At The Crossroads — Again?

TORONTO (Oct. 30) — No person amid the Leafs hierarchy will confess to the truth, but jobs were squarely on the line, in Chicago, one year ago this weekend. The 2–4–1 visitors, having been demolished in Pittsburgh (7–1) and Carolina (4–1) to begin a three–game road trip, fell behind, 2–0, to the winless Blackhawks after the first period at the United Center. Another defeat would have spelled the end of coach Sheldon Keefe and, perhaps, general manager Kyle Dubas. As it were, the Leafs rebounded and won in overtime on a goal by William Nylander. From that point, until the playoffs, it was clear sailing, as Toronto went 52–17–6 in its remaining 75 matches.

Here we are now, one year and two days later, with the same anxiety having gripped Leafs Nation… and a foreboding perception that sticks of dynamite are about to be kindled. Should the Leafs somehow lose to the Anaheim Ducks (TSN4, 8 p.m. Eastern) at the Honda Center, thereby finishing a western road swing with but one triumph in five games, trigger fingers at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment could become happy. In crafting a 4–4–1 mark through nine games, the Leafs give the impression of a soft, apathetic team in which the most–important players understand they can perform nonchalantly without sanction. The reigning Hart Trophy winner, Auston Matthews, was listed 99th in National Hockey League scoring today, providing the most–glaring example of what ails the lethargic Leafs. The confused, broken–down blue line has further complicated matters and is still the most–widely (and grievously) forsaken project of the front office. The club, right now, cannot score its way out of trouble.


A catastrophic culture has quickly emerged in the first month of the season whereby the $48 million nucleus of the team (save for captain John Tavares) is not only playing poorly, but beyond any form of censure or discipline. Some have likened it to the so–called “Muskoka 5” era of two decades ago, when Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina and Mats Sundin refused to waive contract restrictions, preferring the “familiarity” of cottage country. That group, however, operated in a forced–labor camp compared to the current lineup. All but Kubina were party, as well, to the odd playoff triumph; the 2002 Maple Leafs advancing to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup semifinals before bowing to Carolina. The Matthews–Mitch Marner–William Nylander Leafs are, infamously and dubiously, the lone National Hockey League outfit to be sent packing on six consecutive occasions in the first volley of playoff warfare. There is absolutely no indication, right now, that the coddled and protected core of the team will show additional enthusiasm when (or if) the post–season arrives next April. The Leafs are in a crisis.

That’s why tonight’s game in Orange County, Calif. takes on the significance of the road match in Chicago 367 days ago. It’s not that the Leafs are incapable of a similar bounce back and another 100–plus point season. But, why wait for the inevitable playoff flop to occur? There is limited fire in the bellies of the Toronto core skaters. But, none (other than Nylander) are particularly movable, with their mega contracts. As such, yet another coach is almost surely (and unfairly) to be sacrificed… unless the poobahs at MLSE have seen enough. Or, care to rattle the cage, as Bell, Rogers and Larry Tanenbaum leave the appearance of alarming disinterest. There is, of course, no economic impetus to affect change — in the front office or the lineup. It seems the ownership cadre will have to be humiliated into acknowledging what the rest of the hockey world knows: the flawed approach to pampering those that underachieve, while shuffling interchangeable deck–chairs each summer, is a loser’s paradise.

The dynamite is in the house at the Honda Center. Will the fuse finally be lit?


10 comments on “At The Crossroads — Again?

  1. This group has not been fully engaged in a game yet this season. Not even close. Something is clearly amiss. I’d estimate Keefe has about 10 games left to figure it out.

      1. It seems , I believe they don’t have any confidence to play for management . Dubas can’t keep a goaltender around to build with , Freddie Andersen and Campbell were worth a chance to grow with these guys. Management is not a confident group for these guys other than paying out money. Trading Kapanen for Pittsburgh’s first pick and passing on Braden Schneider for another small Russian forward when they need defence told me all I needed to know about this mangement under Dufas

  2. Last night’s performance, if you can call it was dumbfounding. With their collective backs to the wall, the team demonstrated an absolute disinterest in the contest. Furthermore, the lack of attention paid to the defensive aspects of the game have hit a new low. The number of ill advised passes and careless turnovers is alarming even by Leafs standards. It is clear that the Team has quit on Keefe. However, the bigger question to be asked is whether Dubas should be allowed to remain at the helm?

  3. When is enough, enough? Dubas and Shannahan should’ve made changes after the Montreal series. They should not be afforded any more time.

  4. Howard, with all due respect, and despite what the Maple Leaf’s head office want us to believe, I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. For the past 4 years, hockey fans and the media have debated ad nauseum the shortcomings of this team. It started when KD took the reigns as GM. By now we should all accept the fact that this Leaf team’s composition is imbalanced, with redundancies, not enough grit/physical players, questionable goaltending and bad decisions by management. They can fire the coach, but that won’t change a thing.

  5. Leaf fan unfortunately for life – but first time i want them to keep losing. They will never win with Mathews and Marner = too soft, as the rest of the team. The team was built in a bad way – can’t fix it unless you blow it up once again and start from scratch. Blame players for their apathy but gotta get rid of GM and coach. Why is Evangell still playing – i would of put him on waivers long time ago (like Ballard said Inge Hammarstrom could go in the corner and not break the egg shells). Not hi=s fault doing crappy but set an example please. Holl same thing – rather have a pilon than him on the ice. Hope they lose toinight to hopefully see something happening. The leafs remind me of the movie Ground Hog Day – nothing ever changes.

  6. I hope it explodes, Howard. The Leaf successes of 1978, 1993, 1999 etc had people like Roger Neilson, Cliff Fletcher, Pat Burns, Pat Quinn. Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe are boy scouts compared to such hockey men.

  7. This core is 19-18 at home on Monday nights since 2017. I raise this obscure fact to illustrate more of the obvious: they play when they want to, not when the fans, the coach or management want them to. And playing Mondays following the Saturday night HNIC spotlight is a drag. Now imagine you’ve dug deep to take your seven year old son or daughter to their first Leafs game – on a Monday night. Imagine being greeted by lethargy. By Grade 11 educated men children making multimillions playing a game that they don’t quite feel up to playing, at least not on this night. That’s the Leafs in a nutshell, a culture through and through of mediocrity sold as something spectacular. Forget the Leafs haven’t won a Cup since 1967. Take a look at NHL teams who’ve simply been to the Cup final over the last 56 years. They’re almost all there – oh yeah, except Toronto.

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