Leafs Fans Unsure What They Want

TORONTO (Feb. 25) — God help the tortured soul that replaces Kyle Dubas as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. For that person’s sake, the sooner it happens, the better, as the current GM hasn’t yet unloaded his first–round draft picks beyond 2023. Given, however, that survival is a primal instinct, how much longer can Dubas hold off before relinquishing whatever remains of the club’s immediate future? That Kyle has been allowed to loiter in “draft schmaft” territory while not under contract beyond this season is a blemish on president Brendan Shanahan, who evidently cannot make up his mind about the young executive he chose over Lou Lamoriello.

Anyone, therefore, who contends the Leafs are being managed functionally right now should take a closer look.

Never in the 106–year history of Toronto’s National Hockey League team has it prospered from a wave of depleted draft selections. Not once. Eras have come and gone in the NHL, but even that of unrestricted free agency cannot flourish in the absence of prudent scouting and drafting. When the Leafs understood they would place in the bottom–quarter of the standings, they held onto their elite draft selections, procuring William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews in consecutive years. That was easy. Far more challenging is to unearth a top prospect in the lower portion of the opening round… or in Rounds 2 and 3. Still, there is no demonstrated value in tossing away such opportunities, as done repeatedly in the Dubas era. Last week provided a glaring example.

Dubas traded his 2023 first–rounder and a thwack of lower picks to acquire Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from St. Louis. Both are good players. That move, however, was completely offset when the Boston Bruins — the NHL’s runaway top team this season — dealt for defenseman Dmitry Orlov and rugged winger Garnet Hathaway from Washington. The Bruins markedly enhanced their blue line, adding Orlov to Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm; any of the three arguably better than what the Leafs currently possess. And, they upgraded their long–held capacity to control the boards during the playoffs, for which the Leafs have neither the nerve nor the ambition. Dubas remains fatally attracted to forwards, somehow believing centers and wingers can compensate for deficiency behind center ice. His scheme hasn’t engendered a smidgen of playoff prosperity… only in our always–forgiving hockey market could a GM be accorded a sixth consecutive opportunity to escape the first round (and, don’t look now, but it appears the New York Rangers are about to add Patrick Kane to their arsenal. Gulp!).

Neither can fans of the Maple Leafs properly express their inclination. They’ve been so force–fed by the team and cheerleading media on the virtues of Nylander–Marner–Matthews — with no tangible evidence — that confusion and contradiction prevail. After a victory, they marvel at the skill and preeminence of the forward flock. After a loss, they sulk into a “this team will never get it done” posture. Often in the span of 24 to 48 hours. When pressed, however, for culture change, they cower. On one hand, the fans want the team to go “all in” for a deep Stanley Cup run this year. On the other, it absolutely must occur with the same cast that can never escape the opening round. When presented with a strategic “all–in” trade that would easily improve the club — Auston Matthews for Erik Karlsson — the confused followers shudder. “What? A 25–year–old entering his prime for a 32–year–old having one good year?” they ask, incredulously (and ignorantly). As if age is the lone factor in Matthews’ inability to elevate performance when it matters. After all, how could the runaway Norris Trophy favorite help a team that is middle–of–the–pack on the blue line? Leafs fans want to win now… but not at the cost of a nucleus that always fails.

Yet, the fanbase can be blamed only to a point. Most Leaf supporters want to believe what the team offers up for public consumption. Despite knowing better. “We like our group… this group will get it done” has been the mantra of the Shanahan–Dubas era. Even with nothing to show. So, why ultimately question “the group?” This leads to resignation, such as the prevailing hope that Dubas will be fired after another first–round exit. But, why waste a further playoff opportunity just for that to happen? This lopsided club is screaming for balance. Would that not occur by sacrificing some talent up front for the most–skilled defenseman in the NHL this season? Particularly after acquiring a “playoff–type” performer (O’Reilly) from St. Louis? Evidently not, once the cycle begins anew: “But, we can’t trade Auston Matthews; he scored 60 goals!” they say, forgetting the chagrin of Tampa Bay gutting the Maple Leafs so soon after the 60–goal colossus. Isn’t it easy to detect and observe the incongruity within Leafs Nation?

Bottom line is, the Leafs and the media have coerced fans into falling — and staying — in love with the highly imperfect core comprised during the “Shanaplan” era. So, the loyal subjects lapse into a form of surrender. “All of this talent has to come through eventually,” they tell themselves, unfailingly. Even while turning away from their TV sets every time Morgan Rielly or Justin Holl touches the puck in the defensive zone.

Don’t try to figure it out. Chances are you’ll go insane.


15 comments on “Leafs Fans Unsure What They Want

  1. I agree 100% that the Leafs need a true #1 D like Karlsson, but they also need a legit goalie (maybe they have it now but I think not). In addition to that they need to be strong at centre which is why trading Matthew’s would be a bad idea (unless they know he won’t be resigning).

    Trading Nylander (+ prospects) and Murray for Karlsson would make more sense to me.

    Also Nylander has never gone up against the other teams beat D pairing in the playoffs like Matthews and Marner have. Facing Chara, Webber and Headman in my opinion has put Matthew’s in a really difficult position. Yeah he has to rise above it but I’m confident he has handled it better than Nylander would’ve. You could be contradicting yourself there Howard. Matthew’s has been the victim of facing a real #1 D every playoffs. If Matthew’s was going up against the Leafs D core all these past years I suspect he would have a much better playoff resume.

  2. Karlsson played good in 2017 so I will give you that, if Sens had beat the Pens with Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Kessel and Murray in net Karlsson would have won the Conn Smythe. At the same time you have to admit Sharks have not done much with Karlsson on the roster and are a bottom feeder now playing in garbage time.
    Do you remember how Reimer, Andersen and Campbell all choked under pressure and missed n what should have been routine saves? A few saves would have won a few 1st round series, at least I think so, maybe you don’t?

  3. The Leafs looked good tonight against Seattle. Stellar goaltending and four lines all contributing. Matthews with Marner and Tavares with O’Reilly looks good. I can see Matthews raising his game and winning a Cup but you are not winning anything with Karlsson. I live in Ottawa so I have watched Karlsson a lot. He was good but made a lot of stupid mistakes that cost the Sens games when it counted the same way Chabot does now. Going back to 2013 the Leafs goalies, Reimer, Anderson and Campbell choked every time when it counted in the playoffs. Reimer flopping on the ice and Anderson shots from the corner going in and Campbell on a wrist shot in OT where he said it was the worst goal he ever gave up. Without goaltending you can’t win in the playoffs so maybe the Leafs without their Norris d-man were not as bad as you think because their goalies couldn’t make routine saves under pressure. So I don’t think management should be blamed when a goalie who should be able to and is expected to make a straight forward save suddenly forgets how to make a save. Of course Samonov might choke too, only time will tell. But if Samsonov plays the way he did tonight the Leafs might even surprise you.

    1. You have a selective memory. Karlsson singlehandedly lifted your Senators to within one win of the 2017 Stanley Cup final. At which point, he would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

  4. The same O for number as AM in playoffs (6). WN has out scored AM over last 2 losing rounds 8 goals to 5 in the 14 playoff games played.

    I would move AM before Nylander, somebody will need to go in 2024 so do it now!

  5. No way the Sharks retain any salary for EK. Every team except Boston is chomping at the bit to pick up the big man.
    Toronto’s a good team but doesn’t have the stomach to “play to win” in the playoffs. Even if Toronto is able to swing a trade for EK how do they get past Boston??? Boston is so stacked that their goalie is putting the puck in the back of the net.
    I’m not a big fan of Karlsson largely because he isn’t making any of his team-mates play better, and he’s a minus player. Notwithstanding, I’d still roll the dice by trading Marner for EK, OR Morgan Rielly + Jake Muzzin’s contract + Matthew Knies for EK OR Tavares + Knies for EK. The trouble is Rielly, and Tavares have NMC as does EK. More importantly, does Karlsson even want a trade? Myself, I’d rather stick it out in Sunny California and count my money.
    I’d also try to flip Marner for Roman Josi IF Nashville was open to talking to Josi about moving North.
    There is a rampart rumor on the internet that Dubas is interested singing former Maple Leaf Jeff Finger to a four-year deal worth $3.5 million per season.
    I’m hoping for the best but I don’t expect anything except more misery this year.

  6. Leafs need ideally speaking but impossible to get:
    1: top six fwd. Dubas screwed up letting McCann go instead of Kerfoot. Problem would have been solved.
    2: stay home physical big Dman. Could be McCabe or Schenn type. Game against Minnie showed how obvious this is. Push Holl down and Sandin to the press box.
    3: another Acciari type. Thick heavy bottom six fwd that would dispense of Kerfoot once and for all.

  7. The sad thing is, the Leafs probably won’t even need to offer AM or MM for EK. I would suspect a Nylander + Knies + Sharks retaining 40% of EK’s contract package would get it done. Leafs cannot, in any universe, afford Nylander + Marner + Matthews past the 2024 season anyway. So, they may as well offload the most affordable contract of the “core 4” in exchange for a true #1 D-man, to have a legitimate shot at winning at least 2 rounds in the Playoffs this year.

    Of course, the “die hard” Leafs fans would point to the fact that Nylander scored in the OT vs. the Wild last night, claiming how the team “needs” Nylander in the playoffs. Never mind that Willy has gone 0 for 6 in the first round of the playoffs (or is it 0 for 7?)

        1. Erik Karlsson IS a ton of return. If you want to challenge for the Cup this year, while the Leafs still control the contracts of Matthews and Marner. That all changes on July 1.

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