About a third into the 2021 NHL season, the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the All-Canadian North Division. But will the team keep it up the rest of the year and win the North Division?
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A big question on the mind of bettors and fans right now is whether the Toronto Maple Leafs can win the North Division title – which would be the franchise's first division win since the 1999-2000 season. The team has generally played the best hockey in Canada this season – minus the odd hiccup against the Ottawa Senators.
Will the team keep up their torrid pace this season? Can the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Canadian Division? Judging by a few trends and stats, the Leafs have a great chance at besting the other Canadian teams to win the North Division crown.
Toronto the Favourite to Win the North Division
|Toronto Maple Leafs||1.76||1.83||1.85|
The betting odds of the Maple Leafs winning the Canadian Division are the best of any team and deservingly so. The team's best players are showcasing their talents all across Canada this season, especially Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Outside of the two guys in Edmonton (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), no player has more points (23) right now than Mitch Marner. On the same line as Marner is Auston Matthews – the lead goal scorer (14 through 16 games) in the National Hockey League.
But it is not only those two contributing for the Leafs this season – as this year's team is quite deep. Of Leafs players who have skated in at least six games this season, 11 skaters average at least 0.5 points per game (two more players than last season).
The depth is helping this season. The Toronto Maple Leafs are 4-2-0 this season when Matthews does not score a goal or play. Last year in games where Matthews did not score a goal, the Maple Leafs could only muster a 9-17-4 record.
The team's power-play unit is one of the reasons to bet on the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the North Division. The group ranks third in the NHL – with a power-play percentage of 32.65%. John Tavares, along with Matthews, are huge factors this season with the man advantage.
Tavares and Matthews both have four power-play goals this season (tied for fifth in the league). Both players are on pace to match or break their career highs for power-play goals in a season (Tavares best is 13, Matthews career high is 12) – despite the season lasting only 56 games.
Playing Only Canadian Teams Helps the Leafs
The frequency teams play each other this season is something we have not seen since the late 1960s – when the league had only 12 teams, and Division foes squared off eight times per season – so using that season as a comparison is too dated.
We can look at the Leafs' success against Canadian teams last year, which paints a pretty picture for Leafs fans. The Leafs went 7-3-4 against Canadian teams last season for a possible 18 of 28 points. The points percentage of 64.3% was noticeably higher than their season total of 57.9% (81 points of out 140 in the shortened year).
Over an 82 game season (in 2020), the Leafs were on pace for 94.9 points – but against Canadian teams over 82 games, the Leafs would finish with 105.4 points. This season, the Leafs have a points percentage of 76.5% after 17 games – which over a full season would be the eighth highest of all-time. The percentage is about 10% better than the Montreal Canadians – giving the Leafs some margin for error in the middle of the season.
Is the Team's Current Goaltending Enough to Win the North Division?
The play of Frederik Andersen this season is about as close to league average as you can find. His save percentage of .905 is right below the league average of .906, while his GAA is slightly better at 2.67 compared to the league average of 2.79.
Andersen has carried an enormous workload early in the season – leading the league in minutes (as of February 18) – due to the injury to backup Jack Campbell. Campbell looked good in his two starts this season – winning both games and owning a .923 save percentage.
Jack Campbell is still more than a week from returning to the #leafs lineup, per Sheldon Keefe.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 15, 2021
They've got a back-to-back Wednesday/Thursday vs. Ottawa.
Campbell is nearing his return – meaning Andersen's workload could cool off in March. A fresher Andersen paired with Campbell – who looks like the best backup the team has had in years – should have fans and bettors confident they can fend off the Montreal Canadiens – currently their most significant competition – and win the North Division title.
If the goaltending improves throughout the season – and the forwards keep producing at the rates they are, the Leafs are not only contenders to win the North Division but contenders to win the 2021 Stanley Cup.
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