The Toronto Maple Leafs found another way to lose Thursday night, this time at the hands of the Arizona Coyotes. Jonathan Bernier allowed three goals in the third period, including one from nearly 125 feet from his own goal, on route to a 3-1 defeat.
The Team’s Hottest Streak, Their Biggest Crutch
For the Leafs that gives them eight straight losses and their 16th loss in their last 19 games. This season has been a tale of two teams. It is hard to comprehend the fact that prior to this debacle of games, that the Leafs were enjoying a 10-1-1 record and seemingly looked destined to challenge for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Fast forward nearly a month and a half and now the team’s winning streak looks to be the worst thing the team could have done this season. The Buds currently sit 11th in the conference and 10 points out of the final playoff spot, which given their dramatic collapse, it’s surprising they aren’t even lower. However, lower might very well be where they want to head.
A Poor Finish Makes Most Sense This Season
This year is set to have one of the strongest draft classes in recent memory with the likes of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel Dylan Strome, and many more. The Maple Leafs could very well continue to drop into better contention for one of those names, but with teams such as Edmonton and Buffalo unlikely to heat up it will be hard to kick them out of the basement.
Which is why the team’s 10-1-1 streak from late November to mid-December could really be hurting the team. The Leafs currently find themselves with 48 points in the standings, with 21 of those coming during that 12-game streak. If the team had managed to drop half of those games or for instance take just 11 of those points, the team would be sitting with 38 points.
With that total, the team would find themselves in second-last place in the East, ahead of only the Sabres and third-worst in the NHL with only the Oilers having fewer points than the other two. The Leafs are currently 23rd overall in the league standings. At that spot they have the team has a 6% chance of winning the first-overall pick in the draft. If they were to find themselves in 28th spot, as they could have, those odds would jump up to 11.5%.
This year what is also interesting is that the top-3 picks will be chosen via the lottery, and then the rest of the teams four through 14 will pick in order of fewest points. Meaning not only does a poorer finish give the team better odds to win the top-3 picks, but if they cant swing those, the worse off the better they are.
To see how this could pan out fans can check out www.nhllotterysimulator.com. The site updates the standings every night and takes into affect the probability each of the bottom 14 teams outside the playoffs and with the click of a button randomly creates a possible outcome for the upcoming draft. FYI, my first click on the site saw Toronto take the number one spot, wouldn’t you know it. So those wanting to see just how good the team’s odds can improve can see first-hand.
Tanking Should Be Priority
The Maple Leafs look to be into the tanking spirit for the time being, whether that is their intention or not. They have some aspiring young talent in the form of players such as Josh Leivo, Stuart Percy, William Nylander, and arguably whoever the get this upcoming draft. The team has never gone for a complete tank on a season and has instead tried to improve the team by adding one piece at a time as they continued along.
This year they have the chance to finally collapse the way they should. By going for it all, by going for nothing (if that makes sense). The Leafs will be in a much better position for the future if they continue to lose, let’s just hope for the team’s sake that they didn’t ruin that chance by being hot earlier this season.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.