This summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets will meet in a pre-playoff “qualifying round” for the right to participate in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That best-of-five series will be the highlight of the teams’ history. Not only will it determine which one is a playoff team this year, but it will also be the first time the two have faced each other more than three times in a season.
When the play-in round begins (at least one source says that will be on July 29), nine months will have passed since the teams last met. If the series goes the full five games, it will equal the total number of games played against each other in the last 30 months. These teams have not met very often.
The Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets don’t have much history, and even less that could be considered a “rivalry.” Before the Blue Jackets moved to the Eastern Conference for the 2013-14 season, there were a pair of seasons when the teams didn’t play each other at all (not including 2004-05, when the season was cancelled), including the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and 2005-06, when the schedulers didn’t include a game between the teams.
All-time, the Maple Leafs’ record against the Blue Jackets is 14 wins, 11 losses, three overtime losses, one shootout loss, and one tie. Since Columbus joined the Eastern Conference, the Maple Leafs’ record is 8-10-2 (the final game of this season was cancelled due to the coronavirus Pause). That’s a total of 30 regular-season games and none in the playoffs – ever – in 19 seasons.
For comparison, the Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens, a rivalry that dates from 1917, includes 747 regular-season games and 71 post-season games, for a total of 818 games.
Toronto vs. Columbus – What’s the Score?
From 2000-01, when the Blue Jackets joined the league, to the 2012-13 season, Columbus played in the Western Conference while the Maple Leafs were in the East. Through those nine seasons Toronto’s record against Columbus was 6-1-3, with the “3” including one shootout loss (2008-09), one overtime loss (2002-03), and one tie (2000-01).
Since the 2013-14 season, the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jackets have been in the same conference. In the seven seasons since Columbus moved to the East, the Maple Leafs record against them is 8-10-2. Toronto has had only two winning seasons against the Blue Jackets in this period. Here’s the season-by-season breakdown:
- 2013-14: 0-3-0 (L/L/L)
- 2014-15: 2-1-0 (W/W/L)
- 2015-16: 1-2-0 (W/L/L)
- 2016-17: 1-2-0 (L/W/L)
- 2017-18: 1-1-1 (L/OTL/W)
- 2018-19: 2-1-0 (W/L/W)
- 2019-20: 1-0-1 (W/OTL)
Recent Maple Leafs – Blue Jackets Games
To get a sense of how the teams stack up going into the qualifying round, let’s look at the five most recent games, in reverse chronological order.
October 21, 2019, CBJ 4 -TOR 3 (OT): The Blue Jackets got on the board twice in the first six minutes, scoring shorthanded and even-strength goals. Also in the 1st period, the Maple Leafs scored shorthanded and at even strength. Toronto had the only goal in the 2nd period, taking a 3-2 lead. A Columbus power-play goal in the middle of the 3rd period tied the game. The Blue Jackets’ Gustav Nyquist ended the game less than two minutes into OT. (Frederik Andersen took the loss.)
October 4, 2019, TOR 4 – CBJ 1: The Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win left fans with a great feeling – the scorers scored, the defense was strong, and Columbus’ only goal was a power-play marker. Mitch Marner had two goals and an assist, John Tavares had a pair of helpers, as did Morgan Rielly; Auston Matthews scored his third of the year in just his second game. Each team had 29 shots, but Toronto made them count. (Andersen got the win.)
Related: 7 Cool Things About Auston Matthews
December 28, 2018, TOR 4 – CBJ 2: Toronto’s 4-2 victory saw Tavares score his 25th and 26th of the 2018-19 season, with Marner assisting on both; the 4th line of Frederik Gautthier (goal) with Par Lindholm and Trevor Moore (assists) also contributed. Each team had 29 shots. (Garret Sparks got the win.)
November 23, 2018 CBJ 4 – TOR 2: In the second straight game against the Blue Jackets, the Maple Leafs came up short, losing 4-2, despite outshooting their opponent 34-19. (Andersen took the loss.)
November 19, 2018, TOR 4 – CBJ 2: The Blue Jackets led 2-0 at the end of the 1st period, but the Maple Leafs scored four unanswered goals for a 4-2 victory. Zach Hyman had a pair of goals, Ron Hainsey and Marner each had a pair of assists, and Tavares scored and assisted. Columbus outshot the home team 39-26. (Andersen recorded the win.)
In the past two seasons, in the five most recent games between the teams, Toronto’s record against the Blue Jackets is 3-1-1, outscoring them 17-13. One note: While both teams were bitten by the injury bug in 2019-20, neither was seriously depleted when the two October games were played. When the qualification round begins, Toronto and Columbus should both be at or near full strength.
The Blue Jackets lost a league-leading 420 man games to injury, including 11 regulars out of the lineup at the same time. When the Qualifying Round begins, every Blue Jacket should be healthy, with the exception of Brandon Dubinsky, whose wrist injury has kept him out of the lineup all season.
The Maple Leafs “man games lost to injury” is a skewed statistic. For financial reasons, Toronto carries two players on its roster who have not played hockey in years and are expected to never return to the ice. Nathan Horton last played in 2013-14 and David Clarkson in 2015-16.
Nevertheless, all of the team’s regular roster should be healthy and ready to play when the Qualification Round begins. That includes key defenseman Jake Muzzin (recovered from a broken hand) and rookie Ilya Mikheyev.
One Trade and 20 Former Players
Believe it or not, in 20 years there has only been one direct trade between Toronto and Columbus. Shortly after the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Toronto sent defenseman Scott Harrington and a conditional 5th-round draft pick to Columbus for forward Kerby Rychel. The terms of the conditional pick were never met, so it ended up being Harrington for Rychel, who never made it out of the AHL while in the Toronto organization.
(I should note that, in a financial deal, the rights to Nathan Horton were traded from Columbus to Toronto in exchange for the rights to David Clarkson, who – as noted above – are both now on long-term IR for the Maple Leafs. Horton never played a game for the Maple Leafs, while Clarkson managed 26 games for the Blue Jackets.)
Harrington played 15 games (2015-16) for Toronto and has, to date, played 166 games for Columbus, mostly as a depth defenseman. A number of other players, including Hainsey, have spent time with both teams. Some only had a cup of coffee with each team, such as Kevin Dahl and Donald MacLean, who each played 3 games for the Maples leafs and 4 for the Blue Jackets. Four players topped 82 games with each of the teams:
- Ron Hainsey: Toronto – 161 games, Columbus – 213 games.
- Fredrik Modin: Toronto – 150, Columbus – 176
- Luke Richardson: Toronto – 299, Columbus – 108
- Anton Stralman: Toronto – 88, Columbus – 124
In total, 20 players have worn both sweaters, but usually with at least one team in between. Interestingly, over half were defensemen and only one played goal, Curtis McElhinney. The only player still active for either team is Harrington.
Toronto – Columbus Qualifying Round Projection
At the end of the 2019-20 regular season, both the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jackets had earned 81 points in the standings through 70 games. In the play-in series, Toronto is ranked #8 and Columbus #9. (The Maple Leafs had more regulation and overtime wins during the season, the tiebreaker that determined the seedings.)
The Maple Leafs scored 238 goals, compared to the Blue Jackets 180. However, they allowed 227 goals, 40 more than Columbus. The teams play significantly different styles, Toronto relying on a powerful offence, with Columbus depending on a stout defense and a pair of above-average goalies. Which team wins the best-of-five series and moves on to the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs will likely depend on which team can impose its own style for three games.
Despite their very brief history against each other, there’s a very real possibility that Toronto and Columbus could meet in the playoffs regularly in the coming years. Between the Maple Leafs’ outstanding stable of forwards and Columbus’ defense and goaltending, these are two teams built differently, but both built to win.