Maple Leafs Core Players: Best Playoff Performers
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

We are all aware of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ record of futility in the playoffs. No other team in the history of the NHL has made the playoffs five seasons in a row and lost all five first-round series. To make matters worse and their record even more futile, the Maple Leafs took all five rounds to the seventh game before losing.

This was supposed to be the season that finally ended their record of futility, and they did. After not getting past the first round of the playoffs for almost two decades (19 years), the Maple Leafs defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games to make it to the second round of the postseason.  

Leafsland celebrated.

Unfortunately, that celebration was short-lived. The Maple Leafs were soundly beaten by the Florida Panthers, only managing a single 2-1 win. The team weakly bowed out in five games. For whatever reason, despite finally winning a round in the postseason, this one felt even worse and more futile.

Maple Leafs’ Fans Play the Blame Game

As in the past, the attention of Maple Leafs’ fans turned to who was to blame. Mitch Marner sucked! Auston Matthews sucked! William Nylander tried but couldn’t do it by himself. Where was John Tavares?

The defence couldn’t score or prevent the opposition from scoring. Sheldon Keefe was outcoached once again. The goalie couldn’t stop the puck when it mattered. 

The tune was the same as it had been the previous five seasons. Despite winning that one round, nothing had really changed. It’s been the same old song over and over again. 

Changes Are Coming to Maple Leafs

We know changes are coming. The architect of this team, Kyle Dubas, is gone. A new general manager (GM) Brad Treliving is at the helm now. Five regulars from the 2023 Playoff run are gone and four others have been acquired to take their place. 

Treliving has promised that he is not done. Rumors are rampant that Nylander and his $10 million contract demand are on the trading block, despite Treliving stating he would like to keep the core together. 

Looking Back at Six Postseasons of Core Players Scoring

With the Dubas era coming to an end, and the possibility the core five players of Tavares, Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Morgan Rielly will not all return next season, we thought it would be interesting to look back over the past six seasons and see who among these core five players performed the best and/or the worst over that time period. 

Using Old-School Numbers

In this post, we will use some traditional old-school stats. Who had the most goals, assists, and points during the postseason? Who had the best plus/minus numbers?

Postseason Goal Scoring

Player Games Played Goals Per-Game Average
Matthews 44 18 0.41
Nylander 44 16 0.36
Tavares 31 11 0.35
Rielly 44 10 0.23
Marner 44 9 0.20

Matthews led the team in goals scored at 18 in 44 games played for a 0.41 scoring pace per game, down from his 0.62 goals-per-game in the regular season (299 goals in 481 games). That is a production drop of about one-third.

Nylander was second with 16 goals scored in 44 games played. His goals-per-game in the playoffs (0.36) is pretty close (and a bit higher) to his goals-per-game in the regular season (0.34).

Tavares had 11 goals in 31 games. He was not on the team six years ago and missed all but a couple of minutes versus the Montreal Canadiens when he suffered a severe concussion in a collision with Corey Perry. His 11 goals in 31 games was a slight drop in goal production (0.35 per game) from the regular season (0.41).

Rielly’s goals-per-game of 0.23 (10 goals in 44 games) is more than double his regular season production of 0.10 goals-per-game (73 goals in 719 games).

Marner trailed the pack in goals in the playoffs with nine in 44 games played. That’s a scoring pace of 0.20 goals-per- game. That is also down from his goals-per-game in the regular season of 0.33 (168 goals in 507 games).

Postseason Assists

Player Games Played Assists Per-Game Average
Marner 44 34 0.77
Rielly 44 22 0.50
Matthews 44 21 0.48
Nylander 44 16 0.36
Tavares 31 11 0.35

While Marner is last of the group in goals scored, he is first in assists. That’s not surprising. His pace for assists in the playoffs (0.77 per game) is almost exactly the same as his pace in the regular season (0.76 per game).

Rielly has the second most assists of the group in the playoffs at 22 in 44 games played. His assists-per-game in the playoffs are actually a bit better (0.50) than it was in the regular season (0.47).

Matthews is third in assists with 21 in 44 games. His 0.48 assists-per-game in the postseason is slightly lower than his 0.51 assists-per-game in the regular season. 

Nylander’s 0.36 assists-per-game is down from his assist production of 0.49 per game in the regular season. 

Tavares’ 0.35 assists-per-game in the postseason is considerably lower than his 0.53 assists-per-game in the regular season.

Postseason Points

Player Games Played Points Per-Game Average
Marner 44 43 0.98
Matthews 44 39 0.89
Nylander 44 32 0.73
Rielly 44 32 0.73
Tavares 31 22 0.71

What Marner lacks in goals, he makes up for in assists. In fact, he comes up just one point shy of a point-a-game pace in the playoffs (43 points in 44 games). His 0.98 points-per-game pace is down 10 percent from his 1.09 points-per-game pace in the regular season.

Matthews’ 0.89 points-per-game, while second on the team, is down 0.24 points-per-game. That’s 20 percent lower than his regular season pace of 1.13 points-per-game.

While Nylander’s goals-per-game in the playoffs are on the same level as the regular season, his 25 percent drop in assist production gives him a points-per-game drop of about 12 percent during the postseason. 

Rielly’s goals-per-game pace is more than double what it is during the regular season. He also has a slightly better assist-per-game pace. His overall production in the playoffs is far superior to his production in the regular season. He has scored at a 25 percent higher per-game pace in the postseason than he has in the regular season.

While Rielly’s point production rose 25 percent during the playoffs, Tavares’ has dropped by 25 percent in the postseason, falling from 0.95 points-per-game to 0.71 points-per-game.

Postseason Plus/Minus Ratings

Player Plus/Minus Rating
Rielly Plus-11
Marner Plus-8
Matthews Minus-2
Nylander Minus-5
Tavares Minus-11

Call it a bad stat or not, the first thing that jumps out at us here is that Rielly and Marner are the only players who have a net positive when they are on the ice. Tavares not only has the worst negative rating, but he has also played 13 fewer games. If we extend his minus-11 out to 44 games played to equal the other four players it would drop to minus-16.

The Bottom Line

Using old-school statistics, the best Maple Leafs performer in the playoffs, especially when we compare it to his regular season numbers, is Rielly.  

The second-best performer, despite all the complaints about him being a no-show in the postseason, is Marner. 

Matthews, while not the worst performer, is far from the best. His goal production is down by over 30 percent, his point production is down 20 percent, and his plus/minus rating puts him at a wash when he is on the ice. 

Nylander’s goal production remains consistent from the regular season to the playoffs. His assist production drop and the fact he is minus-5 puts him at a slight negative overall.

By the old-school way of measuring things, John Tavares is by far the worst playoff performer on this team. His goal production is down by 15 percent. His assist production is down by 34 percent. His overall point production is down 25 percent and he is in a deep hole when it comes to plus/minus.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

This article first appeared on The Hockey Writers and was syndicated with permission.

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