TORONTO (Oct. 27) — In the third week of the seventh season since Auston Matthews scored four goals against the Ottawa Senators in his National Hockey League debut, joining franchise cornerstones William Nylander and Mitch Marner, the Toronto Maple Leafs are evidently in search of an “identity.” So claims the cast of characters covering the team early in the 2022–23 campaign. Obviously, the media has grown as indifferent as the players.
The Leafs looking for an identity? It can’t be serious. Not with a club unchallenged and unchanged through years of playoff failure by management, whose “elite” performers are so beyond censure that the coach — after valid and restrained criticism — is compelled to retract and beg pardon. Not with a club whose president and general manager, clearly supported by blasé ownership, turn a blind eye to indisputable frailty when the pressure mounts. The Maple Leafs, by all rational measure, have crafted an irrefutable identity as one of the foremost underachieving clubs in professional sport. How anyone following the team cannot long be aware of that boggles the mind.
Even the club’s most–ardent media supporter, Luke Fox of Sportsnet, could barely contain himself in his latest website posting: “In an attempt to jolt an uncharacteristically sleepy collection of forwards, the Toronto Maple Leafs coach has made changes to three of his four lines after Monday’s dreadful 3–1 loss to the Golden Knights in Las Vegas,” wrote Fox. Dreadful, yes. Uncharacteristic? I’m not so sure. The apathetic performances against Arizona and Vegas in the past week were a hallmark of the current Leafs. As my son, Shane, emailed during the home loss to the Coyotes: “I’ve seen this game 1,000 times.” Again, this is the unavoidable adjunct of a team that knows it is top–heavy enough to challenge for 100 points each year, yet one that also understands there will never be consequence for a lack of endeavor, no matter how blatant or humiliating. There is implicit direction from above that the nucleus of the team — Matthews, Nylander, Marner, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly — is not to be altered, reprimanded or rebuked in any manner, regardless of performance. As such, the vaunted quintet easily becomes distracted and disinterested against purportedly weaker opposition. It has already happened three times (beginning with the season opener, at Montreal) in the first two weeks of the schedule. When there is nothing to fear for a mail–in, there is no reason to exert. The background noise can be silenced with just a bit of effort, as we’ll probably witness when the club confronts the weak California teams to conclude its first extended road trip.
The visiting Leafs romped past San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim last season by a 15–4 aggregate.
CLEARLY, KNIGHT TIME ARRIVED FOR ONLY ONE TEAM ON TUESDAY IN THE DESERT.
Make–up performances, of which the talented Leafs are fully capable, strengthen the team’s identity as an uncontested body. It is beyond clear, today, that Matthews, Marner and Nylander will play elsewhere only if they choose to depart in free agency. Under no circumstance; regardless how many times the club is bounced from the initial strand of playoff warfare, will Dubas fiddle with his precious core. So long as he remains general manager, the status quo will prevail. If you are, therefore, among the five skaters gobbling up $48,005,616 of the salary cap, what impetus is there to show up more than half the time against inferior competition? If you are the president or GM of a team that underachieves every year when it matters — and the tall foreheads at Rogers and Bell (Larry Tanenbaum included) repeatedly look the other way — what incentive is there to make change? These are rhetorical questions that surround the most–stale franchise in the NHL. And, it’s the reason that reporters following the club seek out absurd angles in the second week of October. Every other angle has been explored to death.
Only when Rogers, Bell and Tanenbaum grow tired of whistling past the graveyard might the club qualify for a new “identity”. And, no one knows when, or if, that will happen. Hockey’s richest franchise motors along, assured of a profit margin that is inconceivable to most. No, the club is not cheap, as were past iterations. But, it hasn’t learned how to spend its boundless, interminable supply of cash. Toss in the non–stop bullheadedness of management (“we will get this done!”), and it’s no wonder the players are bored much of the time. Look at your own job and imagine the consequence if you chose to show up and perform intermittently. You would at least be reprimanded… and ultimately replaced. The big–money boys wearing blue and white encounter no–such burden. They’ve been protected, coddled and excused for so long that shrugging off a night’s work has become routine.
So, what’s all this bunk about the Leafs seeking appearance?
No club in the NHL is as identifiable or predictable… during winter and early spring.
The winds of change are blowing wild and free.
As it stands right now, there is zero leadership on the ice. Toronto’s current incantation is playing with ineptitude. Their transition game only seems to work if it is Marner who advances the puck (normally the work of the defenseman). Passing the puck to Auston Matthews for the one-timer is great for High-Lite reels and video games but will never equate to postseason wins.
The easiest change is the coach. Would Barry Trotz consider coaching here? Can he fix the broken system?
Can Dubas move out a player and bring in a defenseman like Rasmus Dahlin?
It won’t take many more games like last night for someone to make a move but it will happen.
Compare this team to Carolina or the Rangers.
As the kids like to say, “it is what it is”. I have said in the past that the time for change was after the Montreal series. As far as I am concerned, it is too late now. Realistically, what can they do now? They have no cap space even if they could make a trade. They have nothing on the farm that would improve the team. How many first round picks have been given away? I hope they can turn it around, but if not, it could be a long year.
These Maple Laughs need new/passionate president/manager and coach. Next, they need to put fire/incentives or you sit on the beach type of direction. But same old same old who cares as long as MLSE fills Scotiabank Arena… ownership of Bell and Rogers, who make tons, and put a Ballard-type product on the ice! As Bob McCown said the “business of sports”. Money talks, b.s. walks.
Not sure I would invoke Pal Hal’s name, but I hear your frustration.
Although a Leaf fan since the 60’s this team is going nowhere with Mathews and Marner + Dubas and + Sheldon. The players have no grit no pride no heart. Matthews lost 15 pounds to be faster and lost his scoring touch. Marner gained 15 pounds to be bulkier and can’t dance anymore. Regardless they are pampered spoiled brats. With their demeanor never going to win unless substitute pieces on a winning squad with true leaders. +Sheldon =starting Marlie goalie again +San Jo=se tonight thus going to play 2 out of 3 next game=s – buddy get the point=s when you can with Samsonov who has been great so far. What is he thinking, just like he put him with Arizona – get the points – get the points there are rest games in between – these are not back to back games. Plus he back steps and takes statements back – what a clown. But who supports all this and is the puppeteer – Dubas. If they kept Lou as GM and Hunter as Assistant GM they probably would have better results by now. Personally waiting for next tear down and rebuilt if =still alive to see them win a cup again (1967). Total disgrace. If same age would rather have Marchand and Bergeron than Mathews and Marner – this says it all!
I purchased a pair of tickets, each of the last two years, trying to take my son to his first NHL game. When I finally take him, it will be to see the opponent more than the Leafs. After the Montreal collapse, my son looked up at the two posters in his bedroom of Matthews and Marner and said “I guess I need a new favourite player”. I’ve had my heart broken for 40 years but how dare you break my son’s heart. Then after that debacle, you not only fail again last year, but you have a start like this? Unfortunately, my blue allegiance to the Leafs is bordering on religious so I can never truly turn my back on them, but you can be sure you will never get another dollar out of me until things have drastically change.
So for me, Tampa Bay, Boston and possibly Buffalo, if not Florida, occupy the top 3 division spots. That puts Toronto fighting for a wild card. If they were to come anywhere close to “not making” the playoffs, I wonder if then there might be some real change? Firing Dubas would be the start, but also with a new GM “FINALLY” trading Nylander or Marner. There is a part of me hoping they miss this year, it will force their hands or at least should.
The latest version of the Muskoka Five.
The Muskoka Five were in a forced labor camp compared to these guys. At least Tucker, McCabe, Roberts, Corson, etc. won a few playoff rounds.
It was/is obvious to all but the most blue & white blinded fans; this “team” as constructed IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
Denis Malgin IS NOT an NHL calibre player. Even in October.
The roster construction is fatally flawed with so much tied up in the top forwards and skimming the edges of the talent pool at the end of free agency delivers bodies with a pulse, but they don’t offer much more.
It’s absolutely pathetic that the only chance for the team to present a full roster is for their presumed #1 goalie and one of their top 4 defencemen to land on long term injured reserve.
And why is it apparently carved in stone and delivered from on high that 2 of the highest paid and most talented players MUST ALWAYS play together? Are they not talented enough to raise other line mates performances or are they only great players so long as they are playing with another star?
Apologists will correctly remind us all that it’s early still, but my perspective has remained that the soaring personal performances from last year would be difficult to reproduce and regression seemed a more likely scenario.
I read now where some are suggesting Barry Trotz take over. In my opinion Dubas would rather fail with Keefe than succeed by changing anything about his approach to the team. Having said that I don’t think Keefe is the problem by any stretch.
It didn’t take long to figure out that Kyle knows nothing about NHL hockey. Shanny on the other hand should be ashamed of himself for allowing the Leafs to become the softest team in the league. Or he just doesn’t care as long as collects a pay check. I wonder where the players get the disinterested attitude from?
What exactly is the “Shanaplan” and why does it take forever?
Good article, Howard. The Leafs will not overcome until they move on from Dubas and Keefe. No discipline nor spirit, small forwards, older injury-ravaged defence. They lose to a big strong team like Vegas and how does Keefe respond… puts Malgin back in. Ridiculous.
I can only agree. 19-18 at home on Monday’s nights since 2017. I understand there is such a thing as the Monday blahs, otherwise known at the HNIC Saturday letdown, but not for multi-millionaires playing a game. I hate to think of some mom or dad digging deep to take a son or daughter to their first Leafs game on a Monday only to witness lethargy. Disgraceful.