“Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here!”

TORONTO (May 17) — Come on, be honest, you didn’t expect to hear a different message from your Toronto Maple Leafs today? Did you? Why would the club venture outside its vaunted comfort zone in the National Hockey League’s most–hapless market? With countless fans that are already looking forward to all the regular–season goals Auston Matthews can score next year. And, more than enough sycophants in the mainstream media content to ensure they don’t upset players or management with critical observation and commentary.

Welcome, Leafs Nation, to yet another Groundhog Day in the middle of spring.

Many questions abound, but one thing is for absolute certain: No team in the history of North American professional sport has provided its personnel — on and off the ice — a seventh attempt at accomplishing the bare playoff minimum. It’s unlikely that a club has been given more than three–such opportunities without significant change. You need not wonder, therefore, why the Leafs are the butt of jokes across Canada and throughout the hockey world. It’s the result of spineless, fractured ownership that undoubtedly wants to win; will pay to win, but refuses to take anything but the path of least resistance. Electing, eternally, to play its tortured, unconditionally loyal patrons for the collective fool. Knowing there will be minimal pushback in any form that might threaten the bottom line. Harold Ballard… Steve Stavro… the Teachers… Larry Tanenbaum… Bell Canada… Rogers. Different names; disparate companies, but with the identical laissez–faire approach to ending hockey’s interminable championship drought. Why? You know the answer: Because they can. Always and forever… they most–certainly can.

Brendan Shanahan, with the cushion of three more guaranteed years as president of the Leafs, astoundingly told the media that “we’re not going to make change for the sake of change.” Providing, of course, we can still be astounded by anything Shanahan says. Change for the sake of change? After nearly a decade of hollow triumph under his stewardship? Shouldn’t change be affected in order to try and win something? If there’s a sports team in all of the world that justifies structural and cultural amendment more than the Maple Leafs, I’d like to know about it.


Again, it’s not so much that the Leafs need to bring in a new general manager and coach — Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe have fared quite nicely (until it matters) — but rather the flimsy, sophomoric excuses for staying the same. Year after year after year. Disappointment after disappointment. If you’re a dyed–in–the–wool fan of the Leafs, surely, by now, you’d appreciate someone — anyone — losing a bit of decorum in front of cameras and microphones on locker clean–out day and telling the world “this is freaking unacceptable! We can’t keep going down the same path and expecting to arrive at a different destination.” Instead, we have Shanahan and Dubas, side by side, spewing the same old bullshit about how they “believe in the group.” Is there anyone else on the hockey planet that truly has confidence in this godforsaken group beyond the last week of the regular schedule?

It’s like a tragic comedy. The Leafs resemble a slick moving company with an elegant, shiny van and employees dressed to the 9’s… who drop the furniture while entering your house. Can you imagine that company sending the same delivery people to every house over a seven–year span? That’s how absurd the situation has become with the Blue and White. Which brings us back to the rulers of the ivory tower — Bell, Rogers and Larry T. — who evidently will allow Shanahan and Co. to “get this right”… or die while trying. The Vegas Golden Knights, with a storied legacy of five NHL seasons, 100 fewer than the Leafs, failed to make the playoffs for the first time. And, fired their coach within two weeks. I’m not suggesting Peter DeBoer was the culprit, but the Knights wasted no time in sending a note of dissatisfaction. The Leafs keep blundering in the Stanley Cup tournament and promising they will tinker with the bottom third of the roster. Knowing, all the while, they can get away with such feeble nonsense.

Perhaps the nearly flat salary cap will rescue the team and its fans. Surely we cannot count on Dubas — knowledgeable, but not nervy — to move on from the man–crush involving his precious and beloved core. The Leafs have $77.451 million committed to the roster for next season, a paltry $5 million beneath the cap ceiling. Close to $48 million is absorbed by the Fab Five: Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly. No general manager devoted to ending such a ridiculous playoff famine would continue to say “don’t worry, everything will be just fine.” Instead, that person would find a way to transform the losing playoff culture with at least one poignant alteration; in this example, moving out a member of the sacred nucleus. A good GM, in fact, needs to be borderline ruthless when warranted. Kyle is already three years late in summoning any form of roster cruelty. Evidently, yet astonishingly, that continues to appease ownership and the president.

More than ever before, the cap arithmetic is unworkable for the Maple Leafs.

With the usual token effort by management, fans of the club had best prepare to rinse. And repeat.


15 comments on ““Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here!”

  1. Good one!
    But unless you pass during the hockey season I’m afraid that you’d be SOL since: Matthews would be on a flight to Arizona immediately after Locker Clean-out day, Marner would be partying at his cottage mansion, Nylander would be hanging with the Swedish women’s ski team, and Tavares would be…………..meh who cares? They don’t, why should we?

  2. This team SUCKS!!! Plain and simple. When I die, I want the Pall-Bearers for my casket to be Shanahan, Dubas, Matthews, Mariner, Tavares and Nylander. That way these classic under-achievers can “Let me down one last time”

  3. This is a viewpoint that desperately needed to be expressed. Well done Howard. After watching the interview I thought to myself if the Leafs were a public company trading on the NYSE how long would this management group have lasted?
    Then I remembered a Harold S Geneen observation;
    It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises-but only performance is reality.

  4. Now that was a giant stinking pile of self-congratulatory horse crap. How did they fit those 3 enormous (and undeserved) egos in the same room?
    Dubas is mezmorized by the gaudy individual stats of the shiny baubles he signed. He can’t bring himself to recognize that trading someone could address one of the team’s deficiencies creating a better chance for actual success. In the same vein, because he’s so close to the coach he can’t even bring himself to entertain the notion of hiring a better one. Keefe is a good coach who MIGHT get better as experience accumulates. Barry Trotz, Joel Quennville are better, more accomplished coaches NOW. So when Dubas claims that he will make changes if they will improve the team, it’s just empty words; he doesn’t mean it. When I heard the BS about Keefe being spoken in similar terms in “12 OR SO YEARS’, I just about puked.
    Howard you are so right about how low the performance bar is set for the leafs, from the players up to the top. I constantly hear comparisons to the experience in Washington and Tampa, but I NEVER hear about the changes they undertook to position themselves to win, or the fact that along the way they actually won playoff series’ and advanced.

    People use the phrase, “trusting the process” because in truth they have no clue how to move the needle, or they are too hesitant/afraid to make the tough decisions necessary. Or they are just determined to prove that they know better.

    I don’t believe Shanahan, Dubious or Keefe are incompetent, they’re just arrogant in their comfortable, safe, unchallenged positions defined by low expectations. Defeat and failure can rest lightly on their shoulders because there is no expectation of success or consequences for failure.

    I DO believe that the MLSE board IS incompetent. Bell and Rogers are just happy that the other isn’t getting the content that they are and Tannebaum just likes hanging around athletes. It’s as bad as the Teachers/Peddie/JFJ ever were.
    I didn’t watch a second of leafs hockey this season or playoffs. I listened to the radio on a few occasions but without regularity. After all these years I finally gave up last season and canceled TSN and Sportsnet, and while I realize it’s meaningless to them it sure felt good to deny them my money.

  5. I agree with Howard that the organization has not justified the loyalty the fans base has shown. However, I don’t think the ownership group cares. How could they with this record? This version of the Leafs has squandered the best years of some of the league’s most talented players. Maybe the next version of the Leafs will be better.

  6. I’m a little confused when I hear that Dubas is in love with “his core”. I could be wrong but I believe Reilly, Nylander, Marner, and Matthews were all drafted by previous management before Dubas was even the GM assistant!

    Usually when a new GM comes in, rightly or wrongly, he likes to move out some of the previous regimes pieces in order to put his stamp on it. With that being said why after 3 unsuccessful years as the GM would Dubas not be willing to make at least one significant move?

    To give credit to this management group is laughable. They had very little to do with the quality pieces on this team. Maybe Shanny a bit for doing one additional tank year after the Marner draft year and getting Matthews but anybody and their dog could’ve produced a losing season.

    I wish I could do that in my job…..really be lazy for 12 months so that next year when I do try it looks fantastic by comparrison.

  7. Had a great regular season smashing all previous leaf records. Several great individual achievements as well. Undoubtedly a few home runs with bargainbasement adds (Kampf, Bunting, Kase (sometime)). however also a few mulligans needed on Mrazek and Ritchie. I guess Dubas’ batting average this year anyway was not that bad.

    Great series vs Tampa. May be indeed the best series short of the Cup finals. Still overall Dubas and his coach came up short. Questions must be answered. Can the talent gap be made up as it appears to no longer be an issue of effort.

    Like Chynewith and Carbery. Great adds. Malholtra set us back and needs to go. Dubas needs IMO to also grow some thicker skin with his players and have a clear delineation between player and coach. Something to be said about his silence when Spezza was doing all the dressing room talking during a critical mid series game.

    Dynamic may also change if Tavares gives Matthews the captaincy. Its time, he has paid his penalty for that past summer misjudgment. Team may respond differently with him as the official leader.

  8. Holy Crap!

    It is hard to fire a coach who just set a regular-season record for points but I don’t expect Toronto to get any better next year without a new system or without acquiring a stud defenseman.

    After being ahead of both Montreal & Tampa yet still finding a way to lose …. well the coach should be fired. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

    Keefe is a good coach but he’s not ruthless like Sather, Bowman, Trotz, or Torts.

  9. For all he has accomplished as a player in the NHL, Brendan looks like a idiot for how he has managed this assignment. Respect is hard to earn, but easy to lose. I have no respect for him and from what you wrote in this blog, so have many other people in the hockey world.

  10. The answer Howard, or st least an attempt at ending the lunacy, might be to have a properly organized Maple Leafs supporters club, similar to what exists with teams in the English Premier League. Those organizations don’t have a ton of influence but they have some and at times they hold management feet to the fire. I’d love to see it.

  11. “Surely we cannot count on Dubas — knowledgeable, but thoroughly gutless — to move on from the man–crush involving his precious and beloved core.”

    I’m confused Howard, just a blog or two ago you said no changes to front office. So should I assume then you’d like the same morons who created this mess to be the ones to fix it? I’m a fan of your blog big time just trying to understand how you could possibly support keeping those clowns in the front office.

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