Leafs' numbers don't add up

The Leafs' future Stanley Cup aspirations are looking bleak at best. (Sun File)

The Leafs' future Stanley Cup aspirations are looking bleak at best. (Sun File)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

This summer, as the Stanley Cup makes its way across Ontario, to the hometowns and events planned by nine different Anaheim players from around here, the sense of the frustrated fans of the Maple Leafs has to border on emotional emptiness.

Never mind that the Leafs have gone 40 years -- a lifetime for many -- without winning or even playing for the Cup.

What is troubling, as the club plods directionless in the bottom half of the National Hockey League, is that the 40 years without a championship seem eerily capable of dragging into several more.

A statistical analysis of what makes a Stanley Cup champion sadly indicates how far the Leafs have been and remain from being a Cup winner.

Consider the following:

- Of the past 39 Cup titleists (one season was lost to a lockout), only one Cup winner finished below seventh overall in the NHL standings. Thirty of the 38 other champions -- or 79% of winners -- finished in the top four in the league. Over the past 39 seasons, the Leafs have finished in the top four all of once.

- Over that same post-Original Six era, 35 of 39 Cup winners finished in the top six in the league. Since the NHL expanded to 21 teams and beyond, the Leafs have been a top-six team just four times, three of them coming in the recent Pat Quinn years.

- Since the NHL grew to 21 teams and eventually more following the 1978-79 season, 23 of its 27 Cup champions managed to finish in the top four in the statistical categories of goals scored or goals against. Those appear to be the distinguishing marks for success. Over those same 27 seasons, the Leafs have been in the top four in goals against just once, and in the top four in goals scored five different times, four of them during Quinn's successful run in Toronto.

- Finishing first in the league in points, goals scored or goals against significantly increases your odds of winning the Cup. Twenty-four of the past 39 Cup winners have finished first in one of those categories in their victory season. Over the past 39 years, the Leafs have finished first just once in any of those key statistical categories. Those 1998-99 Leafs, whose 268 goals led the league, lost to Buffalo in the Eastern Conference final that season.

- In the past two seasons, with general manager John Ferguson able to start from scratch following the NHL lockout, the Leafs have been 21st and 25th in goals against, 11th and sixth in goals for, and 18th in the league overall both seasons.

- There is a strong correlation between winning championships and having Hall of Fame or all-star goaltenders. Thirty-five of the past 39 champions have been backstopped by those who are in the Hall of Fame, will be in the Hall of Fame, or certainly will be serious candidates for the Hall. Andrew Raycroft, the Leafs' starting goaltender, never has won a playoff round in six years as a pro. "If you look down the list of championship goalies, the only comparison to Raycroft you could make is with Chris Osgood," a veteran pro scout said. "That's what the Leafs have in goal. Raycroft is Osgood. I guess you can win a Cup with Osgood if you have Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Nick Lidstrom and Brendan Shanahan on (your) team. Otherwise, no way."

- Age of skill players is an enormous component of Stanley Cup winners. Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Yvan Cournoyer, Joe Sakic, Doug Gilmour, Peter Forsberg, Bryan Trottier, Eric Staal, Brad Richards and Rick MacLeish, led the playoffs in scoring on Cup teams a whopping total of 27 times: Only one of those times were any of them more than 30 years old.

WELL-DEFINED STYLE

- You need a plan to win the Cup and a well-defined style of play. The Anaheim Ducks had a set identity and never strayed from it. The New Jersey teams were known for trapping. The Edmonton Oilers teams played free flow, speed and skill hockey. The best teams are easily defined. Aside from a strong power play, the Leafs have little or no identity away from their popular logo.

- Only six other teams -- five of them relatively new to the NHL -- have not appeared in a Cup final since 1967. It may be the only thing the Leafs have in common with the San Jose Sharks, Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Phoenix Coyotes.

The saddest part of all: There is nothing in the near or distant future to indicate any of this with the Leafs is about to change.


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