Leafs Need Change at the Top

TORONTO (Oct. 31) — The Shanaplan has run its course. With no tangible result.

What seemed like a good idea nearly a decade ago has morphed into a calamity. And, it bears little relation to how many points the Toronto Maple Leafs accrue during this regular season. Stating it clearly and candidly, there is no logic or merit to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment continuing with its hockey management structure.

As per the blueprint of Brendan Shanahan, the Leafs drafted three talented youngsters, none of which possesses the appetite or inclination to challenge for the Stanley Cup. Certainly not while skating as feature performers on the same team; in a coddled, protected environment, no matter the homogenous, post–season frailty.

William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews will always provide empty thrills between October and April… but nothing more. Add in the crippling, $11 million–per–season contract handed to John Tavares — the lone member of the club’s nucleus that is putting forth an honest effort right now — and there is nothing left of the scheme that was supposed to end the longest championship drought in National Hockey League annals. Such an effort requires two months of physical and emotional drudgery. This group cannot win a single playoff round.

It is time, therefore, to replace Shanahan as president and Kyle Dubas as general manager. Fatally injured in the crossfire will be yet another coach, the 20th since the club’s last Stanley Cup triumph, in 1967. But, this mess is hardly the work of Sheldon Keefe, who has tried all means of roster manipulation to galvanize and inspire his elite players. Keefe was 100 percent bang on when he called out the $40 million men in the first week of the schedule. That it seems clear Shanahan and/or Dubas ordered him to backtrack is all you need to know about the club’s leadership and credibility — on and off the ice.  An impartial person is now required… before the current hierarchy, stubbornly and inexcusably, locks up its abortive nucleus for another decade. The second (and most–restrictive) professional contracts of Matthews, Nylander and Marner simply cannot be entrusted to Shanahan and Dubas.

The just–completed road swing out west merely put an exclamation mark on the doddering franchise. That the Maple Leafs couldn’t hold a 3–1, third–period lead against such a ‘B’ team as the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night was not disastrous in and of itself. There are still too many games left in the season to worry about missing the playoffs… or not according the ticket buyers some entertainment. But, the 1–3–1 trip through Winnipeg, Las Vegas and California was too ominous to ignore. Matthews showed up sporadically, but was largely invisible. Marner, clearly frustrated (again), was noticeable only when turning over the puck that led to opposition goals. And, Nylander remains “Mr. Perimeter”, with no drive or determination when he isn’t within scoring range. The blue line, as per usual, is in a shambles. And, goaltending remains a revolving door. This amalgam has never worked — and will never work — when the chips are on the table (April–to–June). We’ve written that, here, more times than is necessary. It’s unclear in the salary cap universe how the Maple Leafs can finagle these core contracts. All which is certain is that no change will be effected so long as Shanahan and Dubas are at the controls.

MLSE needs a fresh, new vision, led by an objective hockey mind that can see past the flaws of the current team. If ownership has even minimal integrity, it will have been quietly seeking such a person in the three weeks since the beginning of the schedule, when it was immediately clear that the club was spinning its wheels. Barry Trotz is among the most–respected figures in the game, but it’s unlikely even he can re–shape the future with the current lineup. Whether or not Trotz has designs on general managership isn’t known, but someone like him must overhaul the Toronto roster. If not immediately, then perhaps before the NHL trade deadline and ensuing playoffs. And, most critically, before next July 1, when no–movement clauses kick in for Matthews and Marner.

Standing pat will ensure that Shanahan and Dubas lock the Big 3 draft picks into career contracts… thereby dooming the hockey club to interminable post–season failure. A bold move is long overdue and cannot be executed by the prevailing hierarchy. Doing nothing, which has become a hallmark of Leafs ownership since the chancy pursuits of Shanahan and Mike Babcock, will work economically. With no pushback from ticket buyers, television sponsors or those that hoard team merchandise, neither is there authentic need to enact daring change.

But, make no mistake, the honor and ethic of this 105–year–old franchise is very much in peril.

We will find out whether that means anything to Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Larry Tanenbaum.



14 comments on “Leafs Need Change at the Top

  1. I don’t see how Nylander and Matthews can both be re-signed. Not enough cap space with Tavares and Marner still on the books.

  2. Not developing on their farm team is killing this team. Dubas initially was about developing players into above-average NHL’ers but he doesn’t have much to show for his efforts.

    I do like Coach Keefe but his system is no longer working. Toronto is unable to gain control of the puck in their own end and they are unable to have their defenseman advance the puck. These are serious flaws.

    I’m of the opinion that Keefe is going to get the axe out of necessity. Someone is going to have to come in, and change the way the team plays by actually coaching them. Trotz is as good as there is.

  3. Howard- you are very rarely wrong in these matters. MLSE will however dilly dally around, try to hire Trotz and will likely leave Dubas and Shanahan in place until the end of the season. Getting the third winningest coach in NHL history would certainly be an upgrade in theory- likely making spotty play by the big 4 more accountable. However- the hand cuffing of overall salaries with overpaying these 4 by the Dubas/ Shanahan two headed tandem is what concerns many of us. Regrettably- even if 2 of those players traded- they will no doubt play better elsewhere- and as such a lose/ lose proposition. High energy physical players that possess grit, skill and a goal scoring touch- do not grow on trees. Nazem Kadri was that type- but he played himself out of his Leaf uniform- with some serious playoff brain gas emissions. I agree that big time contract renewals to Marner and Matthews-or allowing them to get to trade embargo situation- is to be headed off until at least a one or two playoff series win is in hand. I don’t need the Stanley Cup to be won by Leafs presently- but winning a single series win would be an ambitious start. Failure to make the playoffs this season would be a “ hard watch”.

    1. Reading this post sparked a thought about Kadri. I wonder if his over the edge physical outbursts were a result of being essentially the only player on the team with any sort of physical edge? He was really the only guy on the team capable of even getting mad so perhaps he went overboard.
      I’ve come to the conclusion that the Leafs shouldn’t make any changes.
      Were they to fire Keefe they’d likely just elevate an assistant, and with this obviously flawed, inferior and unalterable roster the chance of playoff success is close to nil. There’s no point in trading more 3 legged deck chairs to suit up at the bottom of the roster.

      1. Don’t think there’s any question Nazem got frustrated being the lone wolf here in Toronto, while his pretty boy teammates, making two and three times as much, avoided messing up their hair.

  4. As has been written on your blog frequently the team will not be successful in the playoffs as constructed. It was painfully obvious that this years team was worse than last years, even without considering the goalies.
    What makes the situation right now worse is that they CAN’T make ANY changes to their roster aside calling up a different minor leaguer (different in name only, still a small non-physical, passive so-called skilled player). They are capped out and technically over the cap but Muzzin and Murray qualify for LTIR exemption and it’s only because of this they were able to call up the extras they have now.
    Worse, they are at the maximum number of NHL contracts at 50. Imagine wasting NHL contracts on guys like Malgin, Audette and numerous other non-factor players.
    So even if Dubas could come to his senses (HE WON’T!) he couldn’t trade for a player or even pick one up on waivers as his sinking ship is full!
    After reading your work Howard I decided to go checkout what the company line would be from Luke Fox at sportsnet. His article was entitled – Dreadful road trip shows Maple Leafs GM Dubas has not built a Cup contender.
    I just about fell off the toilet when I read that.

  5. The wisest action MLSE could take is find the best GM/President available, hire him, and let him decide on who should coach.
    This may make more common sense/nerve than MLSE possesses though unfortunately.

    1. This crap would never happen in a U.S market. They don’t hang on because the fans won’t come. Unfortunately for us long suffering Leaf fans this market monopoly is much different. There is no threat and no loss. Just a bunch of fat cats(players and management) getting richer. Business first hockey second. The best multi level marketing scam ever.

  6. On a much smaller scale, but still a questionable move of player scouting or evaluation. Leafs trade for Jared McCann (big body that competes) then leave him unprotected over Engvall. Seattle scoops him. McCann is the type of player the Leafs could have used.

  7. When Brendan Shanahan and Mike Gillis 2.0 aka Kyle Dubas are gone, I expect the Maple Leafs to go with someone who will be President and General Manager. Expect Peter Chiarelli and Ray Shero to be the frontrunners for the gigs. The question is will they get the OK from MLSE to conduct a full-scale rebuild that takes 4-5 Years? MLSE has never let a President/GM conduct a full-scale rebuild that lasts 3 to 5 Years. They had a chance to do it a few years back but trading for Frederik Andersen in the Summer of 2016 sabotaged any plans at a serious rebuild. Making the Playoffs instead of tanking in 2016-17 and 2017-18 was a big mistake by the Maple Leafs and the finger should be pointed at MLSE for putting money from 2-3 Playoff Home Games a year over long-term success from rebuilding through the draft. If the Maple Leafs had tanked in 2016-17 and 2017-18 instead of making the Playoffs, they would’ve had a chance at drafting Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. With the Leafs window at doing damage in the Playoffs now closed, the next President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs better get the go-ahead to conduct a serious rebuild which includes trading the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly. Band-Aid Solutions shouldn’t be acceptable anymore in Toronto in regards to getting the Maple Leafs over the top. MLSE needs to realize that rebuilding means you are bad for 3-5 Years at least before having success once again. That’s all I have to say about that.

    1. Peter Chiarelli?????…the same Peter Chiarelli who screwed up Edmonton so bad???…yeah, right, that’s who I want to over see this!…maybe he can bring back John Ferguson Jr to help out too :-)))
      Now you want a complete rebuild….anyone can see this current team can’t win, but you have elite pieces that teams die to get. Yes, someone will have to figure out who to keep, who to trade, and bring in some players with fire in their belly, but this is not a tear down….but yes, someone else will have to come in…who that is, I have no idea…but a HARD NO to someone as incompetent as Chiarelli….jesus, you don’t remember how they ran Quinn out, and brought in JFjr…the same thing could happen again, and make these 10X worse

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