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UNDRAFTED

So... what now?

On the surface, the Leafs just barely avoided a sweep. Stats reveal however, that the series was far closer than you might think.

The Toronto Maple Leafs avoided the second-round sweep but were promptly dispatched by the Florida Panthers in what was a thrilling game five.



Kyle Dubas assembled a fantastic team that finally made it past the first round. The roster was stacked full of superstar talent and veteran grit, but it still wasn’t enough.



Do we consider this year a success?



It was clear at the end of last year’s series versus the Tampa Bay Lightning that the team needed to make it past the first round. Kyle Dubas was not extended when MLSE was given the option to, sending a clear message that this was an “all or nothing” year. Win in the playoffs, or we’ll find someone who will.



However, it doesn’t appear that a second-round appearance alone would have been enough to secure both Dubas and Keefe’s jobs for next season. If the Leafs were promptly swept by the Panthers, it could easily have cost both their jobs. So where does a loss in five games put them?

According to some statistics, the series was much closer than you might expect.



Although the series was over in five games, and nearly over in four, the Leafs were not blown out. In three of the Leafs' four losses, they lost by a single goal. Two of those were in overtime where the game could have gone either way with another shot.



The overall goal differential was 14-10 for the Panthers. The Leafs outshot Florida 174-154 through the series.



While the Leafs certainly didn’t do themselves any favours by practically handing the first two games of the series over, with a particularly awful effort in game two, there were some circumstances that are hard to ignore.



“We lose the series in the first three games,” said Sheldon Keefe after the series loss.



For one, Matthew Knies, who was easily one of the Leafs' most effective players through the first round, was injured for the most pivotal games of the series. It’s also worth noting that Knies was on the ice for every Leafs' overtime winner against the Lightning. The Leafs lost two games in overtime with Knies out. He would certainly have affected the play. Had they won those games in overtime, the series would now be 3-2 in Toronto’s favour.



Auston Matthews was clearly not himself in the second round. Many have pointed out what looked to be some kind of bandage or wrap on his right hand during the handshake line at the end of game five. While an injured hand or wrist was certainly a possibility for Matthews, he was also incredibly unlucky when it came to his shooting percentage and expected goals.



Matthews racked up a whopping 26 shots over five games against the Panthers, averaging over five shots per game and taking eight shots in game five alone. In what seems like a cruel joke, Matthews had an average expected goals per game of 1.46 and never scored.



Sergei Bobrovsky was his kryptonite.



Bobrovsky currently leads all remaining playoff goaltenders who have played at least 10 games in the following categories. Save percentage on unblocked shots with a .956, goals against average with a 2.82, and goals saved above expected with an incredible 9.3. (The next closest in that category is Philip Grubauer with just 1.2.) Bobrovsky stopped 164 of 174 shots from the Leafs this series, posting a .943 SV% against Toronto alone.


Point blank, he was magnificent.



What does this all mean? The stats are meant to point out that the series loss wasn’t as cut and dry as it felt. Undoubtedly, the fans, shareholders, and board members will all have their input and may want to see change at multiple levels throughout the organization. But acting on impulse after what was a much closer series than many believe it to be, would be the wrong call.



Needless to say, we may not know the fate of Kyle Dubas, Sheldon Keefe, Brendan Shanahan, or any players for weeks. The review process for ownership to make these kinds of decisions is long and complicated.


And now we wait.

Dave Felsbourg

Sunday, May 14, 2023

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