The Maple Leafs are the betting favourites in their play-in series with the Columbus Blue Jackets. But, according to sportsclubstats.com, 15 of the 24 teams in the NHL playoffs have a higher percentage of winning the Stanley Cup than Toronto.
The Leafs chances’ are rated at just 1.5 per cent.
But here are four reasons why the Leafs might win the Cup — and why we think they at least deserve to be among the top-10 teams — and two reasons why they might not:
Why the Leafs might win
Speed plus youth plus experience: The Leafs are as fast as any club in the league. Toronto is also the fifth-youngest team, with an average age of 26.1 years, which could be an advantage in a short, intense run of games to the Cup. And most of that roster has been together through three playoffs, all first-round exits. Even Columbus coach John Tortorella is dressing his best-skating lineup against the Leafs. These playoffs are expected to be played at a high pace. The Leafs are as well-equipped there as any team.
The calm of Frederik Andersen: The goaltender has had but one exhibition game to prepare for these playoffs, but he looked calm and in full control. That’s Andersen at his best: When he is seeing shots, tracking them, and moving fluidly to stop them, without panic, he’s tough to beat. Andersen had a disappointing .909 save percentage this season, so he has something to prove. And he is often stellar when a challenge is set before him.
The stamp of Sheldon Keefe: Keefe had his first opportunity to run a Leafs camp as the team prepared for these playoffs. And four months of thinking and a couple of weeks of practices to tailor this roster, he has the team looking better defensively, and even more protective of the puck when they have it on offence. His team is deep offensively, especially with the return of Ilya Mikheyev, but he’s also driven home the need for more cohesive play as a five-man unit. His stamp is on this team. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
The surprise scorer: Nick Robertson, who spent the season in junior, has proven he has the speed, the shot and the puck-pursuit skills to help the Leafs. Keefe and GM Kyle Dubas will not necessarily follow the traditional thinking that a raw rookie like Robertson should not have a part in a playoff run.
Why the Leafs might not win
Defence: Is this a group that has grown from past experience, and from the tweaks that Keefe and his staff have made in summer camp? Or is it another version of past blue lines that crumbled under pressure and struggled against the forecheck and the cycle. Morgan Rielly looks great after a so-so regular season. But there is pressure on Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin to be the shutdown pair throughout the playoffs.
Toughness: Can the Leafs overcome a lack of physicality with their speed? It’s an annual comparison, and they’ve come up short against the grinding, punishing Bruins the last two seasons. Teams will try to lean on the Leafs in their own zone. According to Sportlogiq, they gave up the most goals in the NHL off the cycle this season. Toronto believes its speed can prevent or reduce pressure in its own zone. This will be another test for the style that Dubas and Keefe have embraced.
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