Golf Season Is Nearly Upon Us

And, now, the Leafs must wade into the abyss, also known as Scotiabank Arena, for Games 3 and 4. It is currently a best–of–five clash with the Leafs possessing home ice disadvantage. How else can we position the series after the Leafs finished the schedule with a pedestrian 22–15–4 home record? It doesn’t bode particularly well for two encounters with the NHL’s best road team in 2023–24.
— BETWEEN The Posts, Apr. 23, 2024

TORONTO (Apr. 28) — So, really, it comes down to this: In order to avoid sweeping change in the hockey department — involving, minimally, Brendan Shanahan and Sheldon Keefe — the Maple Leafs absolutely must win the next two games of their playoff series against Boston. As I’ve written before, and it’s a staunch opinion, the Leafs hierarchy cannot withstand a five or six–game elimination from the opening round. If, somehow, the Leafs regroup; win Games 5 (Tuesday in Boston) and 6 (Thursday in Toronto) — then put up a good fight in the decisive match at the TD Garden next Saturday — maybe there’s a discussion about retaining the president and coach. Otherwise, both will be replaced before next season; each having one year remaining on his contract with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Eight years of trying to get it right is normally six years too many for the nucleus of a professional sports team. Just not the Leafs. Neither is the core of any National Hockey League club as glaringly predictable as the Auston Matthews–Mitch Marner–William Nylander troika. Forever jacking up their followers during the 82–game schedule; then jacking them around once the playoffs start. This truly is “insanity” at its finest.

You’ll notice that I haven’t included Brad Treliving among those likely imperiled. Given a late start to last summer, when hired by Shanahan, the first–year general manager performed adequately, signing veterans Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, Martin Jones and Simon Benoit. Though possessing an uneven track record in Calgary, Treliving is an honest, diligent worker and deserves more time to try and morph the Leafs into playoff worthiness (providing, of course, new Chief Executive Officer, Keith Pelley, doesn’t lobby for top–to–bottom change in the hockey wing).

How Treliving will do that with Matthews and Nylander on long–term extensions is anyone’s guess.

Only once in franchise history have the Maple Leafs fully rebounded from a 3–1 series gorge in the playoffs — that being in 1942, when Toronto became the first club to crawl back from an 0–3 deficit in a best–of–seven round, reawakening to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final.

The current Leafs are the only NHL team that uses playoff games as practice for the next regular season. A contender, we think, might do the opposite. Game 4 on Saturday was close to rock bottom for the Shanahan administration. Alarmingly, there was no desire from the outset to compete at playoff tempo. Not even close. The crowd at Scotiabank Arena, even if accustomed to surrender early in the Stanley Cup tournament, was initially spooked into silence… then became rather un–Toronto–like. If you listened closely, you could detect a smattering of irritation.


By the end of the second period, the Johnny–too–Goods on Bay Street could actually be heard booing, though somewhat reluctantly, as if getting caught would lead to expulsion from the building. The Maple Leafs looked scared, indifferent and, quite frankly, resigned to their fate. You think losing 11 of the past 12 games to Boston was a fluke? Think again. Matthews evidently was sick and did not return for the third period. But, every year, an excuse crops up for Mr. November to nosedive when the stakes increase. Last spring, it was a sore wrist. Now, it’s an “illness”. Same with Nylander. There is, however, something elemental: the Leaf attack fizzles in the playoffs because getting to the prime scoring areas around the opposition goal is more strenuous than during the season.

The Toronto forwards simply refuse to wade into combat; it’s not in their DNA. Never has been at this time of year. The Bruins, like Florida, stand up effectively near the blue line, requiring an opponent to “fight through” the embankment. The Leafs have no–such inclination. Not this group. Not now. Probably not ever.

The fact this was so easy to anticipate is the most vexing issue of all. Why do the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays continue to believe they can change without changing? The Jays couldn’t hit a beach ball last season and they brought back the same impotent nucleus. Guess what? They have no attack again this year. Shocking, huh?

After the Montreal fiasco in the 2021 pandemic playoffs, it was clear the Core–4 could not get it done for the Leafs. How did the Shanahan administration respond? By rewarding Matthews and Nylander with cap–choking extensions that run through 2028 and 2032, respectively. All but guaranteeing the longest–ever Stanley Cup drought will grow to 65 years. Not that the Leafs can be solely blamed. Reporters, columnists and pundits who follow the team (most vociferously, Chris Johnston) insisted there was no other path than securing Matthews. When, in fact, Game 5 against Florida last spring should have been his final appearance with the team. After failing to score in the brief and lopsided quarrel. A club truly committed to winning would have looked beyond the illusion of the regular season and negotiated a trade for No. 34 prior to his no–movement clause kicking in. But, there wasn’t an appetite for such pursuit. Not with the lazy Leafs. Not with the cheerleading media, which lost decorum and focus as Matthews approached (but, characteristically, did not achieve) the 70–goal plateau. The love was astoundingly over the top but, trust me, it will happen again next season; then the one after, as Auston challenges more pointless records from the 82–game schedule. At the moment, Matthews has one goal in his past nine playoff starts (the winner in Game 2). That’s the equivalent of a nine–goal season, or 60 fewer than he potted this year.

What more needs to be said?

There remains a singular lack of perspective as it pertains to hockey in this region. That’s why it was so easy for the Maple Leafs to bring back their own people, even with indisputable evidence they cannot perform to playoff standard. Over the course, now, of nearly an entire decade. Which is a helluva long time in professional sport.

So, the only hope for the Leafs is that Boston learned nothing from its staggering defeat in the first round last spring. After winning a league–record 65 games, the Bruins did to Florida precisely what they are doing to the Leafs. Having split the first two matches at home, Boston went to Sunrise and won twice to build a 3–1 series lead. As it did this week at Scotiabank Arena. But, the Bruins couldn’t slam the door and became the first of Florida’s surprise victims; the Panthers finally getting subdued by Vegas in the championship round. As I look at the Leafs, however, I see nothing that resembles Matthew Tkachuk or Sergei Bobrovsky. A playoff warrior and an elite stopper. Without which — and a Norris Trophy candidate — no team can challenge for the Stanley Cup.

Especially a club with one victory in its past eight playoff games on home ice. Quite appalling, isn’t it?


Another example of the incomprehensible passage of time.
That three decades have passed since I covered the Leafs–Blackhawks opening–round Stanley Cup series in 1994 doesn’t particularly register. It was the end of historic Chicago Stadium, home of the Hawks beginning in 1929. The giant United Center had risen across W. Madison St. and would become lair of the Blackhawks and NBA Bulls (some have called the United Center the “arena Michael Jordan built”). Fate and timing allowed me to cover the last three hockey matches at Chicago Stadium for The FAN–1430 (credential, above, from Game 3), including the finale, Game 6, in which the Maple Leafs and Felix Potvin eliminated the Blackhawks, 30 years ago tonight. I still have newspaper stories and photos from the Chicago Sun–Times and the Toronto Sun:




11 comments on “Golf Season Is Nearly Upon Us

  1. Howard- I was lucky enough to be part of a group that attended that last Chicago Stadium game. We flew out of Hamilton mid afternoon and caught dinner in Chicago Greektown region. We were taking a risk to a degree as the Hawks were not yet finished (3-2 for Leafs going in to that game 6) and if they won that game and subsequent game in Toronto- Hawks would have played in a following series. We ended up with 2 extra tickets and sold them at game time for less than list price. Can’t forget the “roar” inside Chicago Stadium. The locals a bit surprised at the number of Leaf fans singing O’Canada in the opening ceremonies. As we were close to the ice in Hawks defending zone for periods one and three- we were fairly hopeful the game could go the Leafs way when in the first few minutes- Wendel Clark drilled Chris Chelios into the boards behind the Chicago net. We saw the glass move in a very big way – no penalty as I recall. The most difficult part of the evening( post game) was trying to find a cab near the Stadium- to take us back to Midway airport for our flight home that evening as Chicago cabs back in 1994 largely avoided the downtown in mid to late evening.Thanks for the reminder of the date Howard.

  2. They are past the point in the Marner contract where he can be traded and no has a full NMC. I really think it’s time to just move on from him at the end of the contract. For what he makes there is probably a cast off forward available in free agency who would be just as productive in the playoffs. And also could pick up a D man who would be solid for a playoff run. More than Marner does.

  3. Howie your blog is the most concise in pinpointing the Leafs woes.
    The fans are also complicit filling the seats year after year.
    Why worry?
    The $$ keep rolling in.
    I watched Dallas and Vegas game and that’s what I call good exciting hockey.
    Too bad another playoff season has our backs against the wall (no surprise)

  4. Hey Howard, I’m totally with you on your blog. But here’s my take: unless the Leafs show a clear improvement over last year’s playoff performance, like making it to at least the final four this time around, I think it’s fair to say that Keefe and Shanny should be on the chopping block.

    I mean, let’s be real here. After sticking with the same core group for eight years, Leafs ownership should be setting their sights higher than just a hard-fought battle in a Game 7, whether it’s in the first or second round. We’re talking about being contenders, not just settling for “respectful handshakes” with the opposing team. It’s time for us fans to ACTUALLY demand more from our team (SIGH!).

  5. Mathews jumped ship – it was all too much for him to handle. Sick or not sick, he can stay on the bench and maybe take one or two shifts, rather than leave. Tavares invisible Nylander ineffective Marner too small and easily pushed off the puck. But the bigger problem is COACHING. The coach repeatedly cannot get anything out of these players at playoff time. He cannot motivate them he cannot even make up his mind on lines or a proper system of play. Mistakes end up in the net.. Kyle Dubas created this mess, starting with not re-signing Zack Hyman, and giving these guys no trades. Can’t wait to hear Shanahan’s garbage again this year. Oh wait – he’ll be fired so no need this time around.

  6. Right on the mark and I appreciate you weaving the Blue Jays into this disturbing, Rogers-concocted social experiment. Treliving deserves more time but the rest do not.

  7. The Shanaplan is actually no plan. You stumble across some talented players, overpay them then hope for the best.
    Great plan.

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