The Carolina Hurricanes Are Better Than the Toronto Maple Leafs

Dec 23, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal (11) tries to tip a puck past Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) during the second period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal (11) tries to tip a puck past Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) during the second period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Carolina Hurricanes suit up for Game 2 of the 2nd round of the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely getting ready for their first round of golf in several months as they blew a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 last night.

Toronto, a perpetual 1st round exit team, has not won a playoff round since 2013. For the past five consecutive years, the Maple Leafs have lost in the 1st round of the playoffs (or earlier if you count last year’s ‘play-in’ qualifying round) to teams like the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Now, we can add the Montreal Canadiens to that list of teams that have relegated the Toronto Maple Leafs to the golf courses prematurely.

In contrast, the Carolina Hurricanes have found relative success the past three or so years since returning to relevancy after being a basement team for just shy of a decade. In 2018-19, with Rod Brind’amour finally behind the bench as Head Coach, the Carolina Hurricanes would see a triumphant return to the playoffs, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Bruins after sending the defending Cup Champs in the Washington Capitals home in 7 games, and sweeping the New York Islanders in the 2nd round.

In 2019-20, as ‘underdogs’, the Carolina Hurricanes would go on to sweep the New York Rangers in the qualifying ‘play-in’ round before losing in 5 games to the Boston Bruins; this season was marked by complications due to COVID, but (unlike the Maple Leafs), the Canes made it out of the qualifying round.

Now, in the 2020-21 postseason, the Carolina Hurricanes have found themselves in the 2nd round facing yet another defending Stanley Cup championship team in the Tampa Bay Lightning; a daunting task to say the least, but the Canes still have every hope in the world that they’ll come out on top of Tampa Bay and send them to the golf courses of the Florida midlands.

The comparison between the Carolina Hurricanes of yore and the Toronto Maple Leafs of today is a bit uncanny if you ask me (at least, aside from roster quality and superstar power). Both teams were basement teams for a decade (or, at least the better part of a decade in Toronto’s case); Toronto made the playoffs once from 2005-06 to 2015-16. They quickly returned to relevancy after drafting goalscoring phenom Auston Matthews and trading for former New York Islanders captain John Tavares.

Toronto would also sign superstars in Mitch Marner and William Nylander, forming one of the best offensive cores in the NHL on paper. Toronto netminder Freddie Andersen has also been mostly solid, but where he faltered, Jack Campbell has been there to pick up the pieces in a big way.

The thing about being good on paper , though, is that oftentimes a group that should be one of the best in the league just falls flat. Whether it’s due to the expectation that comes with playing in Toronto, or the pressure that the Maple Leafs franchise is constantly under, both from spectators and local and national media, the Toronto Maple Leafs extensive list of superstar-caliber players just choked, in near-legendary fashion.

The all-Canadian North Division was widely touted as one of the weaker Divisions this season, with Toronto holding down the top spot nearly the entire regular season, and for good reason. Auston Matthews was on pace to have a career year with 41 goals and 25 assists for 66 points in 52 games played.

Mitch Marner was on pace to have a career year in the goals scored category as well, having scored 20 goals and 47 assists for 67 points in 55 games played; his previous highest NHL goal total came in the 2018-19 season, when he’d net 26 goals in 82 games played.

The Maple Leafs still struggled with defensive setbacks, but that’s where goaltender Jack Campbell comes in.

Campbell, in relief of Freddie Andersen, had a phenomenal year. The 29-year old netminder turned in a .921 SV%, 2.15 GAA, and a win/loss record of 17-3-2 in 22 regular season games played.

Who’s to say what caused this group to fail when it counted the most. Could it have been the fans calling for Mitch Marner to be traded the entire season? Sure. Could it be the microscope that the Maple Leafs players are forced to play under that caused them to choke? Absolutely. Could it be the Toronto media overanalyzing and putting insane amounts of pressure on anyone that dares to put on a blue-and-white sweater with a leaf on the front? You betcha.

Hopefully we see a shift away from this kind of environment, but I’m not placing any bets on that anytime soon. It truly would be nice to see a successful Toronto Maple Leafs squad, but until the culture surrounding the team changes, I don’t think we’re going to see that.

Toronto, both the franchise and the fans, deserve better. Leafs fans, I know you’re hurting. I also know why you clicked on this article, and I get it.

The good news? I think it will get better. The not-so-good news? It might not be for awhile.

Whether it’s the coaching, the ownership, the GM, the fans, the media, or the players, the Toronto Maple Leafs still disappointed so many people for so many reasons. Trust me, as a long-time Canes fan, I know exactly how you feel. The Canes were in the basement for longer than I’d like to remember. I do imagine it feels a bit different in that the Leafs have a more than capable squad, which is more than I can say for the Carolina Hurricanes circa 2010-2017.

One thing is for sure, though, to mirror what our friends over at Editor in Leaf have said: the Carolina Hurricanes have a better team right now than the Toronto Maple Leafs do, and a brighter future.

Gotta love being a small-market team with a large-market hockey roster, eh?

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