TORONTO (June 16) — It isn’t often that a part–time employee puts full–time employees to shame. As such, the Toronto Star should consider dropping former Leafs winger Nick Kypreos from its freelance–writing budget.
With the notable exception of Dave Feschuk, a staff columnist who tells it straight when scribbling about the Leafs, Kypreos makes the others on the Star hockey payroll look mushy. As usual, Kyper nailed it on the button in his most–recent submission to the newspaper, discussing how bold decisions led directly to a Stanley Cup championship for the six–year–old Vegas Golden Knights. While more than implying that the 106–year–old Leafs, absent from the Cup final since 1967, are too staid and stubborn to notice. This will be confirmed when all four members of the weak–kneed playoff nucleus return for an unprecedented eighth attempt to avoid humiliation in the Stanley Cup tournament. What the Teflon president, Brendan Shanahan, surely must recognize — but refuses to acknowledge — is that his team will never flourish in the spring with John Tavares, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Maybe with two of the aforementioned, but not if the beloved “Corpse–4” stays intact.
It must be annoying for Kypreos and Feschuk to see the light while Star colleagues Chris Johnston and Kevin McGran are waving the team flag, imploring Shanahan and new general manager Brad Treliving to “run it back” with the perennial playoff losers. Neither Johnston nor McGran could envision, without experiencing nightmares, the Leafs moving on in the absence of their biggest underachiever, Matthews. As such, Treliving was reportedly out west, in Arizona, carefully sniffing around “Mr. November” to determine how the Leafs can make it most “comfortable” for their regular season superstar to ink a long–term extension, thereby dooming the franchise for the bulk of another decade. Brendan must actually think it’s the fringe of the roster that creates a roadblock in the post season, not the Corpse–4. As the character–less quartet did, among one another, while embarrassing itself in the exit interviews with media. None of Tavares, Nylander, Marner or Matthews acknowledged a shred of responsibility for the fold–up against Florida, the eventual Eastern champion. They only spoke lovingly of “wanting to stay together”, lest there be inconvenience in their private lives. Like knuckleheads, management is apparently bowing to that command yet again… rather than shipping someone’s sorry ass out of town before it’s too late, on July 1.
WHICH U.S.–BORN PLAYER WOULD YOU PREFER WHEN MONEY IS ON THE TABLE?
After all, why be daring and dauntless with the core of the roster, as did Vegas? It requires ingenuity and effort, even if you’re liable to win something that matters. Exertion, however, isn’t a hallmark of the complacent group that unwittingly runs the Maple Leafs into the ground each spring. And, doubtlessly will again — with a blessing from the buttery soft media — next April. All of the recent chatter, therefore, surrounds who might replace Justin Holl, Alex Kerfoot and Michael Bunting; as if any such decision will contribute to a Stanley Cup challenge. At some point, likely after Shanahan moves elsewhere, Leafs’ ownership will come to a long–overdue epiphany: it’s the Corpse–4 that sabotages the club every year in the playoffs, not the cheap, interchangeable components that round out the roster. It requires minimal effort and risk, however, to re–shuffle the deck chairs each summer.
Actual work would be necessary to change the course of the franchise. And, we know the deep–pocketed barons that run the Leafs would rather spend the warm–weather months around the pool. It’s so much easier to dish out corporate cash to the same playoff also–rans than to labor toward an actual solution. Especially in a market where the prime metric is the bottom line. To wit: there is no financial incentive for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to lift a finger with the hockey club. That’s reserved for the basketball types who understand that sell outs and enormous TV audiences aren’t guaranteed (in the long run) if the Raptors lose. The Leafs merely have to look good between October and April to fill the till. And, to assuage their hapless supporters, in and out of the media.
So, of course MLSE is going to bend over backward to accommodate Mr. November.
Perhaps if Matthews were feeling more “comfortable” in his uniform, he’d have scored one goal against Florida in the playoffs, rather than none. Why would it matter that Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Marchessault has a year left on a $5 million pact, merely $6.6 million less than Matthews pulls in? Why should anyone at MLSE care that clutch playoff performer Mark Stone is tied up by Vegas for four more years at $9.5 million, probably $5 million less per season than Matthews will get from the Leafs? It’s only money, right? Well… actually, wrong. MLSE has never been shy about spending. But, the Leafs haven’t a clue how to properly allocate salary and cap space. Such a demonstrated playoff jellyfish, therefore, as Matthews will soon make more than anyone in the sport.
It’s the reason fans are treated to such a headline as that atop Justin Bourne’s latest effort for Sportsnet: CAN THE MAPLE LEAFS GET BETTER BY TRADING ONE OF THEIR STARS? Or, McGran’s usually good Breakaway blog in the Star: THE LESSON FROM VEGAS IS TO GET THE BEST PLAYER IN ANY TRADE. The Leafs, Kevin, first need to make a trade of significance before they can land the best player. And, if the best player wins a trade, come back in mid–winter and remind me again of unloading talented defenseman Rasmus Sandin on the Washington Capitals for over–the–hill Erik Gustafsson, who couldn’t crack the Toronto playoff line–up.
Perhaps one day, the Leafs will land a top–tier blueliner. Such as Cale Makar of the 2022 Stanley Cup–champion Colorado Avalanche. Or, Alex Pietrangelo of the Golden Knights, who performed the same function for the 2019 Cup champs in St. Louis. Kudos to Morgan Rielly for stepping it up, big time, in the playoffs this year. Not one of his Leaf teammates were able to similarly elevate performance. But, Morgan isn’t a Norris Trophy type. And, this corner has been telling you for 100 years that teams do not win the NHL title in the absence of such a player.
ALEX PIETRANGELO OF THE VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS LIFTED THE STANLEY CUP FOR THE SECOND TIME… AND HIS PRECIOUS, FOUR–YEAR–OLD DAUGHTER, EVELYN, WHO HAS BATTLED BACK FROM A LIFE–THREATENING BRAIN LESION.
Then, there’s the coaching situation.
It appears that Treliving will settle on Sheldon Keefe, as the Maple Leafs are famous for GM’s inheriting bench bosses. It will mark the 13th–such occasion for Toronto since 1970. Again, let’s look at the champion Golden Knights. Was Bruce Cassidy in place for Vegas… or did George McPhee and new GM Kelly McCrimmon quickly pounce on him last summer, when the Bruins let Cassidy go? You know the answer. Functional hockey teams allow GM’s the most–essential authority: bringing in their own coach. But, not in Leafs Land, where the Teflon Prez makes the big calls. Neither is this an indictment of Keefe, a good man who somehow became the first Toronto coach since Roger Neilson, 45 years ago, to coerce his team into a reasonable defensive posture. It’s just that the Leafs are so comfortable doing things ass–backward… even amid a nearly 60–year championship drought.
Will they ever learn? Doubtful.