It’s all about the playoffs, but the Leafs’ best regular season was also packed with personal highs

The most important thing that happened to the Maple Leafs in the last calendar year was on May 31, 2021: They lost 3-1 to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs.

Every personal achievement reached and team milestone since then — and there were plenty — can be traced to that bitter disappointment.

“It was huge,” said Leafs veteran Wayne Simmonds. “All you hear about the Leafs is that it doesn’t matter what we do in the regular season — whether we have a great one, set franchise records, doesn’t matter.

“We’re more focused on the team aspect, what we did during the season, how we were resilient. We played a lot of great hockey this season; those individual accolades are great. But what it comes down to is about getting two points, and in the playoffs getting four wins. So that’s what we’re focused on.”

The team played with a chip on its shoulder all season. It almost went off the rails in October, and indifferent play in an early four-game losing streak had many suggesting the Leafs (2-4-1 in their first seven games) might not have recovered from that gut-wrenching loss to Montreal. But they got going with an overtime win in Chicago and headed off on a 15-2-0 run.

With that, Auston Matthews began his journey to become the team’s first 60-goal scorer. And Jack Campbell went on to make his first all-star game.

COVID-19 struck the team for the first time through December and January. Then things fell apart again in February, where no lead felt safe and no goalie could stay healthy.

“It’s been a grind,” said Sheldon Keefe, who coached his first full 82-game season. “We had the COVID stuff that we went through as a team. A lot of stuff seems like forever ago.”

But Campbell rediscovered his form, the addition of veteran defenseman Mark Giordano balanced out the blue line and the milestones started to pile up.

  • No Leafs team had ever won 50 games in a season. This one got to 54 with a 5-2 win over the Bruins on Friday night.
Leaf William Nylander beat Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman for his 34th goal of the season, a career high, in Friday night's game at Scotiabank Arena.
  • On points percentage, no Leafs team has done better than this one’s .701.
  • They finished with 115 points, far better than the previous record of 105 set in 2016-17.
  • Their 27.4 per cent success on the power play was the best in franchise history.
  • They’ve made the playoffs six years in a row for the first time since 2004. The only longer streaks in their 105-season history: 1931-45 (15 seasons), 1959-67 (nine) and 1974-81 (eight) .

“All those accolades come when the team is doing well. You get individual awards and stuff in the regular season, it’s great,” said defenseman Jake Muzzin. “But when playoff time comes, those accolades really don’t mean much. It’s a new season, really, and we have to start breaking records in the playoffs.”

Still, it was quite a season with personal bests worth celebrating.

  • Matthews also set career highs in assists (46) and points (106), just the third Leaf to reach 100 points after Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour. His points per game (1.45) were the 12th-best in league history, third in the expansion era. And don’t forget he squeezed 50 of those 60 goals into a 50-game span to join an elite group of NHLers in that category.
  • Linemate Mitch Marner also set career highs in goals (35) and points (97). His points-per-game mark of 1.35 was the 17th-best ever in the NHL, fourth in the expansion era. He also scored in eight straight games, setting a franchise record.
  • Michael Bunting’s 23 goals, 40 assists and 63 points were easily career bests and the point total was the third-highest ever by a Leafs rookie, behind Matthews (69 points, 2016-17) and Peter Ihnacak (66, 1982-83).
  • William Nylander’s 34 goals, 46 assists and 80 points were career bests.

  • Campbell’s 31 wins and 49 games played marked personal highs.

More career highs

Ilya Mikheev 21 goals, 32 points

Pierre Engvall 15 goals, 19 assists

David Kampf 11 goals, 26 assists

Alex Kerfoot 13 goals, 38 assists

morgan rielly 58 assists

Timothy Liljegren 5 goals, 18 assists

Rasmus Sandin 5 goals, 11 assists

justin holl 3 goals, 19 assists

more notable

  • Jason Spezza finished with his highest goal total as a Leaf, with 12.
  • Wayne Simmonds led the Leafs with 96 minutes in penalties. No Leaf has had 100 since Matt Martin (123) in 2016-17.
  • John Tavares’s minus-8 was his worst as Leaf, as was Nylander’s minus-11.

  • Rookie Nick Abruzzese scored his first NHL goal in the last regular-season game.


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Leave a Comment