Leafs Have Gone Over The Edge

TORONTO (Feb. 27) — Any person that has followed the Maple Leafs though the years has seen batsh** crazy. It’s the hallmark of the franchise in the post–1967 era. But, never has the club gone quite as bonkers as during the Kyle Dubas era. This shooting–ducks–in–a–barrel approach to somehow escaping the toughest division in the National Hockey League is absolute bananas. Here is a general manager in whom ownership did not have enough confidence to extend beyond the current season. Yet, ownership is allowing him to systematically destroy the future of the franchise. I’m telling you from years of close observation: This could happen only in Toronto.

In my previous blog, I wrote “… 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?” The answer: two days — the time required for him to piss away yet another opening–round selection, this one in 2025, likely long after Kyle is an employee of the Maple Leafs. Jake McCabe is a decent blueliner, still in the prime of his career, yet will never be mentioned among Norris Trophy candidates. Additionally, he underwent a cervical–spine operation last September, hardly the equivalent of a sprained ankle. Any person that thinks adding another mid–range component to the underwhelming Toronto defense will lift the club past Tampa Bay and Boston this spring is whistling past the graveyard. If the Leafs were in the wide–open Western Conference, I could marginally comprehend the madcap dispersal of first–round picks. But, in the East? Having to almost certainly get past the Lightning, Bruins and either Carolina or the New York Rangers for a shot at the Cup? McCabe is going to offer that level of assurance? The franchise has gone cuckoo.

It’s not so much what the club is acquiring — at least McCabe and fourth–liner Sam Lafferty have term remaining (unlike Ryan O’Reilly). But, the outlay is preposterous… to become painfully evident not long from now.

The silly fans and lap–dog media contend the Leafs are going “all in”. Yeah… “all–inSANE”.

I have exclusively contended that Dubas will not tinker with the core of his roster because he hasn’t the nerve. Only now am I beginning to understand my mistake. Fact is, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, at $11 million apiece, are virtually untradeable. Only four months of team control remains on their contracts. Beginning July 1, each player can show a GM the middle finger with any proposal to move elsewhere in the NHL. Who’s going to unload anything of value for that logistic chaos? William Nylander is perfectly tradeable, but he provides the club exceptional value for the dollar. John Tavares cannot be touched. So, if you’re Dubas, with whom are you going to barter? The riff–raff in the bottom two–thirds of the line–up? The only option is to throw away the future — still without knowing whether Matthews will hang around beyond next season; Marner beyond 2025. It’s a silly gamble that offers no previous playoff evidence and will blow up in the face of ownership and future management; again, not noticeable at the moment, but undeniably a death knell for the franchise in the next half–decade. If the vaunted Core–4 had escaped the opening round of Stanley Cup toil even once, perhaps you could offer a mild argument for this pell mell strategy. Otherwise, what’s the point of throwing away five first–round picks?

Call me “negative”, if you want, but don’t call me stupid… or contradictory. Unlike fans, I don’t waver with the wind. It was my assessment that Dubas and Brendan Shanahan should have been bounced — if not after the playoff debacle against Montreal two years ago, then following their stubborn “we’re not changing anything” vow in the wake of last spring’s first–round elimination by Tampa Bay. Which was absurd to the highest degree. Now, I am absolutely, 100 percent certain that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has allowed the boat to sail. Yeah, management is making an effort to compete this spring, but in an outrageous and irresponsible manner. There’s no chance this team — even with O’Reilly, Noel Acciari and McCabe — gets out of the arduous Atlantic. Not when still navigated by the nucleus that has gone bull–boobs up in six consecutive playoff (or qualifying) attempts.

Why, for the life of me, is that so complicated?


54 comments on “Leafs Have Gone Over The Edge

  1. I’ve been saying this same thing to friends – every Stanley Cup winner has a stud defenseman (Hedman, Keith, Carlson, etc.). Not only do the Leafs not have that, but signing Reilly to that $7.5MM albatross contract tells you that while Dubas may be a great talent evaluator, his is a terrible GM.

    He handicapped this team from the start with a strategy built around 4 players in a 20 player game, making Marner the highest paid RW in a league with Kane and Pasternak. And those 4 players (save maybe Nylander) disappear in the playoffs. At least the Blackhawks had the common sense to wait until Toews and Kane won some cups before dragging the team down with their $11MM contracts.

    Dubas is clearly trying to save his job, despite his assertions that he wouldn’t operate any differently because he doesn’t have a contract. That’s BS. A future-looking GM would have kept the picks, thought about moving an overpaid forward to get a stud D-man, and planned for next year. Why burn all your draft capital in a year when the Bruins look unstoppable? Does anyone – any team – really think they can beat Boston 4 out of 7 games?

  2. Perception becomes truth to the one who perceives. Whether they are justified in their feelings or not is of limited importance because when someone feels like they are drowning, they act like they are drowning and as the Yiddish Proverb says, “A drowning man will grab the blade of a sword.”

    OMG – Dubas is trading his way to the middle.

    He’s had all this time to engineer a trade for a bonafide puck-moving defenseman. (That’s the missing link). Instead, Dubas is content to rummage through the thrift store bargain bin stuffing his shopping cart with unwanted toss-offs well past their best-before-date. Howard, I’ve seen this rodeo before and it didn’t work them.

    I don’t understand how Toronto is going to evaluate & deploy all the spare parts they brought in. Boston has had the same team for pretty much the whole dang year.

  3. Dubas may have learned by now that deep stats and analytics are a fool’s game when it comes to the playoffs, where chemistry is more relevant to success than mathematics. On that note, I think the St. Louis pick-ups are fantastic, and we are seeing a step-up with Matthews playing a more complete game, and Marner and Nylander becoming pros. We already know that Boston is the team to beat this year, and that there are many good teams in the league. But I do believe that Dubas, who admittedly handicapped the team by loading so much salary on four players has made some decent moves since then, and seems to be learning as goes. I am not predicting that they win the cup this year, but you seem far more interested n writing them off before the playoffs start. And although I have no rational reason for saying this, I think this year’s team will surprise even the most naysaying of naysayers (and that includes you Howard!). Cheers and best regards

  4. Hahahahhahaha Howard. I just found your site; I’m sure I listened to you back in the days of 590 syndication.

    The Leafs had not had a competitive team since the last time they had a decent defense corps (mid 90s). Their teams of the early 2000s were good, but didn’t have enough defense to win and they also lacked some of the ingredients up front (Gary and Joe were good, but not enough; Mats, mega-talented as he was, was never a Stanley Cup winner and that should have been recognized early, early on).

    Historically, the Leafs *always* won their Cups with an emphasis on defense and responsible forwards, but that has been ignored because defense doesn’t fill seats. Instead we bring in flashy scorers who just don’t have what guys like Gilmour, Roberts, Clark, Nieuwendyk et. al. had. One can speculate, but I will say that basing playoff hopes around American or Euro players has generally been a failure in the GTA. Those guys can get you to the playoffs, and sometimes they produce. Often, they fail. I remain hopeful to be proved wrong, but I believe Auston Matthews will never be the leader of a Stanley Cup team. Maybe a component, but never the leader.

    What’s going on now looks exactly like the gong show I remember from the *end* of the Cliff Fletcher era, where they had some decent parts but they were willing to trade off any future consideration for anything at all that might conceivably help in the playoffs (And never did).

    The Leafs should be willing to trade off whatever overpaid parts they can for the best defenseman they can find. That’ll never happen. The goal scorers are much easier to brag up, and for 20 years now, this team has survived on empty hype alone.

  5. It’s safe to assume that it’s now or never for Maple Leafs management. The window to do damage in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Maple Leafs is closing especially with teams like the Red Wings, Sabres, and Senators on the rise. Giving up 1st Round Picks has been in the DNA of Leafs management for a long time. The fate of the Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the Tampa Bay Lightning will be dictated by the performance of their Top 6 Forwards and Goaltending. Getting past teams like the Lightning, Rangers, Bruins, Hurricanes, and even the Islanders won’t be easy for this Maple Leafs team.

  6. Well done Howard – great job stirring things up! Is this a record for the number of comments generated by one of your posts?

    Absolutely agree on the need for a Norris Trophy candidate on D. Also, while Samsonov has exceeded expectations in goal, he’s not a proven playoff stud and I have zero confidence that Matt Murray can do the job. It seems unlikely that Kyle can unload Murray for someone better in goal before Friday. Ultimately, I think that the signing of Murray will be a HUGE nail in Dubas’ coffin.

  7. Howard,

    I truly appreciate this platform which provides an honest no-strings-attached opinion and fair critique of the Leafs. I fully agree with this post. McCabe is certainly a gamer, however I can’t see how he’ll move the needle that much more than a Luke Schenn with this team as assembled. He could likely be had for pennies on the dollars they spent here. Growing a pair and showing an understanding as to what it takes to go 4 rounds by moving out a Marner/Matthews for an absolute stud while retaining draft capital would have been a lot more prudent in my opinion. They are both tremendous talents in their own right but have not shown that they can sturdy the spine when it matters most. Granted the NHL has slowly moved away from the heavier physical side of the game, but come playoff season, there is a significant reversion. Your best players need to be your best performers but also need to lead the way with grit & physicality. Laughing while being manhandled by the Habs (the tone-deaf ‘experts’ on TV and in the media praising Matthews for drawing a penalty, instead of a stinky mitten back in the opponents grill showing your opponent this won’t be a ballet) was a microcosm as to why this group will never lift the holy grail. All the window dressing in the world surrounding this core four won’t change their DNA. KD was provided years to figure this out, but his stubbornness will prove to be his demise. Tee time…

    1. The core forwards must step up at playoff time. And, not just as well as during the season, but at a higher level… getting better each round. No evidence of such in six attempts.

  8. Will totally disagree with you this time. Just like Leaf reporters working for Bell and Rogers are to the right, you are to the left – just as prejudice. Karlsson you will have for one year – way past his prime – don’t trade top 5 center for a guy with on last year in the tank. Plus would not of made a difference in the playoffs – still would of lost. The trades Dubas made give this team a chance to at least make a run of it. Without these trades they were dead in the water. The guys they added provide grit, toughness, and are hard to play against. Yes the goaltending has to be very good and the core four have to play up to to their potential or even the trades wont make a difference – but at least they have a chance. Who cares about a draft choice that will not play for 5-7 years and if they play at all. Their window is now – this year and next year. After that you can start trading players and recover x2 the draft choices you gave up if you want to rebuild. Mike Zeisberger on NHL.com says it best – Leafs took a blueprint from Tampa who has traded away their future way more than the Leafs – oh but they won two Cups you say – well that’s how they won them by giving draft choices away that are presently useless and may be useless in the future. Plus as evident may Eastern Conference teams going all-in and trading draft choices galore – why should the Leafs be different – stay put and get kicked out after a few games. This time you are way wrong. Not that they will win around, but at least it is their best shot since Dubas took over.

    1. Nothing to do with prejudice, my friend. Just a strongly held opinion based on irrefutable fact. You almost never win a Cup without a Norris Trophy type. All that stuff you say about Tampa wouldn’t have resulted in a championship without Victor Hedman. And, I think you know that.

      1. True, You need a number one D and a very good goalie (like Chicago not great but good), plus Pitt one with Hainsly as number 1 so it can happen. And as we saw today it is easy to trade and get a #1 Sandin to Washington for 1st. Than 1st hopefully will get another top D and also got Schenn. Happy that he is getting rid of cream puffs that are regular season ballarinas but playoff duds.

  9. I’m doing ok…prepping for a sweet low budget
    indie film starting end of March…but mourning the loss of. my friend, Gordon Pinsent…
    But your blogs always cheer me …I’m always impatient for the next one…to balance my
    trepidation for the next Leaf trade debacle…

  10. Nice article. I thought it was just me that felt this way. Have I found my new “share circle”?

    I’ll be honest. I haven’t watched alot of leaf hockey this year. I’m so tired of yelling at the tv. They’re designed to be a fast and furious team up front – somewhat entertaining when it’s working – but the playoffs are a grind. You need a goalie that gives you the confidence that he’ll steal at least one game and a third line that’s going to step up and can change the pace of the game. For the regular season, I like guys like Engvall but you don’t go into the playoffs with him. Nylander puts pucks in the net but is pretty easy to physically take him off his game. And I don’t get Sandin. Yes – talented. But no where near a game changer in a playoff run with Boston. But my biggest knock is that I still think Tavares is one of the best all round players in the league and we’ve done nothing to build a line around him. Find him a Gary Roberts type and we’ll appreciate why he wears the C.
    Anyway, they’re a pretty enough team but being pretty enough means being the eternal bridesmaid.

    1. So Dubas is reading your column? They’ve moved Engvall and Sandin so now let’s see if he read to the end of the comments and moves out Nylander. Bundle him with Holl and I’ll start watching again. Promise!

  11. Wow ! You sure stoked the fire this time, Howard ! I’ve never seen this many comments so quickly…and it’s only Tuesday morning…
    Even if they get by a weaker Tampa Bay team, Boston has looked like THE playoff team that could go all the way…AND they’ve added some great parts…the boat has sailed on trades for the 3 Lads…it’s sink or swim now…and I’ve got a sinking feel…#;/

    1. At some point you have to add to your elite players and make a strong push to go deep into the playoffs. It’s never cheap.

      PS I was in the same movie with you in Pembroke Ontario. That was called Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe.

  12. I agree with everything you wrote.

    When Shanahan first arrived on the scene, his mandate was to build a team through draft picks (remember the Shanaplan?). The Leafs were a mess, run into the ground by years of poor management and short-term thinking. His plan was to build a contender and culture of long term winning.

    We have seen nothing of that sort. Doing well in the regular season accounts for nothing if you can’t win a playoff round. And sadly, the same cycle of previous generation’s thoughts about winning now has fallen on Dubas and Shanahan. They have squandered away future draft picks for lackluster players, to support a core that clearly doesn’t have what it takes to win a championship.

    The management group and it’s delusional fanbase can’t see the forrest for the trees. We’re right back where we started…. A team not good enough to win, with a shrinking window of opportunity, and a painful long, long rebuild on the horizon.

    1. The Leafs are dining off the Big 3 draft picks. In the regular season, anyway. For how much longer, we cannot predict. There hasn’t been much imagination or work since signing John Tavares.

  13. There is one thing that they have been missing this whole time…. an elite, large, stay at home defenseman, that can roll heads infront of the net, and set an example.
    Anyone that thinks Morgan Rielly is elite, and our leader, is being fooled. Although he is a really good player, maybe a little overrated, he is too small, and offensively focused. As so with the likes of TJ brodie, Tim Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, etc… THIS IS NOT A TEAM BUILT FOR PLAYOFF SUCCESS! Playoffs is another gear, and Leafs do not have it! Not to mention half of their money was spent on 4 forwards…. HUGE mistake! The ONLY way, I believe, is to unload one of the core 4, and thicken up your D and bottom 6.

  14. Today, the remaining fragments of the Shanaplan were swept up and tossed into the fire.
    The plan was sound.
    1. Bottom out.
    2. Stack on high draft Picks.
    3. Build up the farm team & focus on player development.
    Dubas failed at #3. Toronto isn’t developing star players. They haven’t been able to develop a goalie since Felix Potvin.
    He’s also been blowing high draft picks for mediocre talent.
    I don’t see how Toronto can beat Tampa, and only a fool would wager against Boston in the playoffs. It’s over folks. Dubas and Shanahan will be fired. Matthews and Marner will be traded for pennies on the dollar and the top picks that Dubas traded away will become key cogs on future Stanley Cup Champions.
    Perhaps they could go out and get a proven Stanley cup winning GM …. Like Lou Lamoriello?

    1. David: My detractors are suggesting the Leafs, if this desperation doesn’t work, can trade off their assets for “multiple high draft picks.” Really? Tavares can’t be touched. And, the team has until July 1 of this year to trade Matthews and/or Marner. At that point, control shifts of the player. Perhaps Rielly can fetch a pick or two before his NMC kicks in (2028). And, why would the Leafs trade Willie Nylander? More than likely, it will be the work of another GM.

  15. Today Ray Ferraro said Samsonov is an unknown so he would take Vasilevskiy (in a playoff round). But he also said this year the Leafs are better and it just feels different to him. He said the guys just brought in will make the team harder to play against unlike the last few years and if they get by Tampa, maybe they will be like Vancouver finally getting past Chicago and making it to the Cup Final. Anyway I’m not too worried as I live in Ottawa and the Sens are my fallback team.

    1. Nathan: As a rule, I always favor the team with the more-proven goalie in a playoff round. But, Samsonov is sort of a wild card. We don’t know how he’ll perform in the playoffs because he’s never been a No. 1 in that situation. He could be another Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Jordan Binnington – rising unexpectedly in his first Stanley Cup experience. Who knows? Time will tell. I don’t mind him at all.

  16. I strongly disagree with your entire column. This year they have to go all in. The gang has matured and now is the time to go after it. I feel the management group has done a fantastic job of retaining prospects that are promising while leveraging unknown picks in future drafts to hopefully add quality pcs now for a proper run. Hats off Dubas….you have already earned an extension in my books.

    1. Howard, I have enjoyed reading your columns for many years; but I am not agreeing with you much in this blog, especially lately. To me, you are coming off as a bit jealous (Perhaps? Maybe not the right word) of your former colleagues who now cover the Leafs in an official capacity. Not a good look, my friend. Also, for the past year or so, there is an air of scorn for others (mixed with a sense of self-superiority) in your writing. I hope you can temper that a bit. To me, you have always been likable, even while critiquing the words or actions of others. Again to me, this is not something that casts you in a good light. One thing I have learned over the years is – just because I feel something strongly does not necessarily make me right (and someone else an idiot). Just today, you were highly critical of the Jake McCabe acquisition. You give the impression that you are what – divinely inspired or something (??) regarding this to be an inconsequential move. And a few days ago, you were suggesting that Marner be traded for Erik Karlsson! Oh my! Perhaps you will be proved correct; but there has not been a lot of evidence that EK is simply having an unusually good year (and that he will go back to ”normal” next year). The way you’ve been writing lately, I would have thought that if Kyle Dubas were to make the trade you proposed, that you would be all over him, regarding his ineptitude. To me, making such a trade would be a very foolish risk. EK has been an invisible, overpaid defenseman for years now. No doubt he has been impressive this year; but I truly believe he has caught lightning in a bottle; and I am of the opinion that he will again be a bust in the 23-24 season. I may be wrong. I am simply a fan; but I have been around for 63 years – and so have watched the NHL closely for most of these. Unlike you, I view Mitch Marner as a generational talent – just reaching his prime. His vision on the ice is uncanny. In my mind, there is no way you trade him for an Erik Karlsson, a defensemen who in my estimation is well past his best-before date. Next year, I fear he will recede to something closer to the uninspired d-man he has been in the years he’s spent with the Sharks. Now, you and I are of opposing points of view, I realize. And perhaps you see more than I do. (I fully respect your pedigree as a professional sports journalist). I recognize that my opinion is simply that – my opinion, nothing more, nothing less. In the end, I believe that whether we are professional or amateur, what any of us share in forums like these is nothing more than an opinion. Perhaps we can be a little less condescending regarding the opinions of others – or the moves of a GM, for that matter. Just my two cents.

      1. Thanks for your note, Doug. But, I wouldn’t last 30 seconds in the media today. No jealousy here. Had a great 23-year run at The FAN and am doing the most meaningful work of my life right now in the funeral industry. Sadly, the media is owned by the Leafs today – literally and figuratively. I’ll stand against that conflict of interest for as long as it exists.

        1. True enough. I have lived in the US for about 30 years now, but I grew up in Newfoundland. Privately-owned news sources can never give unbiased accounts of daily events. Somewhere up the chain, an editor must answer to the owners if feathers are ruffled. And in this case, having the owners of the team also own the media outlet, this is doubly problematic. This is why I still look to the CBC and BBC for reports on what is really happening in our world. Thanks, Howard.

        2. True enough. I have lived in the US for about 30 years now, but I grew up in Newfoundland. Privately-owned news sources can never give unbiased accounts of daily events. Somewhere up the chain, an editor must answer to the owners if feathers are ruffled. And in this case, having the owners of the team also own the media outlet, this is doubly problematic. This is why I still look to the CBC and BBC for reports on what is really happening in our world. Thanks, Howard.

  17. Well first off, I don’t think you know what your talking about. The first round in 2025 is top ten protected. They have 2 more years with the latest guys and 50 percent of the pay.
    If they lose and have to blow up the team, you don’t think Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander or Rielly won’t command multiple draft picks for a rebuild in a trade?

  18. Howard, For the first time in my 45 plus years on the planet, I believe this is the team that could finally bring Lord Stanley to Toronto. The pieces that Dubas has added will compliment an already elite club. With these acquisitions, They have added toughness, in tight scoring and unbelievable strength up the middle, not to mention an elevated bottom six. If Dubas is to actually go as you said “All in”, I believe another trade to free up cap space needs to happen. A trade for a back up tender like Cam Talbot as insurance or possibly for a Luke Schenn to add physicality to the D position.

  19. Draft picks after 20 aren’t that valuable. As long as the NHL has no incentives to resign guys you drafted (30% cap relief from a resign it should be) you can go and sign a guy on the open market that is just as good as a late draft guy, probably better. They signed Bunting for a million, they pay Engvall more. Think about that. Unless you are drafting really early, they arent worth much.

  20. Howard, you sound exactly like you are: a bitter former mainstream media pundit who has been bounced and has an axe to grind.

  21. Dubas gets a contract extension of one year for every round of the playoffs they win and you know what that means. If/when they’re tossed for the 7th time in a row in round one, the whole front office is gone. From Mr. Shanahan down. It’s a shame cause I think Shanny has actually been on a leash. Everyone will be fired except Sheldon Keefe. He’ll be fired by the new General Manager as Mr. Dubas’ contract, simply expires, to be used as kindling for the “FIRED!” that’s gonna burn through Scotiabank Arena’s executive offices. If they don’t get out of the first round, they might even fire Joe Bowen and Jim Ralph and the kids who shovel the ice during tv timeouts.

  22. My first thought when I read about the latest trade was, they’re trading away ANOTHER first round pick because their prospect pool is suspect as it’s made up of little guys with imagined “upside” and other GM’s can see it, but of course Kyle is determined to prove his Playstation team construction techniques correct.
    I really, really want them to win, but when you match up the rosters position/name to position/name particularly on defense against both Tampa and Boston I don’t feel very hopeful.

  23. Good article, Howard. None of these acquisitions over the last number of days are game changers. Listening to the TSN and Sportsnet gangs talking like they signed Bobby Orr in his prime is laughable. They needed an elite defenseman to make a run. Dubas didn’t make it happen.

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