightning, a team that helped the Leafs with a trade, could make the playoffs instead of the Leafs. If they end up missing the playoffs after giving up a second-round pick, it will be very disappointing.
The Leafs are a growing team. There are going to be mistakes made. It’s just that the Leafs have shown how good they are going to be at times already this season. They give Leafs fans a reason to be excited, which makes it even more frustrating when they lay an egg like they did in Sunrise against the Panthers.
What lies ahead for the Maple Leafs? Will they make the playoffs after a full season for the first time since 2004 or will there be disappointment once again?