STINSON: The math will end up working in favor of the Maple Leafs, won’t it?

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At the end of an exhilarating and heartbreaking Stanley Cup playoff series, no one wants to talk about math.

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This is understandable. Playoff hockey is exciting, and a 7-game weekend is a special kind of narcotic in the NHL. Rarely does a sport allow the viewer to jump out of their seat in hopeful anticipation for a crushing result to go the other way before they’ve even sat down. The emotion is all too real.

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The boring reality of hockey math, on the other hand, is no fun at all. And yet, the mathematics of hockey explains a lot. It’s a low-chance sport, and that can be especially the case in the playoff cauldron, where the check is tighter and the whistles are put away as the game reaches the later stages. Tied games will often be won by the team that gets a lucky rebound or a lucky deflection.

Is it a long way to get to the Toronto Maple Leafs? Yes, but no too. If Johnny Gaudreau didn’t get a bad shot through a puck-sized hole in overtime last night, the Calgary Flames could today regret the worst kind of math in hockey: a game in which they dominated the number of shots, tipping the odds heavily in their favor, but still fell victim to hockey’s relentless randomness.

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But Gaudreau scored, the Flames won, and their supporters are not left out to reflect on the vagaries of a sport that so often produces curious results.

It’s more of a job for those running the Maple Leafs. What’s interesting is that they know better than anyone that it’s impossible to completely eliminate chance from the hockey equation. The whole idea of ​​the analytical revolution in hockey, and in sport in general, is that it is more important to focus on the process than on the results. The first consists in building a team and a style of play which increases the probability of victories, which increases the mathematical chances of victory, where the second is sometimes only the consequence of uncontrollable factors. Sometimes the results don’t match the process. It happens.

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Kyle Dubas knows it. Brendan Shanahan knows this, otherwise the Toronto team president would not have chosen his new recruit as general manager. The Maple Leafs front office is fully aware that keeping a talented team virtually intact is the most likely way to ensure that it will be just as competitive next season. Breaking it from a weak position is likely to make the team worse. It’s a bad process.

And this is where it gets fascinating. How many years of good process/bad results should Shanahan and Dubas look at before deciding that the only option is to do a bad process? Will they trade a centerpiece for a return that might have been unimaginable for one of their prized assets three years ago, just so the game can be properly shuffled? Will 2022 Dubas do something that 2019 Dubas wouldn’t have considered for a moment because 2023 Dubas can’t stand to see it all play out the same way?

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The purely rational move is to ride it, again. In a vacuum, losing a series by a tiny margin to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions would be a ridiculous reason to smash the big red button that says Blow It Up. A 115-point team will end up winning four out of seven playoff games, and most likely a lot more than that, once the calculations of a playoff game are finally in their favor.

But this did not happen in a vacuum. Five straight Game 7s, first-round outings for this group, follow two decades of playoff futility for the franchise, which also happens to have a Stanley Cup drought that dates back more than 50 years. At some point, even the coolest analytical minds have to start wondering if years of carefully put together dominoes couldn’t do with the introduction of a toddler who just found a stash of energy drinks. Maybe a Chaos Agent is the way to go here.

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The question will come down to the level of desperation in the executive suites. Sticking to the status quo will mean another talented team that, barring some unforeseen calamity, will be bound to return to the playoffs. That’s probably enough for big MLSE fronts (although half Rogers would love a Leafs run that lasts more than seven games to benefit his playoff ratings). Few franchises are as immune to rash moves as the Leafs: the arena will sell out, the shows will be popular. There are decades of evidence to underscore this point. As a business, as a business that generates revenue — and, most importantly, provides content to the telecommunications companies that own it — the Maple Leafs are by no means at a crisis point. Panic will only come if the repeated disappointments have convinced those who would normally think otherwise that it’s time to try irrationality and see where it takes them.

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The math of hockey has to break down for them at some point. A team can’t lose Game 7 for six straight years, especially when so much of the sport is down to chance.

But one team hadn’t done that either for five straight years. Until now.

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