Maple Leafs in the playoffs? Media play the numbers game; we play the reality game

Maple Leafs in the playoffs? Media play the numbers game; we play the reality game

The Maple Leafs in L.A. in January (Image: Bridget Samuels) 

The local dailies played the numbers game today, engaging in a veritable math-a-thon to figure out if the Toronto Maple Leafs actually have a shot at making the playoffs. With 25 games to go in the NHL’s regular season, the Leafs are sitting on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. They’re currently six points behind the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes. They also need to leapfrog both the Buffalo Sabres and the Atlanta Thrashers if they’re to vault into the Eastern Conference’s final post-season berth.

Head coach Ron Wilson sparked the flurry of speculation by surmising that, with seven weeks left, it’s reasonable to believe the club can gain a point per week. But in order to hit the magic threshold of 90 points, which most believe is the minimum total a team needs to make the playoffs, Toronto has to secure 34 points. That roughly translates to a blistering 17-8-0 mark from here on in. Right now, the Leafs are 25-27-6. You do the math.

Quite frankly, we’re over it. Instead of constantly reviving playoff predictions, here are four storylines we’d rather follow for the rest of the year.

1. The youth movement
By youth movement, we mean Keith Aulie. A blue-chip defenceman with a big body and even more potential, Aulie was called up to replace veteran François Beauchemin after general manager Brian Burke dealt him to the Anaheim Ducks. Plus, the more wheeling and dealing Burke does, the more young guns we’ll see on the ice. We may just end up getting a glimpse into the future, today.

2. The Maple Leafs’ makeover
Burke has already made three deals, brining in Joffrey Lupul, prospect Jake Gardiner, tough guy Aaron Voros and a handful of draft picks, while giving Beauchemin and Kris Versteeg one-way tickets out of town. He’s pledged to make more moves before the trade deadline on February 28 (we’re still looking at you, Tomas Kaberle). Who knows what the Leafs lineup will look like by then?

3. James Reimer being awesome
The guy is just awesome. He’s young, he was an unknown commodity before the season started and he’s regularly standing on his head in Leafs goals. With Jonas Gustavsson gone to the minors and nursing a heart injury and J.S. Giguere injured again, Reimer will bear the brunt of the goaltending duties for the rest of the season. And that’s exciting.

4. How’s it going, Phil Kessel?
After a severe 14-game scoring slump, Kessel appears to be returning to his old form. He had a pair of goals against his former club, the Boston Bruins, in the Leafs’ win on Tuesday and three goals in his last two games. He’s once again on pace for a 30-goal season, which is why the Leafs originally paid him the big bucks. The introduction of Joffrey Lupul alongside him seems to be paying dividends, and we’re curious to see what the much-maligned winger achieves over the final 25 games.

• How the Leafs can make the playoffs [Toronto Star]
• Two big problems for Toronto [Globe and Mail]
• Burke has work cut out for him [Toronto Sun]