Leafs or Jets? Which has better shot of ending Canada's Cup drought?
It's been 25 years since the Montreal Canadiens were the last to hoist Lord Stanley's mug
June 9th will mark 25 years since the last Canadian-based club celebrated a Stanley Cup when Kirk Muller put the Montreal Canadiens ahead for good early in the second period of Game 5 of the 1993 Stanley Cup final against the Los Angeles Kings at the Montreal Forum.
Since then, the Vancouver Canucks (1994 and 2011), Calgary Flames (2004), Edmonton Oilers (2006) and Ottawa Senators (2007) have each made trips to the final only to come up short.
Hopes are high this spring for the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs to end the Canadian championship drought. Both clubs have enjoyed excellent regular seasons and appear bound for bumper playoff runs. But which team, the Jets or Maple Leafs, has the better chance? It's an interesting question.
Two different teams
They meet for the second and final time at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, five months since the Maple Leafs hammered Winnipeg at the MTS Centre back on opening night. There's been plenty of development on both sides in the 178 days since their initial meeting.
The Jets and Maple Leafs have watched their dynamic young talent continue to develop. For Winnipeg, 24-year-old netminder Connor Hellebuyck has come into his own and is now considered a top-10 goalie. Captain Blake Wheeler, 31, has enjoyed a banner season with a career-high 86 points.
Centre Paul Stastny was an excellent addition at the trade deadline and has helped sniper Patrik Laine pick up his goal-scoring pace. Like Wheeler, 28-year-old Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk has enjoyed an outstanding season with a career-high 35 goals in limited ice time — he averages only 14 minutes and 53 seconds a game.
Toronto also added a checking centre at the trade deadline in Tomas Plekanec and call-ups from the AHL Toronto Marlies, Kaperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, have boosted the speed of the bottom two lines.
Not much separation statistically
As you can see, not much statistically separates the two Canadian-based teams, so we enlisted the services of three NHL pro scouts to determine which team is better.
The first scout sat on the fence. He believes the difference between the teams is a toss-up. He did add that both Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice and Toronto's Mike Babcock have enjoyed strong seasons. They put their young players out in key situations at critical times and now late in the season, you can see the dividends with how well both teams have been playing.
The Jets and Maple Leafs have identical 18-6-2 records since the all-star break. The Leafs have defeated top teams like the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins at home as well as the Nashville Predators on the road in recent weeks.
Winnipeg has a six-game win streak entering its road match against the Blackhawks on Thursday and have also knocked off the Predators and Bruins with shootout wins in the last two outings.
'Both capable teams'
"These are both capable teams," scout No. 2 said. "They both have strong goaltending, balance up front with young game-breakers like Laine, [Mark] Scheifele and [Auston] Matthews. Babcock is the better coach, but I still would give Winnipeg the edge because of their defence and they manage the puck better.
"[The Jets] have three good decent pairings, but Toronto, even though [Travis] Dermott has come in and done a nice job, still needs one or two defencemen. "Toronto still relies on outscoring the opposition to win games. We know that doesn't always work in the playoffs. They need better puck management."
Our third scout agrees that the Jets have the better group right now. But he also looked down the road and he believes the Jets have the tougher road in the playoffs because the Predators stand in their way in the West.
"But if you're asking me who would win in a seven-game series between Winnipeg and Toronto, Winnipeg would win," scout No. 3 said. "The Jets play a big, heavy game and would wear down Toronto."