TORONTO (June 9) — Someone in the ever–evolving managerial structure of the Maple Leafs needs to grow a set. Very quickly. Whether it’s general manager Brad Treliving; his newly named assistant, Shane Doan, or a person above the fray in ownership, an individual with clout absolutely must have the gonads to inform Brendan Shanahan that his existing blueprint cannot work. To wit: If the nucleus of centers and wingers that performs wonderfully in the regular season and faintheartedly in the playoffs — the so–called (and, now, somewhat nauseating) Core–4 — remains untouched through contract extensions, the Maple Leafs are doomed for another decade.
Amid the veil of silence that has enveloped the club since Treliving came aboard last week, there is no indication that anything will change. Such veteran members of the media as Toronto Sun hockey writer Terry Koshan are calling for the same forwards, the same goalies and the same coach. Therefore, and unavoidably, the same result.
Until someone, somewhere, has the fortitude to step up and exclaim that the Leafs must be altered, fundamentally, it’ll be rinse and repeat for the torch–bearers of Stanley Cup famine. Picture John Tavares, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews packed tightly in the center with all others circling them in paralysis — ownership, management and media utterly petrified to dabble with the wondrous foursome gazing out from the middle; these overpaid, underwhelming athletes having all–but dared the franchise to make a bold move with their indifference and incapacity in the playoffs. Not over one or two years. But, in a remarkable seven failed attempts to pose a Stanley Cup challenge. Now, the heroic bastions of Leafdom are calling for an eighth chance. And, a ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth… the number doesn’t matter anymore. Not if the feeble, insufficient band stays together.
The hiring of Doan became official this morning.
MUCH–RESPECTED SHANE DOAN IS NOW THE RIGHT–HAND MAN TO NEW LEAFS GM BRAD TRELIVING. CAN DOAN INFUSE THE MUSHY LEAFS MANAGEMENT WITH SOME COURAGE?
Heaven help the Leafs and their fans if one of the most–widely respected figures in the game has come aboard as a pigeon for Matthews. It took 15 minutes for club shill Luke Fox to post, on Sportsnet: HOW SHANE DOAN CAN HELP MAPLE LEAFS SIGN AUSTON MATTHEWS. Presumably, Doan would not have left the only National Hockey League franchise for which he has worked (the original Winnipeg Jets, now Arizona Coyotes) under such a feeble mandate. But, with the Shanahan Maple Leafs, you never know. Matthews scored 60 goals a couple of years ago, providing him, evidently, carte blanche as it pertains to his not–so–immediate future. Kyle Dubas mentioned, during his fateful last media gathering in Toronto, that the precious Core–4 might finally require a facelift. Two days later, he was gone. Much quicker, in fact, than the Blue Jays — playing the fool for everyone to see — got rid of pitcher Anthony Bass and his anti–LGBTQ rhetoric. Veteran Leafs scribe Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star wrote, Friday, that Matthews is “largely irreplaceable.” That’s true. It’s hard to find an elite, No. 1 center that contributes zero goals in a playoff series, as did Invisible Auston against Florida. A lack of drive when the bounty increases hasn’t altered Matthews’ God–like countenance in this city. Which indicates that nothing ever will.
Unless Treliving and Doan have the moxie and mettle to stand up to Shanahan.
We are three weeks away from Matthews assuming full control of not only his future, but that of the entire club. Ownership and management, by all appearances, is allowing “Mr. November” to set the marching orders. With his grandiose one round of playoff triumph in seven years. Adding to the confusion was a comment, this week, by Elliotte Friedman that suggested the Leafs are looking to “de–emphasize” the Core–4. How? By hiring Auston’s “boyhood idol” as a special advisor to the new GM? Why not go “all in” and retain Justin Bieber as road caddy?
The entire Maple Leafs operation, supported unanimously by the docile and submissive media, revolves around catering to No. 34; to making him feel essential. The hell with his lousy and untimely 44 points in 50 playoff games. Nowhere on the planet could the Maple Leafs find an alternate No. 1 center. It’s Auston… or bust.
If Treliving and Doan are mere figureheads, nodding up and down with every one of the Teflon president’s ideas, there is no hope for the Leafs to overcome their playoff bugaboo. Until the club hires someone with backbone — and, who knows, maybe Doan will help tip the scale — it’ll be more of the same. It has been proven, beyond doubt, that the Leafs will not change is any significant manner with Tavares, Nylander, Marner and Matthews as nucleus of the squad. Tavares is locked in for two more years. Trading Nylander would amount to change for the sake of change. Unloading the multi–gifted Marner would be one of the biggest blunders in franchise history.
The smart, tough move, therefore, would be to send “Mr. November” elsewhere before July 1, when he begins to hold all the cards. But, the Leafs would need courage, faith and initiative in order to flip the script. Elements the franchise has lacked while turning a blind eye to the post–season frailty of the “Corpse–4.” Until there’s a change of mood and direction, the bruising of hockey’s most–resilient fan base will continue. Indefinitely and unabated.