From Cheap to Cavalier

TORONTO (June 5) — So, the week has passed with nary a whimper.

All is forgiven and nearly forgotten. Time to move on, Leafs Nation. But, please, understand this:

Your favorite club has refused to properly allocate money in the salary cap world — thus the four players, all forwards, consuming more than 50 percent of the payroll ceiling; the necessity to fill out the roster with cheap skaters well past their prime and insufficient cap space to accommodate the longest–missing ingredient: an elite defenseman. And while the Leafs are not blatantly and outwardly frugal as during their lost years under the ownership of Harold Ballard (below), this week proved that management is equally cavalier about winning. Choosing, so immediately, to remain status quo after the playoff embarrassment against Montreal showed that Brendan Shanahan — evidently with full support of Rogers, Bell, Larry Tanenbaum and the Board at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — has acquired some of Ballard’s indifference and lack of urgency. Which is monumentally tragic.

Neither should it come as a major shock, even if requiring more than eight years… and a fifth consecutive failure in the post season; this one, more colossal than the others. Most people are products of their environment and Shanahan has worked for nearly a decade in the city that holds its NHL team to the lowest conceivable standard. In the absence of concern from the MLSE Board, he has no impetus to make a tough decision. So, he tells us that everything will be okay. And, the only people truly entrusted with calling him out — reporters and columnists in the mainstream media — merely shrug and print his comments. Not one of them criticized Shanahan for his unwarranted, gratuitous endorsement of what is now a serial playoff also–ran. One story on Friday, astonishingly, claimed the Leafs “have another three years” to figure it out. Honestly. In other words, the same manager and playing core can fail in the post–season again next year; in 2023 and in 2024, prior to any significant amendment.

As written, no team, in any league; in any city, has it easier than the NHL club with, now, the longest–ever Stanley Cup drought. Any person affiliated with the Maple Leafs that contends Toronto is a “tough” hockey city suffers from grave delusion. We expect that from the innumerable souls who offer their guts to the team every season. All Leafs Nation can do is watch… and hope. The full responsibility for achievement, or lack thereof, rests with ownership and management. As it did when silly Ballard ran the show. And, right, now, the Leafs appear to be following the same path as the Pal Hal era. Lots of talk about “wanting” to win… but no response to repeated failure.

If MLSE and Shanahan have lapsed into a state of paralysis; if they have fallen hopelessly in love with their initial concept — as it appears — the Leafs are doomed. Indefinitely. A leader less concerned about his own position, in a city that demands even a smidgen of accountability, would never offer the hollow promises that Brendan did this week. On the contrary, it is more imperative now than in any point of the “Shanaplan” era that the club look inward. Understand, justifiably, that giving it a helluva try with the current scheme hasn’t worked. And, will not work.


Neither am I suggesting it will be easy to lock horns with the salary encumbrance of the Big 4. Not with a flat cap and demonstrated playoff underachievement. Yet, the Leafs have no choice but to find a way — any way — to untie the rope. Until there is cap space available to somehow unearth a franchise defenseman, this pattern will continue. Unabated. Were that the case today, the Leafs could make a reasonable overture to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Seth Jones, who will not return to the Ohio club after next season. At 26, shooting right–handed and entering the prime of his career, Jones is precisely the element the Leafs are lacking. But, there’s no way the club can accommodate yet another $6 million–plus contract (which will grow beyond $8 million when Jones becomes a free agent next summer, in 2022). Nor can it likely re–up, this off–season, with a useful component, Toronto native Zach Hyman. Not by staying the same. And, by hoping —  well beyond hope — that “insanity” will prevail.

So, once more: Rinse. And, repeat.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

18 comments on “From Cheap to Cavalier

  1. I agree 100% with everything you say, Howard. They’re in love with the process. Which part of the process are the succeeding in? If you look at their recent drafts, they have been very unsuccessful in that area. Very, very few solid prospects ready to play for cheap intro contracts. Doesn’t their process depend on that?

  2. Hello Howard, I hope ( yet honestly doubt ) Shanahan and Dubas were blowing smoke about the big four coming back intact. It’s obvious Marner is the only financial and hockey move to be made to receive salary cap space and hockey return.

    If they can find a suitor who has cap space, grade “A” prospects and wants to improve in the standings next year maybe a trade can be made. The Leafs can use the money to sign Hyman and get a grade “B” free agent in his late 20’s or early 30″s. Not grade “C” free agent’s like Thorton and Simmons.

    For example, I here about how the La Kings are full of high end draft pick’s for several years to come. I know Carolina have an owner with spending issues but maybe he will deepen his pockets if they go to Tampa despite a better regular season result. He lost a fortune on XFL football so I assume money can be spent on a hockey contender.

    If they Leafs move Marner for picks and prospects they will not lose any fan base and will be just as competitive in my opinion. As long as they spend up to the cap, the backlash from Leaf Nation will not be harsh. The result can’t be any worse than June of 2021 and improvement in the post season will make most people satisfied and the Leafs more financial flexibility in years to follow.

    1. Use Marner’s cash to land an soemewhat elite D. The Penguins are only recent champ to win without at least two,elite D. Muzzin is our best.

  3. Howard,

    As I mentioned earlier this week, I struggle to see any path to success for this club, either as constructed or with surgery. I suggested earlier this week that I would consider moving Marner and Nylander for Eichel and Buffalos first; then sign Dougie Hamilton. But even then you have to fill your roster out, and those moves don’t buy much cap space. Nonetheless, that roster would at least intrigue me next year.

    Either way, I do think that if this leadership group isn’t willing to change course, then they need to be replaced with a group that would.

    At least we can sleep well knowing that Lou didn’t accomplish anything after leaving Toronto.? I still submit that Lou would have found a way to build this team differently, managing the cap better. Promoting Dubas when they did was the start of the end for this teams window of contention.

    Anyway, enough venting. Wake me up in September when we can be led back to the band wagon again by Shanahan and Co. Maybe they can resign Wayne Simmonds, and tell us all how much tougher they are. How many minutes did Wayne play in the playoffs this year?

  4. Lapsed into a state of paralysis…Well said Howard.

    It feels like MSLE has hosted a big party with an open bar, and are OK with allowing Shanahan and Dubas to drive home afterwards.

  5. You seem to have a bit of a disconnect with everyday Leafs fans. I’m in my mid 40’s and have followed this team my entire life. I’ve slowly put them on the back burner.
    This latest collapse has lead to most Leaf fans I know to go to extremes I’ve never witnessed.
    It’s not the protests in the streets that we’d see from passionate European soccer fans, but people have had enough. I know Leafs fans who have now ordered Kraken merchandise. Others have decided to box up every hat, jersey, T-shirt, coffee mug, etc and put them in a dark corner in the basement until such time this team can show they are worth our time, money, and the energy.
    Do not confuse the cavalier attitude of the media with the absolute distain that longtime fans have begun to display.
    I’m sure there will still be enough blowhards to line the pockets of MLSE, but I’ve never seen this fan base so pissed off.
    It may actually be a enough to put a dent in MLSE’s bottom line.

    1. There’s no disconnect. It’s an annual rite of spring. Get mad at the team and swear to only watch when they earn another chance. Then… back in front of the TV for the opener in October. You’re no different than anyone else. Neither will you ignore the Leafs once they start playing again. But, I appreciate your passion.

  6. Shanahan turned this franchise around, & is a proven winner. It’s not his fault Marner disappeared & Matthews was silent in the final 3 games. Carey Price was the difference, & having 5,500 nurses at the arena vs. real die-hard fans for game 7 didn’t help the cause either…

    1. I agree ..keep dreaming and making excuses Vlad. They are not going to do anything next year.

    2. Vlad when was there 5,500 nurses at any of these games? What does that have to do with the series? Keep defending bud

    3. Are you talking about those real die-hard fans in the lower bowl of Scotiabank that don’t return to their seats until 10 minutes after the period starts because they’re in the lounge of their company? The die-hard Leafs fans are at home watching it on TV. Shanahan turned this franchise around? Thanks for the laugh. Pat Quinn was the closest to turning it around. If Marner and Mathews perennially disappear and are silent, who can change this and why hasn’t it happened? Shanahan was a great player, an underwhelming hockey executive.

  7. But…But…Howard, what about the process? The leafs are all about/in on “The Process”.
    Successful organizations come up with a mission, and a strategy to achieve success. The strategy continually evolves based on internal and external forces.
    Shanahan, Dubas & Keefe’s comments suggest arrogance as opposed to pride. Doggedly sticking with their plan, in the face of mounting evidence that it is destined to fail is just stubbornness. With a non-expanding salary cap and such a large percentage allocated to 4 forwards means that the team NEEDS to make sacrifices at every other position. They can’t afford to improve the quality at any position. The notion that 4 (paid like) superstar forwards can win playoff hockey games surrounded by interchangeable minimum salary players has been proven false.
    Their division mates continue to get better. In this years playoffs, was/is there another team against which the leafs could honestly be favored to win a 7 game series? Not to my eyes.
    Missing the playoffs next year is very possible, and I expect at the very least it will be the end of the Dubas experiment.

  8. The Shanaplan seemed to be progressing nicely, and then the Leafs decided to sign John Tavares. I like him as a player and leader, but signing him led them into this cap hell. Dubas then had almost no choice to give the other three big contracts. At the time, the Leafs didn’t need more scoring, but rather an elite Dman as you have often pointed out Howard. I don’t know which Dmen were available at the time, but the Leafs deviated from the Shanaplan and got greedy. Now look where they are.

  9. The legacy continues. In an organization that – win or lose – keeps making money hand over fist, there really is no incentive to win.

  10. As much as the Leafs recent collapse where they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory cuts like a knife what hurts more is the realization that the narrative is unlikely to change considering the Leafs Cap dilemma caused by the loss of NHL revenues due to the Covid-19 Pandemic that has frozen the Salary Cap and by the 4 Big Maple Leaf Salaries. Unfortunately the analytics don’t like Seth Jones so a trade for the often overhyped Columbus defenceman would be a terrible gamble. A Marner and Liljegren trade for the discontented Buffalo forward, Jack Eichel would boost an offence that features limited proven goal scoring prowess beyond Matthews, Tavares and Nylander.
    Marner’s petulant post game media availability resembled that of an immature teenager unwilling take criticism let alone own his portion of responsibility for the yet another playoff failure. Time to move on.

  11. Frustratingly; same old, same old.
    It can also be argued that if the league returns to the previous division alignments next season, the Leafs will be hard pressed to even qualify for the playoffs.
    Would that motivate ownership enough to make some consequential changes?

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