One Leafs Scribe Told It Straight

TORONTO (June 2) — Among those in the mushy mainstream media who cover the Toronto Maple Leafs, three names stand apart. As I wrote here on Wednesday, I knew we could count on at least one of Steve Simmons (Toronto Sun), Dave Feschuk (Toronto Star) and Cathal Kelly (Globe and Mail) to cut through the usual nonsense and straight to the only issue that matters with the Blue and White. The clear winner, in this volley, was Feschuk.

New Leafs general manager Brad Treliving made an excellent first impression during his introductory news conference. He was poised, friendly and appeared confident. It was quickly clear that Treliving had taken a crash course on Brendan Shanahan media mechanics by talking lots and saying absolutely nothing. Which Shanahan had long perfected until two weeks ago today, when he selfishly detailed the process that led to the demise, here in Toronto, of Kyle Dubas. Suddenly, ol’ Brendan was Mr. Information while attempting to massage his own image.

Can you therefore blame Dubas and the Pittsburgh Penguins for one–upping the Leafs by announcing his appointment as director of hockey ops merely 30 minutes before the Treliving press gathering at Scotiabank Arena? The distant shiv to Shanny’s back indicated where the former executive mates stand, even amid Shanahan’s attempted fib that he wished only the best for Dubas in Steeltown. Sitting next to the Teflon president, Treliving told only one whopper: that the current Leafs were more than the sum of the overpaid, non–clutch nucleus of forwards that comes up embarrassingly short in the playoffs every spring. In fact, nothing about the Leafs has mattered one iota in relation to the feeble–4 of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

All of whom take unjust control of their futures on July 1, only 29 days from now.

Each member of the doughy Toronto media had the chance to impart such an accurate message.

Only the Star’s Feschuk came through with a brilliant and contradictory opinion piece. Which was hardly a shock given that Dave typically ignores the flag–waving and servitude of his reporting brethren. Two passages from the column stood out: The success of this team — or rather the lack thereof in the playoffs — is about precisely four guys. It’s about four highly skilled and largely toothless forwards who take up 50 per cent of the salary cap. It’s about the inanity of continuing to build a roster so inherently unbalanced. Then, in response to Treliving’s suggestion that his job was “to protect” the vaunted foursome: The idea that Toronto’s Core Four needs a protector is preposterous. For the entirety of their stay in Toronto they’ve been coddled and catered to as though they were a quartet of multiple Stanley Cup winners. When mean old Mike Babcock ran afoul of them, Babcock was fired. When Sheldon Keefe spoke the slightest word against them last season, he was made to backtrack like a stooge.

The gun–shy publicity hounds in the local press — led unsurprisingly by Feschuk’s Star colleague, Chris Johnston, a rabid Leafs fan who double–dips as an “insider” on club–owned TSN… and quite shockingly (of late) by Terry Koshan of the Sun, normally a tell–it–like–it–is type — are hopelessly under the spell of Matthews. The embodiment of playoff underachievement since 2017 for the Blue and White will be granted a full no–movement clause on July 1, the same day he can officially begin to toy with Shanahan and Treliving in negotiating a contract extension. Bold Brendan has made it clear that ownership and management will fall at the feet of Matthews, even after he toppled onto his own face against Florida in that five–game playoff debacle, erupting for zero goals.

A franchise leader unencumbered by fear and complacency would seek another hero and trade Matthews before it is no longer possible. Shanahan, however, has fatally hitched his wagon to the great regular–season warrior, whose 44 points in seven playoff years falls woefully shy of the 63 points delivered the Maple Leafs in a two–year span (1993/1994) by Doug Gilmour. Why virtually everyone turns a blind eye to what Matthews cannot accomplish when it matters is an ever–increasing mystery. Were I Brad Treliving, the first call I’d make would be to Anaheim counterpart Pat Verbeek. The Ducks have been abysmal almost from the moment Matthews arrived in the National Hockey League, missing the playoffs, now, for five consecutive years. They exist in the lengthy shadow of their SoCal sibling, the Los Angeles Kings. Wouldn’t Verbeek create some much–needed hype and hoopla by peddling the second pick in this year’s NHL draft for the California native that led off the 2016 amateur lottery? Providing, of course, that Matthews offered a firm commitment to remaining in Orange County… and followed with his signature on a contract in less than four weeks? It would be a progressive maneuver by both teams.

The Leafs would have their pick of the post–Connor Bedard litter, in which four centers — Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov, Leo Carlsson and Will Smith (not the guy who smacked Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards) — comprise the player rankings after Bedard, who will go to Chicago, first overall. Isn’t it time for the Leafs to step daringly beyond their perennial (and now entirely predictable) inadequacy in the playoffs? Can Shanahan and Treliving not deduce what the rest of us can… if being honest: that their club will never challenge for the Stanley Cup with Invisible Auston at the controls? Or, in the absence of even marginal pushback from the adoring media and fan base, is surrendering to No. 34 simply the easiest route and the path of least resistance? These questions are rhetorical given the assurance Shanahan evidently provided his “Corpse–4” prior to hiring Treliving.

The Matthews camp, led by agent Judd Moldaver, will dictate terms for a new contract — almost certainly one that encompasses the short term (three or four years), thereby granting Auston a third enormous pay day in unrestricted free agency before he turns 30. The strategy is ingenious, but not for the Maple Leafs.

If only the Teflon prez could see the light.


18 comments on “One Leafs Scribe Told It Straight

  1. I think the decision to keep Matthews will come primarily from the Board at MLSE. They would like a big star to market as the face of the franchise. I’m not sure how much autonomy Mr Treliving will actually have. I suspect he will be more of a caretaker until the team has to be rebuilt in 4 or 5 years.

  2. No issues with trading Matthews, but Toronto needs a top-shelf puck-moving defenseman.

    Dubas & Keefe’s style of puck possession & passing add-nauseum, until Auston gets an open shot, drives me bonkers. Shots on the net from the point and opportunistic rebounds seem to trump all other styles in the playoffs. Florida is very adept at playing “The Trap” when they are ahead. As such Coach Keefe needs to be shown the door.

    McDavid’s team didn’t fare much better than Toronto. The problem is not with the offense. It’s the defense. Both Toronto and Edmonton need better defensemen and better defensive systems.

  3. 2023 Stanley Cup Final.

    Eastern Conference Champion Florida Panthers vs. Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights.

    Pick: Panthers in 6.

  4. Howard, I watched the Leafs win four Cups as a kid and have been a life long die hard fan. I am actually now a little embarrassed to admit how upset I would get every time they were eliminated from the playoffs. Sometimes I would go for a two hour walk to calm down after a loss and usually I would be upset about the incompetent officiating and the choking Leaf goalies. I guess I must be getting old because this year when they lost it didn’t really bother me and I guess I expected it. I laughed and thought about my six year old grandson Evan who said he had had it with the Leafs was pulling for Tampa. Dubas traded away most of the Leaf high draft picks for the next three years and some good prospects and young players like Sandin, and reliable players like Engvall and now Shanahan hires Treliving after he did nothing with the Flames. I am finally at the stage now where it is hard to even take the Leafs seriously. I remember Tony Marinaro on TSN radio Montreal the last ten tears trashing Bergevin and the Habs for not doing a true rebuild and hitting rock bottom and getting the top picks needed to win a Cup. Tony also said Shanahan with his Shanaplan to rebuild through the draft knew what he was doing and would build a winner. Well Leafs could be losing Matthews, Nylander after next season and have no 1st round pick ins 2025. They could end last and have another embarrassment where New Jersey gets Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer for a Tom Kurvers who the Leafs had already traded away by the time Niedermayer was drafted in 1991. Well anyway my grandson Evan is pulling now for Vegas because he said he likes the sound of their name “Vegas” and he really likes their gold helmets.


  5. Paul Maclean had good insight recently on Real Kyper and Bourne. HIs point was: at some point, these elite regular season players have to say “enough is enough” and start playing a style that wins in the playoffs. I don’t think anyone in the corspe four (nice one Howard!) has it in their DNA to do this.
    In order to trade 34, would they not have to find a trading partner that believes they can win next season? Otherwise, why wouldn’t a team just wait until he becomes a UFA, and they wouldn’t have to give anything up?

  6. Howard is the only person that tells the truth about Auston Matthews. Everyone who works for Sportsnet, TSN, HNIC, are to scared to say anything bad about Auston for fear of losing their job.

  7. 34 has got to go. Something about him never sat well with me. Still up in the air about 16. 88 is on a good deal and a shake up in the line up could do him good with 34 gone. Can’t do much with 91 but can see the same result for him as with 88 with 34 gone. Enjoyed the article. I hope Shanny’s assurance was just posturing. I hope Treliving can trade 34 before July 1st just to free up the cap space.

  8. Dubas is what every corporate owner dreams of; a guy whose plan can almost guarantee winning regular seasons and healthy revenues with 2 or 3 guaranteed playoff dates. That’s the stuff of predictable profitability.
    When Dubas came to the leafs Jonas Siegel wrote in the Athletic that in the Soo Dubas sold the org on his plan which was that he would focus on overlooked players who have some skill but were considered small, (analytics driven player selection) and by doing so the Soo would be competitive and in the playoffs consistently. It worked, but they never won.
    He sold Shanahan on the same thing with the same result and now he’s going to deliver the same thing in Pittsburgh.
    The primary feature of his approach is that it fools management and fans into believing that their team is only a couple lucky bounces away from actual, and hopefully sustainable success. Along the way his supporters constantly chant the mantra for all to hear, “Goaltending is voodoo, and playoff success is random.”
    And because they rack up regular season wins the illusion of competitiveness is maintained until it finally collapses as the disappointed eventually outnumber the hopeful.
    What I’ve learned about the leafs that the leafs management haven’t over the last few years:
    You can’t graft leadership onto a group for 2 months and expect it to make a difference. By virtue of their contracts and expectations the coreless fore are the (failed) leaders of this group. Mathews and Marner lack any semblance of competitive fire beyond personal achievements. Highlight reel goals or plays, points or goal totals and individual awards are their prime drivers and their ultimate goals. Success as a team if necessary but not necessarily team success. All 4 of them are complimentary players on good or better teams, none of them are capable of leading a group to team success. Tavares may have some leadership abilities if he’s surrounded with players with competitive fire but with the cottony soft 3 he’s lost. There is no reason to believe that a team relying on leadership from any combination of these guys can get out of the first round of the playoffs due to anything but the other team having an overwhelming failure in goal or some other calamity.

  9. Not often you see MVP type players consistently choke in the play-offs. Orr, Gretz, Mario, Crosby, Brady, Wilt, Kareem, Jordon and Mr. October himself, Reggie, never did. Two that always do, Auston and Aaron Judge. Those are the only two I can think of.

  10. Hopefully Trevling has learned from the Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Fox sagas. If he can get Matthews signed for $13M x 4 before Canada Day I’d be fine with that. Failing that he’d better fetch more than just the #2 overall pick this Summer. If it comes to pass case that the new GM trades #34 he must also get the mercurial Nylander’s name on a contract that doesn’t exceed $10M per annum with at least 5 additional years under contract. Step 3 will be finding a new #1 Centreman which will be no easy task.

      1. My bad typo, not crazy about typing into small phone screens. Could you see him choosing not to resign, then take his act to Los Angeles / Chicago, or Anaheim as a free agent, even if he says to management that he is interested in signing long term?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.