Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Long Dreary Post About Playoff Dreams And Statistical Improbability With A Little Bit Of Optimism At The End

Some statistics to throw out there. Just a reality check, I guess - 'see where we're at. It doesn't seem like the Leafs have been playing that great lately, but it does feel like they're playing better. They have won 2 in a row, and 3 out of 4, and are now 4-3-1 for the month so far. Going back as far as Feb. 19th, exactly a month ago, the Leafs are 8-3-3 in their last 14. That's a winning percentage of .678 over four weeks. Most frustrating, their only regulation losses over that stretch are against Ottawa, Tampa Bay, and Edmonton - teams they should be able beat. If they continue the pace they're on over their remaining 11 games they might pick up another 15 points and finish with 86 points. 90 points is considered the minimum for reaching the playoffs.

Meanwhile, last night, the Carolina Hurricanes picked up a victory, beating up the emotionally drained New Jersey Devils the night after Brodeur's record-setting win. For Carolina, it's a huge win that ties them with Montreal for 7th in the East with 81 points, 3 ahead of the Florida Panthers - the Leafs' opponent for tonight's game. With 2 games in hand however, and 12 more to go on the schedule, the Panthers are still very much in the battle for the last playoff spot.

For the Leafs, the playoff drive, which never really began - in November when it could have mattered - is already done. Newsflash: The Leafs are not going to make the playoffs. You could have said that in December, or even September, and you probably did several times very directly, but a few of us die-hards held out hope and dared to dream of revisiting the post-season. Boundless optimism in the face mediocrity only goes so far, however. "Anything is possible" doesn't sound so good when it's followed up with "though statistically, it's highly improbable".

The Playoff(s!!!1) Dream is over. All that is left is to make it a formality. Toronto's tragic number now sits at 12. That is to say: any combination of points earned by the 8th place team, currently Carolina, and points squandered by the Leafs equalling 12 will mean that the Leafs have been officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. To put it simply; 3 Carolina wins (6 points) and 3 Toronto losses (6 points missed) will eliminate the Leafs. That's all. If Carolina wins just 3 of their remaining 10 and Toronto loses only 3 of their remaining 11, both teams will have 87 points and Carolina would advance on most wins. It's reasonable to assume that the Hurricanes are easily going to win at least 3, and just as reasonable to assume the Leafs will lose at least 3, if not 6 or 7. Without a mighty, mighty miracle, it's simply a matter of time.

There are still reasons for optimism however, as I eluded to in my title. Thus, I will present them to you, with bold headings, in a list going down, with numbers going up.

1. OLAS, Grabbo, and Super-Kule. The Leafs have 3 rookies in Schenn, Grabovski, and Kulemin, that have not only survived an NHL season, they've also shown that they can flourish and develop. It'll be interesting to see how each of them matures in their sophomore season, but so far they've all managed to take a big step forwards without hardly any sliding back. Congratulations to all of them for earning their ice-time and deserving the sweater.

2. Kaberle, Kubina, Schenn, White, Finger, Van Ryn, Frogren. I really like this 7-pack of defencemen. I'm happy having every single one of these guys on my team, and as long as this unit can stay healthy (yes, Van Ryn, we're all lookin' at you) for a consistent stretch, I think they're as solid as any group of defenceman from top to bottom. I'm not completely sold on Finger, and Ian White may be the weakest link in the chain here, but I'm hesitant to underestimate either of them anymore. Soft coverage or making bonehead mistakes can be overlooked when you play really, really well most of the time. For this year it's a write-off, but for next year, I'm excited to see what this group can do if they play together over an entire season.

3. The Draft and Brian Burke. I just know he's gonna do something good here. It doesn't matter where we finish in the standings, 'cause Burke'll do whatever it takes to get us the player(s) that he wants. What I'm really hoping for, is that the Leafs somehow acquire a 2nd pick in the top 10, allowing them to draft the younger Schenn, Brayden, and another prospect as well. That is the plan, at least, my plan. Make it happen, Burke old boy. We're counting on you.

And since we're speaking directly, Brian, and as long as you're taking requests; please bring back Belak, okay? That one's vital.


Chemmy said...

I want to like our d-core but our biggest problem all year has been defense.

Kaberle, Kubina, Van Ryn, Schenn, Finger, Frogren, who's not pulling their weight?

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Loved the title of the post, Genereal...

general borschevsky said...

Chemmy!! I think a lot rests on Van Ryn's shoulders. If he can stay healthy, it'll allow the group to settle and get used to their specific roles. I just like the whole group, even White, and I think they could play very well in meaningful hockey games next year.

Hey, eyebleaf! Cheers, as always.

Unknown said...

Let's not forget John Mitchell and Anton Stralman who has played really well as of late (how about that hipcheck on Vinny?)

I think the Leafs should jettison Kaberle off at the draft and keep Kubina for the remainder of his contract/extend him....

general borschevsky said...

Hi Naveed! Thanks for the comment and welcome. You're absolutely right about Mitchell - I should have included him along with Schenn, Grabbo, and Kulemin. He's developed nicely this year.

If I had to choose, I'd personally keep Kaberle over Kubina, but I really like having them both back there. My fear is that as soon as you get rid of one, you'll be looking for the exact same kind of player to replace him with, and all-star defenceman are not that easy to come by.

Down Goes Brown said...

I'm reading a lot of talk about how Burke will definitely do something big at or around the draft.

Not to be a downer, but if he couldn't make anything happen at the deadline, why do we think he'll come out with guns blazing at the draft? It's not like any of his assets have increased in value.

I suppose you can factor in Kubina's NTC status and maybe a healthy Kaberle. But it just seems like Burke doesn't seem all that eager to blow this thing up.

general borschevsky said...

Hey, DGB! I'm not sure we need to blow the whole thing up. Slow and steady improvement/development with the players we have, plus a couple more young up-and-comers and a couple good veterans, and I think we're easily a playoff calibre team next year. Not a Cup contender, not yet, but we could challenge for 2nd in our division, maybe.

Also, I can't possibly imagine you ever being a downer. That doesn't seem like you.

Pseudonym said...

I love your limitless optimism. I'm not sold on Grabovski and I doubt Burke. He's probably trying to figure out how he can get back that 2nd rounder he gave up for him. Rather, I'm looking forward to Tlusty and Mitchell getting bigger roles on the team.

I'm also not sold on the defense. The two young players (White and Schenn) will get better but the rest are veterans except Frogren who is an old rookie. So how much better will they get?

As for 2 picks in the top 10 of the draft. Will only happen if you give up Schenn. If you can't pry loose a first rounder at the trading deadline then you won't find any on draft day. The shrinking salary cap has killed any notion of moving picks. But look to Moore coming back. He is pointless in Buffalo so he can kiss his dream $3 million a year contract goodbye.

general borschevsky said...

Hey Pseudonym! Thanks for dropping by.

First off, I'm so glad to see Tlusty really is developing with the Marlies, so there's one more young player that should help the Leafs be better next year.

As for the draft, I realize 2 top 10 picks is really wishful thinking, but if it could be arranged it would really take the sting off of finishing 11th. We're not going to get a top 3 pick I don't think, so 2 in the top 10, however unlikely, is the best case scenario.

And finally, I don't think this defensive group is that bad, they just haven't had a chance to play together without disruption. Maybe that's just the NHL and every team goes through it, but it seems the Leaf defence has lost a heck of a lot of games to injury. That means the other healthy players are playing more then they should, and too often filling roles they're less suited for.

Going back to Chemmy's comment off the top, "our biggest problem all year has been defense", I thought about that a bit more and I disagree, I think the biggest problem was Toskala's poor efforts early on, and then a lack of focus and desire through December and January as injuries ate up the blue line.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

I'd love to see how this team would have done with a capable and fully healthy goalie...