The boys in blue are 20 games in, with game 21 against the New York Islanders scheduled for tonight. With that said, let’s take a look at how the Leafs have done through the first quarter of the season.
Breaking down the numbers
Currently the Leafs are 12-7-1, good enough for third place in the Atlantic and fourth overall in the conference. Their 25 points are tied with the Red Wings and the Capitals, but the Leafs have more wins than Detroit and have played less games than the Caps. Over an 82 game season, the Leafs are currently projected to go 49-29-4 for 102 points.
Looking back at the last four full seasons, 102 points would net you a finish of 4th, 6th, 3rd and 4th, respectively.
So it would be hard to argue that the Leafs aren’t where they wanted to be. A hot start has turned into .500 level hockey for the most part, but has them set for a comfortable ride into the middle tier teams making the playoffs.
The Leafs have been strong offensively, with 57 goals in 20 games, which is tied for 6th in the conference. Their 47 goals against is even better, ranking them 3rd in the conference.
Another strong indicator of success is a solid home record, which the Leafs currently have. Their 7-2 at home entering tonight’s game against the Islanders.
Their +10 goal differential is especially good in the East, as only six teams are positive. The woeful Sabres and Panthers are -27 and -24, respectively.
Other bright spots this year have seen forward Phil Kessel playing a very strong game, while seemingly adding some needed leadership qualities as well. Both Reimer and Bernier have played incredibly well between the pipes, while Mason Raymond appears to be the bargain of the year. His 15 points in 20 games comes with a modest $1-million cap hit.
Not all sunshine for the Leafs
For starters, the Leafs have injury concerns.
Dave Bolland was on pace for over 50 pts, which would have been a career high, before a tendon in his ankle was lacerated. While Bolland is currently listed as out indefinitely, Erik Karlson of the Senators missed 10 weeks last season with a similar type of injury. Bolland has already missed five games. If he returns exactly 10 weeks after the injury, he’d have missed a total of 31 games.
Adding to their injury woes at centre, Tyler Bozak is still out with a hamstring injury. He’s practicing currently and hopes to play this week, but he’s missed nine games and counting.
Nikolai Kulemin, Joffrey Lupul and James Van Riemsdyk have also missed time with injury.
On top of all that, it doesn’t help matters that the Leafs have already had Clarkson suspended for 10 games with Kadri still sitting out his three game suspension. Missed time by the Leafs core pieces will catch up to them eventually.
What to do with Morgan Rielly?
Rielly, Toronto’s 5th overall pick in 2012, has played in 15 games so far, being a healthy scratch once Mark Fraser returned to the lineup.
So what is the Leafs plan to continue his development?
It appears the Leafs feel Rielly gains more by playing sometimes at the NHL level, and getting NHL practices, rather than playing in the minors. If Rielly were sent down it would be to the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors, not the Toronto Marlies.
It’s possible Rielly’s path will see him stick around the NHL until the World Junior Championships start in December. He could then return to Moose Jaw until their season ends, before moving on to the AHL Marlies.
Rielly would need 40 games in the NHL to bump up his UFA date. Of note, that’s 40 games with him on the roster, whether he plays or not. The Leafs 40th game of the season is December 27th, a day after the World Junior starts.
Assuming Rielly stays with the Leafs until camp starts for Team Canada, he’d have only a handful of Leaf dates available, which means the Leafs might have to turn to John Michael-Liles to fill any injury voids.
Find a way to get the extra point
The Leafs need to learn to turn some losses into overtime losses. The Detroit Red Wings are tied with Toronto with 25 points, despite having three less wins. That’s because Detroit, 9-5-7, finds a way to get a point in games they lose.
That’s something the Leafs have to learn to do.
Overall the Leafs are looking good this year. They don’t appear to miss any of their castoffs. Grabovski (18 pts in 21 games), MacArthur (12 pts in 19 games) and Scrivens (4-1-1, .955 save per centage, 1.24 GAA and 3 shutouts) all seem to be a distant memory.
So up next is the second quarter. They’ve got an easier start to the next 20 games before running a gauntlet in December.
Just how bad is December? The Leafs play the Sharks, Stars, Sens, Bruins, Kings, Blues, Blackhawks, Penguins, Panthers, Coyotes and Wings. That’s 11 games in 21 days. If the Leafs can survive that they should be sitting pretty in the playoff race.
If not, this will be a much sadder column after their 41st game.