Toronto Maple Leafs: Are they really bad or just really mediocre?

To say that the 2014-15 season has provided something of a mixed bag for the Toronto Maple Leafs would be an incredibly heinous understatement. Their losses have led to an induction of mass panic throughout the hockey world, while their wins would appear to serve no other purpose than to instill some sort of flawed belief within the fanbase about a potential playoff run of some sort.

The last ten days have brought about a series of varied fortunes for Toronto. They dropped a 6-2 contest against the Buffalo Sabres before they were embarrassed at home by the Nashville Predators by a 9-2 clip that resulted in a myriad of questions related to the job security of Randy Carlyle. Then the Leafs rattled off a couple of solid wins and all was well, right? Not quite.

The fact that the Leafs remain completely in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference just helps to illustrate the general weakness of the conference as a whole. It’s easy to point to the coaching staff and say most of the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of Randy Carlyle. While that may be true, when it comes down to it, we’re talking about a Maple Leafs club that is simply extremely mediocre.

The Leafs were a playoff team two years ago, doing so in spite of metrics that indicated they should have been going in the completely opposite direction. Even with that in mind, it’s difficult to ignore the elite level talent and deem this a team that should be surrendering six goals to a lowly Buffalo squad at any point.

Defense and goaltending are a necessity in winning a Stanley Cup title. This is an obvious statement. The Leafs have plenty of offense, as they’re fourth in the league in goals per game. Not bad for a team that ranks just 13th overall in shots per contest. Putting the puck in the net is not an issue for this team, especially when you consider the talent they employ up front, including the likes of Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, as well as Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak. It’s keeping the puck out of their net that has proven to be a tremendous obstacle for this Maple Leafs team this season.

Only five times this season have the Leafs finished with a Corsi% that actually went in their favor, and in just two of those did they finish with a figure over 60 percent, with the others hovering around more of a 50/50 split in that department. Oddly enough, that 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Sabres was one of those games. Even in their two recent wins, they were on the wrong side of the possession charts in surrendering more scoring chances to the opposing club. That gives every indication that this team’s ability (or lack thereof) to possess the puck is absolutely deplorable. It becomes even more inexplicable when you consider the fact that the Leafs are seventh in the league in faceoff percentage.

It isn’t really a mystery as to what plagues this Toronto club in any way, shape, or form. Their inability to possess the puck obviously tops the list, which isn’t helped by the fact that they’ve turned the puck over more than all but five teams in the National Hockey league. They also do a poor job of preventing shots, as they rank just 26th in the league in blocked shots and allow the fourth-most shots in the league as a result. This helps to paint a pretty clear picture of what is wrong with this team.

Again, there is some elite level talent present for this Toronto club. Kessel, JvR, Kadri, and Bozak are all solid building blocks. Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner are solid assets on the blue line. However, with folks like Dion Phaneuf and David Clarkson each taking home gobs of money on a daily basis and being pitched as face-of-franchise types, we can begin to see part of the problem. This team is simply not deep enough, and doesn’t have the right type of system behind the bench to have the ability to outplay their shortcomings. The barely-above-average goaltending is an issue for another day.

This is a team that isn’t nearly as bad as the results against Buffalo or Nashville might indicate. However, they are an extremely average team that lacks depth overall. As a result, we’ll continue to see these types of ups and downs as the season wears on, and it’ll be interesting to watch this circus continue to develop and observe the type of impact that it ultimately has on the future of Randy Carlyle and others in Toronto.

About Randy Holt

Spending his days as an English teacher, Randy spends his afternoons, nights, and weekends as a writer on the Bloguin Network, as well as SB Nation. He is a staff writer for both Puck Drunk Love and The Outside corner, as well as Second City Hockey and Beyond the Box Score on SB Nation, showcasing his love for both hockey and baseball, as well as run-on sentences. A Chicago native (and Phoenix resident), he is an avid Game of Thrones viewer/reader and lover of red meat.

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