New return-to-play format put forward by the National Hockey League is an extra headache for the Toronto Maple Leafs. One they certainly don’t need right now.
The last three seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs have been full of hope, excitement and a lot of disappointment come playoff time. This year has been no different, the Leafs were basically only in the playoff spot because they’re in the Atlantic Division which is markedly worse than their Eastern counterparts. On pace for 95 points, a coin toss to make the playoffs in today’s NHL.
After going out and acquiring big names such as Tyson Barrie and Jake Muzzin the Leafs’ long-standing problem of defence looked to be solved. But alas the problem got worse, while Muzzin was a quality player when he wasn’t injured, Barrie was another story. He only scored five goals all year, his lowest total since the 2012-13 season.
Barrie’s point total dropped by nearly 20 compared to his average of the previous two seasons. With the signing of Jake Muzzin long-term its nearly impossible for Kyle Dubas to re-sign Barrie. There’s no way with the current Leafs cap issues that he’d be able to out-bid hungry teams in free agency.
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Then comes the seemingly yearly nightmare of facing the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. All through 2019-20 it sure looked like the Leafs would face one of the Tampa Bay Lightning or Boston Bruins in the first round. Then they would probably face the other one in the second round.
This year’s playoffs provide a change of scenery, well sort of. The NHL rolled out a 24-team playoff for the first time in the league’s history. Under the new format, only the top two teams in each division get a bye to the first round of the real playoffs. The other 16 teams play a qualifying round to determine who will play in the playoffs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the qualifying round as the Leafs failed to finish top two in the Atlantic Division. The Blue Jackets are an enigma to me. They were slated to be one of the worst teams in the league this year. Instead under the tutelage of coach John Tortorella, they had quite a successful season. They sit in the 2nd wildcard in the east with a record of 33-22-15 for 81 points.
Coincidentally they are tied with the Maple Leafs in points, but their division is quite a bit better.
This will turn out to be a must-watch series where just about anything can happen. I can certainly see either of these teams winning in a series sweep and anything in between.