Monday, October 23, 2017

Weekend wrap: Are the Maple Leafs really the Cup favorites?

You may have seen the news spread as we headed into the weekend: A gambling site had revised its Stanley Cup odds, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were now the favourites to win it all. They were slight favourites, granted, and still listed at just 8-to-1, but that was enough to put them ahead of the pack.

We all know about the Maple Leafs’ 50 years-and-counting Cup drought. But what’s perhaps even more amazing about the last half-century – and depressing, if you’re a Leafs fan – is how rarely they’ve even been in the serious conversation. The Leafs have had good teams before, in the Sittler ’70s and Gilmour/Clark ’90s and the Sundin ’00s, and they have been to the final four on five occasions since their drought began. But even in those seasons, they were never the favourites. There was always at least one other team with better chances.

In fact, you could make a strong case that there’s only been one time in the last half-century when the Maple Leafs would have actually deserved a spot at the very top of a league-wide power rankings. That would have been at the beginning of the 1993-94 season, when the Leafs roared out of the gates with a 10-0-0 record, setting an NHL record for best start to a season. They were basically a .500 team after that, but for one month at least they really were on top of the NHL.

That’s it. One example out of 50 years. And now, if we’re to believe the oddsmakers, a second. The Leafs are back on top.

But are they? It’s worth pointing out that those odds are influenced by bets coming in, so some of this is a result of all those Leafs fans rushing to get in a wager on their favourite team. And the odds came out on Friday, which was before we watched the Leafs deliver their worst game of the season, getting largely shut down by a far better Senators team.

But one bad game shouldn’t shift our expectations all that much, even this early in the season. So do the Maple Leafs belong on top of a list of Cup favourites? As it happens, our power rankings try to measure exactly that. So let’s head down to the next section and see if our list is on the same page as the oddsmakers.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (6-2-0, +9 true goals differential*): Three impressive wins, then a letdown game. If that’s the pattern for the entire season, Leafs fans will probably take it.

4. Los Angeles Kings (6-0-1, +13): We’ve been slow to climb aboard the bandwagon, and this spot feels like it could be kind of high. But they’re looking good, and just as importantly, the rest of the Pacific is decidedly not.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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