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?