Hypothetically, let’s pretend that the Toronto Maple Leafs make the playoffs this season.
What would this signify?
Would it prove that they’re contenders? Would it mean that Leafs fans can expect a few more weeks of meaningful hockey?
If you ask me, it would actually mean none of this. Instead, it would simply mean that the team’s luck finally returned and propelled them into a situation that otherwise shouldn’t have happened.
For the first part of the season, the Leafs were able to win despite battling several key injuries, suffering from questionable defence and showing early signs of strained player-coach relations. These problems have simply peaked in recent weeks.
You can add to this list the uneven goaltending arrangement between Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer that head coach Randy Carlyle put in place at the start of the season.
Initially, this arrangement produced positive results, but Reimer quickly faded in December after seeing himself fall behind Bernier on the team’s depth chart for no apparent reason.
Both goalies were playing good hockey up until this point (their stats were virtually identical), but Carlyle’s greater show of confidence in Bernier gradually ate away at Reimer’s confidence. Now the Leafs are left with an injured goalie in Bernier and an emotionally wounded goalie in Reimer, which is hardly the recipe for success.
Fans of the Leafs are well aware of the team’s faults: they concede too many shots; they’re prone to slow starts; their goaltending is inconsistent; and there’s no sign of leadership on the ice.
If the Leafs defied the odds and somehow found a way to make the playoffs, these faults would still exist; they’d simply be lost in all the excitement.
That would be regrettable.
A team suffering from such core faults isn’t a real contender – it’s a fluke and likely to disappoint at some later date.
Perhaps this is what happened last year – a surprise trip to the playoffs deluded us into thinking that the Leafs were contenders – and we’re just coming to realize the truth now.
Assuming this is the case, it might be best for the Leafs to lose their three remaining games on the season. This’ll leave us with no delusion about next year: they aren’t one or two pieces away from becoming contenders.
I mean, think about it. Do you really want them to make the playoffs? I’ll pass.
Let’s not celebrate mediocrity.
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