NHL Betting: Analyzing the Toronto Maple Leafs
No NHL team has been more confusing this season than the league’s flagship franchise, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite famously not having won a Stanley Cup since 1967, the Leafs came into the season as the favorite to win it all. Toronto’s preseason odds of +650 were the lowest available, followed by Tampa Bay at +800. When you consider that Tampa Bay had perhaps the greatest regular season in league history and shockingly exited the playoffs last season in the first round, you get a pretty good idea of just how highly this Toronto team was thought of heading into this campaign. So, how bad has it been? Well, the Leafs had a preseason point total of 101.5. On the one hand, the team is currently on pace to put up 98 points, which while under the total, hardly demonstrates the scale of how badly this team underperformed to start the year. When the team finally fired Head Coach Mike Babcock, a man once the most highly regarded coach in the world, the team was 9-10-4. At that time, the Leafs were on pace to end with 78 points.
The decision to fire Babcock yielded a typical honeymoon bounce for the Leafs’ new boss, Sheldon Keefe. The team reeled off three wins in a row, by a combined score of 14-4. Yet, the weeks that followed showed this was perhaps more than just a quick uptick. After a couple of bad losses to Philadelphia and Colorado, that made many wonder if Keefe’s start was smoke and mirrors, the Leafs put together their best run of the season. On a stretch of six wins out of seven, Toronto finally looked to be playing something resembling defense. Toronto gave up only 2.14 goals per game over this span. During the 23 games under Mike Babcock to start the season, the Leafs shipped a ridiculous 79 goals, 3.43 goals per game. A mere 14 games into his tenure, Keefe had more than doubled Toronto’s win total. Although Toronto would go on to win two straight games following this defensive improvement, the problems on that end of the ice came back nonetheless. Toronto beat Carolina by the absurd score line of 8-6, and then managed to give up four goals to the second-worst offensive team in the Eastern Conference, the New Jersey Devils, in a 5-4 overtime win.
Then, beginning on January 6, the Leafs reverted to their early season form completely. The team lost five of six, and gave up a preposterous 30 goals in the process.
Luckily for the Leafs, the all-star break came at just the right time. Following a 6-2 home defeat against Chicago, Toronto had a much-needed nine-day layoff. Coming out of the break, Toronto notched two quality road wins, one against a desperate Nashville team, and then a 5-3 victory over Dallas. Now, the schedule sets up nicely for the Leafs to try to solidify a playoff berth. Currently, Toronto is on the outside looking in, however, it is tied with Carolina on 61 points for that final spot. In fact, there are a whole glut of teams competing for the four last playoff positions. The Islanders, Florida, Columbus, Carolina, Philadelphia and Toronto are all sitting on between 63 and 61 points. The fact that it is so crowded is some cause for concern, as it is likely that at least a couple of these teams also get hot at some point here in the second half. However, it’s hard not to love Toronto’s chances. The Leafs simply have more talent than their competition, and easily the highest ceiling of the bunch. While the next seven days are busy for Toronto, as it plays five times, the schedule sets up pretty nicely for Toronto. It starts on Saturday, at home against the tanking Ottawa Senators. Next up is another home game against Florida. The Panthers are hot, having won six in a row. One of those games was an 8-4 destruction of Toronto, so bettors can be sure that the Leafs will have revenge in their minds. Even the travel this week looks to be pretty reasonable. There’s a quick flight down to New York to face the middling Rangers, and then back home for a very winnable game against Anaheim, one of the worst teams in the entire league. The week of action comes to a close on Saturday night, when Toronto faces rival Montreal in Quebec.
For all Toronto’s defensive frailties, it is still a good bet that this powerful offense will not be kept out of the postseason. The Leafs have scored four-plus goals in eight straight road games. Franchise player Austen Matthews has 20 goals in his last 21 games. While bettors will likely have to pay a price to get on the Leafs’ high-octane offense during this favorable schedule, there’s plenty of reason to still like the Leafs at -1.5 at home and on the money line on this week’s travels.