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Eastern Conference “parity” means the Leafs have a playoff shot

It’s easy, though not necessarily wise, to get too far ahead of ourselves when reflecting on the Leafs and their, shall we say, unusual 2 and 0 start to the new regular season.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, they have indeed looked “improved” in measurable ways— including  in terms of goals against and penalty-killing.

Perhaps more importantly, they have used speed to their advantage.  They are a handful (so far) on the power play with their puck (and foot) movement.  They show a physical edge.  It appears as though players know their roles— and are actually capable of  doing what the coaches are asking them to do.

Again, it’s very early.  Whether this roster will look as healthy, deep and energized in two months, only time will tell.  For now, optimism reigns.

What stands out for me is not just the way the Leafs have come out of the gate and put points in the bank.  As significant is that the early evidence suggests that there may be very few teams in the Eastern Conference who are simply flat out better than everyone else.

The Leafs’ ability to sustain good play on a consistent basis is a question mark, for sure.  But that may well be the case for just about everyone else in their conference.

We presume Pittsburgh and Washington will be, over the long haul, league leaders.  But who stands out as teams who will run and away and hide?  New Jersey, now winless in three games?  Not anymore.  Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay or the Islanders?  They will all probably have their moments but none of that group is likely to run away and hide.

Are the Rangers a sure thing to make the playoffs?  The Flyers should be strong, but what about their goaltending as the season wears on?

Even in the Leafs’ own division, I’m struggling to see how the Sabres will be better, for example.  Montreal is a good team, but will they be as good as last season, when Halak (not single-handedly, I realize, but pretty close) got them to the playoffs and then kept them afloat?  Ottawa has struggled out of the gate, though that can change in a hurry.  I sense that they are missing a lot of pieces for them to be considered an “elite” team.

The point being, few teams look to be in that elite class.  What we may be experiencing this year, several years into a “cap” system, is NFL-like parity.  A very few truly high-end teams— with a whole bunch of clubs fighting and jockeying for possible playoff berths all season long.

As of now, the Leafs fits right into that picture in the East.

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