With the Boston Bruins earning one point in a shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs were mathematically eliminated from post-season contention – not that it should come as any surprise.
It has been a tumultuous season to say the least. The first two-and-a-half months of the campaign went well and gave fans hope. They were one of the top scoring teams in the league and in a playoff spot, but when things started to go south in mid-December they went south in a hurry.
With that in mind, here are our top moments from Toronto’s season — including some optimistic moments from early in the year — to date.
It wasn’t all bad all the time for the Leafs
In a terribly entertaining Oct. 14 game at home against the Colorado Avalanche, the Maple Leafs gave fans a taste of what this roster was capable of early in the season. Riding the momentum of a 6-3 win over the Rangers two days prior, the top line of Phil Kessel-Tyler Bozak-James van Riemsdyk combined for five points in a 3-2 overtime win. Colorado had won a league-high 10 games after regulation the season before, but Kessel scored the winner for the Buds. That game also gave us this moment between former Calgary Flames teammates Dion Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla.
Embarrassing blowouts and jersey-gate
It all began with a porous effort on the road against the basement-dwelling Buffalo Sabres Nov. 15. The Leafs were loafs and trounced 6-2 on Hockey Night in Canada. Then, two nights later, it got worse…much, much worse. They lost 9-2 at home to the Nashville Predators. This resulted in a disgruntled spectator throwing a Leafs jersey on the ice. It wasn’t the first, or last, time a jersey wound up on the Air Canada Centre ice, but this was the most talked-about Leafs loss of the season.
On the heels of the 9-2 shellacking the Leafs rebounded with a quality 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, only they chose not to salute the crowd. This didn’t sit well with (an overly dramatic) Leafs Nation. Although team leaders insisted the non-salute wasn’t a shot at the fans, it caused a ruckus and they went back to saluting the crowd when they beat the Red Wings two nights later.
Wow, these guys can actually play some quality puck
For a fleeting moment jersey-gate and salute-gate and Carlton the Bear-gate (safe to assume that last one happened too, right?) were in the rear-view mirror. The Leafs went on a stretch where they won 10 of 12 games, outscoring their opponents 49-27. It culminated in a 6-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 16.
Randy Carlyle gets fired
Oh boy did it go downhill fast after that win against the Ducks. They lost eight of their next nine games and it cost Carlyle his job. A listless 5-1 loss on the road to the Winnipeg Jets was the last straw.
Team “plays better” under Peter Horachek
After Carlyle’s firing, the team proceeded to lose 17 of its 19 games under interim coach Peter Horachek. Despite this abhorrent losing streak, some (read: advanced stats nerds) argued the Leafs were playing a better brand of hockey, but just weren’t seeing the results.
When it became apparent there was no way the Leafs would get back into the playoff race, management decided to do all it could to plan for the future. They sent pending UFAs Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik packing, and pulled off a stunning trade that sent David Clarkson and his massive contract to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nathan Horton in a business transaction camouflaged as a hockey trade.
Kessel comes to the defence of his captain
Dion Phaneuf has taken the bulk of the heat for the Leafs’ struggles this season and his name was bandied about in trade rumours leading up to the March 2 trade deadline. The deadline came and went and Phaneuf remained with the team, but Kessel needed to get something off his chest.
Offence dries up, players downtrodden down the stretch
Since the trade deadline, the Leafs have gone 2-5-1 as the season winds down.
Kadri sleeps in
Oh, and the team’s president threw Nazem Kadri under the bus as well.