TORONTO (Nov. 1) — Apologists for the Toronto Maple Leafs, of which there are still too many, tend to skirt legitimate matters by referencing that the club had the same record (4–4–2) after ten games last season, only to amass a franchise–best 115 points. To which I respond, “Who cares?” It matters not to me whether the Leafs go 72–0–0 in the remainder of this regular schedule… and then flop in the first round of the playoffs; a stone–clad guarantee with the current roster. It is time to look big picture as it pertains to the management duo of Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas. Which, of course, is rather unsightly for the apologists, given the National Hockey League record of six consecutive ousters in the opening length of Stanley Cup toil. The excuse makers want us to peg away at regular–season gaiety and the likelihood the Leafs will again finish in the top–third of the NHL.
But, the current hierarchy no longer deserves that sort of mulligan.
The full scope of its work paints the picture of a flawed team that is gifted enough to excel between October and April, but without the guts and determination to raise performance when it matters. Why should this season be any different? Particularly when Shanahan and Dubas have created and endorsed a culture in which the inmates are running the asylum. Were those inmates in possession of fertile Stanley Cup resumes, perhaps it would be mildly excusable. But, when Mitch Marner is benched for one shift — ONE SHIFT!! — thereby creating an international incident, you know this club, as currently pieced together, has no hope. Marner throws a conniption between the benches in Anaheim and full–length, feature stories are dedicated to the peril of such heartless discipline from Sheldon Keefe. Good God! Had Marner performed as he did against the Ducks and gone postal on the late Pat Burns, he’d be sitting in the press box for the next three games. Instead, we have such veteran Leaf reporters as Jonas Siegel and Luke Fox wondering how Keefe could pull such a dastardly move on a member of the adored nucleus — again, a core that cannot win a playoff round — and how that will impact the head coach’s future.
Either Siegel and Fox are frightfully bored, or they cannot bring themselves to conceive of Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander drawing, when warranted, even a mild rebuke. Such is life around a hockey club that unjustly follows the beat of those who have never prevailed in the clutch — with the full blessing of the president and general manager. Which is the most–palpable excuse for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to show Shanahan and Dubas the door in favor of an approach that might actually be productive and professional.
From this chair, a poisonous culture has festered with the Blue and White. Getting rid of the handpicked — and, now, clearly henpecked — coach will only allow for the malady to metastasize. Can you imagine a widely respected individual like Barry Trotz agreeing to guide the Leafs amid such baseless criteria? When questioned about Marner’s absurd tantrum, Keefe replied, “I had no issue with it. Guys have to have outlets.” As if there was any other choice. Given the noxious environment created by the two poobahs, Keefe would have been summoned upstairs for a butt–whipping had be talked the truth. It really has become farcical in the Maple Leafs’ lair.
When the club coughed up a two–goal lead to complete its disastrous road trip and the traveling media wished a word from Dubas, the GM begged off. Hardly a surprise. Silence is golden when answers do not abound.
The roster and salary cap issues, alone, are sufficient for MLSE to seek new direction at the top. The culture makes it a no–brainer. While Dubas and Keefe have absorbed their share of gut–punches from the media, it’s been largely “hands off” for Shanahan. As if it is sacrilegious to scrutinize the man that has put the entire scheme — and all its components — into place. With not a smidgen of playoff prosperity in nearly a decade. Why the local media bows at Shanahan’s feet is an abiding mystery. Yes, he’s done a few good deeds; nurturing franchise legend Dave Keon chief among them and finally retiring (rather than “honoring”) the jersey numbers of clutch performers from the past. But, Shanahan’s record while running the Leafs, if you consider challenging for a title the least–bit important, is terrible. He’s been allocated more than enough time in the big chair. As I’ve written many times, however, Toronto is the easiest NHL city in which to fail on a regular basis. C’est la vie. Rinse and repeat.