TORONTO (Nov. 22) — If you’re wondering whether the Maple Leafs will consider a compelling move now that their top three defensemen (Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie) are sidelined with injury, allow me to answer one question with another: What truly significant transaction has the club pulled off since signing John Tavares as a free agent nearly 4½ years ago? I’m not talking about the annual goaltending shuffle or the long–term contract awarded Rielly last year. Neither was particularly avoidable. I’m looking more at an addition that could alter the losing playoff culture, or compensate for a manpower deficiency… though the Leafs have rarely encountered a crisis of this magnitude. The answer, clearly, is that no prominent move has been made by the club since landing Tavares from the New York Islanders on July 1, 2018. Why, then, should we expect anything now?
I’ve often wondered how much Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is paying Brendan Shanahan to sit around and watch his handpicked general manager sit around. Because, that’s essentially what happens in the ivory tower on Bay Street. No calamity is large enough, it appears, to spring the Maple Leafs into action. Not six consecutive years of playoff impotence or any form of roster disability during the 82–game schedule. Sure the Maple Leafs have been hamstrung by self–inflicted cap restraint, which limits the chance of a notable augmentation. Except, now, the club has (according to capfriendly.com) $7,200,833 in Long Term Injury Reserve (LTIR) relief. Evidently, that’s the reason for such a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. A management group with even a smidgen of urgency might work with one or two other clubs to creatively utilize the emergency funds and compensate for such a grievous deficit — particularly with a blue line that isn’t beyond average when intact.
But, don’t expect any such exertion on your behalf from Shanahan and Dubas.
THE DYNAMIC DUO HASN’T DONE MUCH WITH THE LEAFS SINCE COERCING JOHN TAVARES TO LEAVE THE ISLANDERS IN JULY 2018. WHY EXPECT ANYTHING NOW? BRUCE BENNETT GETTY IMAGES
The path of least resistance is far–more appealing in a hockey city that never demands anything but 20 bodies on the bench every game night. Why extend yourself or assume any form of risk? No one in the mainstream media will provide demand or incentive; not when the media is literally owned by the hockey club. Even the outlets that are not in MLSE’s financial pocket walk on eggshells around the Leafs. So, forget about that. Is there any concern about tickets for games at Scotiabank Arena remaining unsold? Or, that club merchandise will not continue to be hoarded, in person and on line? Both questions are rhetorical and rather amusing. Which is why we have a president and GM more than willing to convince followers of the club, after every springtime disaster, that “we will get this done” by lazily holding onto the same abortive nucleus. It would seem the Toronto hierarchy firmly contends that Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander can offset any form of roster instability.
How else to explain that the Leafs do nothing of significance? Ever.
“Right now, the Leafs don’t have a vacant contract spot,” the Toronto Star’s Chris Johnston said on TSN earlier tonight. “They’re at the maximum 50 contracts and would have to get rid of one to add another making any salary.”
That’s right. But, imagine Shanahan and Dubas actually putting their heads together and attempting an innovative solution. Why… when there’s no call or requirement for any such action from reporters, commentators or the impassive bean counters above? It’s way easier to have the coach tell the public he’s “confident” his minor–league–caliber replacements will capably fill for the top three on defense. The submissive media will buy any such nonsense and the forever–hopeful supporters of the team will cross their fingers yet again. Problem solved.
Instead, the big move is placing Wayne Simmonds on waivers for a second time, hoping a rival GM will take leave of his senses and put in a claim, thereby opening up a contract and some more cap space (there’s also a chance of winning Lotto 6/49 every time you buy a ticket). Then, there was this from Darren Dreger: “[The Leafs] believe in their offence and know they are going to produce. If they have to protect their own end; protect the middle of the ice; protect the neutral zone, then doesn’t that, systemically, make them a better club moving forward?” What Darren failed to explain is why the Leafs haven’t been able to accomplish that in the past 55 years. Again, it was just words… on the network owned by the hockey club. Darren knows better than to expect any such achievement… even when the team is healthy; let alone with its blue line completely decimated. Yet, that’s the unavoidable spin — now and forevermore — when commentary is offered through the prism of team ownership.
But, who knows? Maybe the injury to Rielly will motivate Leafs management into doing some work beyond poring over silly analytics. It cannot be expected, though it remains a possibility. Doesn’t it?