A big part of “quarantine content” for many major sports media outlets right now has been going back to the past. Remembering big moments, reminiscing about favourite players, and, as a weird byproduct, maybe learning a little more about the teams and players they used to love, forced to look at them through a different lens.
Hockey is no exception to this, as you’ve probably seen on your favourite TV channel, Twitter feed, or elsewhere. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking up a way to contribute to this experience, and the answer is simple – I’m going to track some old games, using the methods that I use for my Marlies work on this website.
The reason for this? Well, data gets limited the further back you go. Shot metrics like expected goals and Corsi, for example, require the NHL’s play-by-play style statistics tracking, which was fully implemented in 2007/08. The same goes for lesser-value, but still entertaining statistics like hits, blocked shots, giveaways, turnovers, and the like. Going further back draws further blanks – games pre-1997/98, for example, don’t even have individual ice time. This means that an early 90’s NHL game has the exact same data problems as the AHL games I track today; essentially being limited to goals, assists, points, penalties, shots on goal, and plus-minus.
With this in mind, given that the readership of this site is Toronto based, I’ve identified a Leafs team that is simultaneously among the most revered and polarizing of my (and my generation’s) lifetime as the perfect test subject for this – the 1992/93 Maple Leafs. This roster is beloved for a lot of reasons. It was Toronto’s first competitive team coming out of the Harold Ballard ownership era, a mid-season trade kickstarted two breakout seasons for incomer Dave Andreychuk and up-and-comer Felix Potvin, Doug Gilmour had one of the best seasons in team history, and the team ended up within one win of making it to the Stanley Cup Final – complete with a controversial ending that has been the subject of discussion for nearly 30 years now.
They even made a feature-length film about the team, which I uploaded to Youtube 7 years ago, ripped off a VHS that my dad had me watch countless times in my formative years.
That latter sentence gives a good entry-point to why a younger generation has polarized the team a bit. Frankly, this roster has been deified in a way that would make you think they were a multi-cup winning dynasty, not a team that lost in the Conference Finals in back-to-back years. To this day, there is a significant chunk of the casual fanbase who uses the group as the measuring stick for how the current Leafs should be built, despite an extremely different game today, a whole different playing field for roster construction, and a lot of fortune that got the team there.
So, even if you love the guys who played for that team – I grew up on Dougie and Wendel and Dave and Felix and the entire rest of the gang, memorized the above video and the “Leafs are the Best” theme song – you get tired of hearing about them in every Leafs discussion, and you start to wonder if they were really all that great. After all, they finished 8th overall in a league of 24 (the current, “not good enough” Leafs are 12th out of 31 in a down year of misfortune and a coaching change – proportionately about the same), needed to stretch all their series to seven games, and while they were definitely the underdog against Detroit, were 14 and 11 points ahead of their following two opponents in the playoffs. Everyone loves a good come-up story and there was reason to treat these guys like a light at the end of the tunnel at the time, but do they really live up to the decades of nostalgia-driven hype?
That’s what I seek to find out. If what I was taught to believe was true, or if this was just another middle of the pack team who earned their legacy based on circumstances and fond memories. Over the coming days, I’ll be doing game-by-game “recaps” that include the same tracked data I usually give out for the Marlies – estimated time on ice, shot metrics, zone entries and exits, and a little bit more. Upon completion of what I believe to be the available sample, a portal will sum everything up and we can get a better idea of what the players and the team were. I’ll look at these games from a qualitative lens as well, but obviously, that will come with a mindset that doesn’t reflect the timeframe entirely.
The reason I’m announcing this early and trickling games out, rather than revealing the project all at once is two-fold. One, I’m starting the hourglass on myself – as you can probably imagine, it’s easy to procrastinate on a project in the middle of a pandemic.
More importantly, though, I’m putting his out on the off chance that there are more full, front-to-back videos sitting in someone’s recording folder, on a VHS that can be ripped, or something of the like. I’d like to increase the sample as much as possible, but that’s obviously only possible if I can get full games. Not highlights, not “game in an hour”, puck drop to final buzzer.
Right now, I have the following regular-season games:
- January 17th vs. Chicago
- January 23rd vs. Montreal
- February 13th vs. Minnesota
- February 20th vs. Boston
And the following playoff games:
- Games 2, 3, 4 and 5 vs. Detroit
- Games 6 and 7 vs. Los Angeles
If anyone has access to any more full Leafs games from the 1992/93 season, please don’t hesitate to shoot me a Twitter DM or an email. You can also use the contact form on this site. Also, consider subscribing to the site if you’d like to have access to the final portal when it’s completed, or if you’d just like to chip in a couple of bucks for the effort – I expect this to be a 100+ hour project when all is said and done, especially if we can get more footage. I hope everyone enjoys the final result as it comes!