We often think of the post-lockout Leafs as one big disaster, but as Jeff mentioned in his review of the 2006-07 season, that team was only a shootout coin-flip away from a playoff showing. If not for some historically bad goaltending, that club actually may have found themselves well up the standings. In the season that followed, this would again be the case, though the results would be much worse.
It’s the 2007-08 season when everything really started to take a major downturn for the last decade of Leafs teams, where they’d finish well out of the playoffs in what was the first of our Vesa Toskala Years.
5th in the Northeast, 12th in the Eastern Conference, 24th Overall
Let’s just start off by pointing out the league average in save-percentage that season was .909 and the dynamic duo of Toskala and Raycroft (with a little Clemmensen mixed in) fell way, way off the pace at .896. Though, what’s interesting – considering their hilarious combined numbers – is that Toskala actually had a winning record (33-25-6) that season, while Raycroft punched in a brutal 2-9-5. That’s tough.
Neither of these guys was good enough to be considered an average goaltender that season, but Toskala did manage a .904 while Raycroft plotted along at .874 in his limited starts. Eight. Seventy. Four.
John Ferguson Jr. made two substantial moves for the Leafs in the summer leading up to this season. His first was a trade which landed Mark Bell and Toskala in late June from the Sharks in exchange for three draft picks (1st, 2nd, 4th rounders). He then added free agent Jason Blake, coming off a 40-goal season with the Isles, for $20-million over five seasons.
The Leafs didn’t complete any substantial moves through the early part of the season, and Ferguson wouldn’t be around to handle their deadline deals, as he’d be replaced by Uncle Cliff in January. Fletcher would then execute a few minor moves in late February when he unloaded Belak, Gill, and Kilger for picks from the Preds, Penguins, and Panthers, respectively.
Like the season before, the Leafs would get absolutely sunk by goaltending. But unlike that 2006-07 campaign, they weren’t anywhere near contending for a playoff spot this time around. They probably still deserved a better fate, but now the upper limit had changed.
Toskala, as we mentioned, would give them below-average goaltending in 66 appearances, whereas Raycroft was basically a disaster as a backup. As per war-on-ice, the team was still respectable in shot-based possession numbers with a 51.8 CF% at even strength, good for ninth in the league. They also clipped along in the top half of the league in goals-scored (231), but still managed to finish with an awful -29 differential, which was sixth-worst.
Off the ice there were some notables stories as well, the biggest being when the newly-signed Blake announced he had been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a highly treatable form of cancer. He would go on to play the entire season and punch in 52 points, but was criticized for a lack of goal production given his output the year before. This would be one of a few knocks on JFJ, who eventually was ridiculed publicly by MLSE head Richard Peddie, calling his hiring a mistake. On top of all that, this was also the season where Jiri Tlusty caught some heat for posting nudes on the internet.
Going back to the Leafs’ offseason acquisitions, aside from Blake and Toskala, Mark Bell had put up some nice numbers with the Hawks in previous years and wasn’t considered just a throw-in from the Sharks trade. But he’d never really get his feet under him in Toronto after serving a suspension stemming from a 2006 hit-and-run, and only ever suited up in 35 games for the Leafs.
He did provide us one memorable moment though…
Sundin again set the pace for the team in what would be his last season as a Leaf, and was by far their best forward, though Kaberle on the blue line was arguably as valuable overall. Like we mentioned above, Blake couldn’t deliver the goal-production he’d seen in Long Island and Ferguson took the heat for it, but as you can see, his points output was still impressive. Shooting 4.5% will bring down anyone’s numbers and he wasn’t nearly as bad as we likely believed at the time.
Steen is one of the bigger stories here, as he put in his third straight year of 35+ point production basically before turning 24-years-old. Yep… thanks Cliff.
Rethinking the Team
We mentioned at the top that this Leafs team, like a few in the last decade or so, basically unraveled due to such poor goaltending. When you go back and look at how the skaters performed, you can see there were some quality players here, and some, while not on the leading scorers list, could push the puck in the right direction – most notably Ponikarovsky, White, and Coliaocovo, who were all above 54.0% in even-strength CF% while on the ice.
Let’s take a quick look at some key numbers when it comes to the Leafs vs. the league average in 2007-08.
|Maple Leafs||League Average|
Toronto out-shot teams all year and scored at a middle-of-the-pack rate, but when you do all that and still finish with a -29 goal differential, it’s easy to see where we should point the finger.