Loss Leads to Throwaway Season

TORONTO (May 5) — Yeah, the Maple Leafs gave it a shot; more–so than any of us felt possible after Game 4 produced one of the most desultory home playoff displays of all time. In the end, however, it was another first–round elimination — the seventh in eight years of the Brendan Shanahan/Core–4 era. So, while we may put some lipstick on this pig, the series again proved there is no particular big–game posture among the five–man nucleus soon to be gobbling up $54,153,000 of salary cap space. That’s how much Auston Matthews, William Nylander, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly will earn next season… this one ending in absolute Mickey Mouse fashion when Rielly somehow enabled David Pastrnak to get behind him in overtime and convert a rebound off the end boards from Hampus Lindholm, who fired the puck on a set play from the neutral zone. Series over.

This was the equivalent of a football team’s best receiver sneaking behind the defensive secondary in the final moments of a tie game. It just cannot happen at the highest level of professional sport. Even if it came, perversely, as an appropriate conclusion for the club’s highest–paid blueliner, who performed below–par defensively during the regular season and could not elevate his effort in the playoffs, as he did last spring against Tampa Bay.

What it leads to is more of the same… for one additional season. Not that the Leafs have earned even the slightest mulligan in the Shanahan era but, hey, what’s one more year of a championship drought that now reads 57?

Unless Marner and Tavares elect to waive their full no–movement clauses — and you can bet the Leafs, under possibly a new administration, will check with each player — the Core–4 (plus Rielly) will return. Lucrative contract extensions for Matthews and Nylander kick in, worth a combined $24.75 million. Marner and Tavares will digest another $21.9 million. Rielly comes in “last” at $7.5 million. If Marner and Tavares retain their contract privileges, the $21.9 million is wiped from the ledger after next season. It would result in both men walking as unrestricted free agents, but is necessary and so gravely overdue in order for the Maple Leafs — no matter who is running the club — to start building correctly: from the goal outward, not the forwards back. The Leafs have gone too far and long with the Shanahan/Kyle Dubas approach, which works marvelously between October and April each season.


It is no longer possible to envision the Core figures rising to the occasion in a decisive match. It would have happened already; perhaps several times. Instead, the Maple Leafs never score in Games 7. In fact, they don’t score in the playoffs… period. Toronto counted 12 goals in the seven games with Boston. It had nine one night during the season against Arizona. You don’t see Matthews, Nylander or Marner grab the spotlight and run with it… as we do today with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton; or in recent years with such combos as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. There was a time — long, long ago — in Leafs Nation when no person would bat an eyelash at a grandiose playoff performance from such legends as Dave Keon, Red Kelly, Tim Horton, Johnny Bower, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Borje Salming, Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts or Steve Thomas. You expected them to show up in big moments. They almost always did; win or lose.

No one expects Matthews, Marner or Nylander to dictate the outcome of a Game 7. It just isn’t part of their DNA.

Sure, Matthews will be given lots more rope as the result of whatever kept him sidelined for Games 5 and 6 against Boston. The 70–goal watch will spark delirium again next season. But, when has Auston ever dictated the course of a playoff series? He has a good game now and then, but not when a Stanley Cup round is on the line.

Same with Nylander. Same with Marner.

The Leafs are hogtied to Matthews and Nylander, so don’t expect a sudden U–turn in franchise playoff fortunes.

Will there be change at the top and behind the bench? I would think so, unless Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment looks at next season appropriately (as a throwaway) and decides to retain Keefe for the final year of his contract. Same, perhaps, with Shanahan. If anything, it would allow new Chief Executive Officer Keith Pelley to scour the hockey world for replacements. But, I suspect MLSE will not tolerate another first–round expulsion. Making a game of it against Boston in the opening round, one decade into the Shanaplan, is hardly a massive accomplishment. It felt good for a couple of days and I thought the Bruins had blown their chance by losing Games 5 and 6… and looking so befuddled in the latter match. It was the Leafs’ series to win on Saturday night.

But, again, none of the big sticks from the regular season stepped forward. Nylander scored the only goal for the visitors but was hardly a force throughout. Marner made one nice feed in the opening period but was otherwise invisible. Again. Rielly was daydreaming on the overtime series winner. Only Ilya Samsonov, tossed into the fray when the forever–hobbled Joseph Woll came up lame, comported himself admirably. Still, the Maple Leafs sorely need to figure out their goaltending situation. It has been in constant flux since the end of the inglorious Frederik Andersen era. Then, beforehand, dating to Ed Belfour in 2003–04, a year prior to the lockout season. Every summer, it seems, the Leafs settle on a reclamation project or another team’s injury castoff to play the game’s most–important position. The club hasn’t possessed a Norris Trophy threat in 45 years, since Salming was in his prime.

This is a conflicted organization that thought it knew how to win. But, has proven — unequivocally — it cannot.


16 comments on “Loss Leads to Throwaway Season

  1. Superbly stated Howard! You pretty much laid it out in easy to digest, but eloquent, language. Thanks!

    The only remaining question is; will the Leaf’s Senior Administrators take heed?

  2. Rotten to the Core 4
    Howard you were proven right all along and I knew you would be but I think Rielly was as baffled as anybody that Marner waved at Pasta as he blew by him and there was just no time for Rielly to act. Not an excuse but Marner gets most of the blame here as this was his man and a failed assignment. And how could the Leaf scouts and coaches not have warned the players of this set play that led to the OT goal ? And how could Marner and Rielly not have been ready for it. That’s the collective blame that this team shares.

  3. Well Howard I had my hopes up and thought maybe this time it would be different and it looked like they were ready to compete in playoff hockey.
    Then again Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
    So I guess the result should not be all that surprising. They traded away a few more picks and prospects for some depth players but didn’t address the actual need of quality defense and a reliable goalie.
    There are teams like the Sens who do not have unlimited funds to run the organization but have competent organizations making sensible intelligent moves.
    The Leafs have all the money but are run by an inept management which really has no actual plan and does not know what they are doing. Every year just trade away picks for a rental and get a first round exit.
    It really is sad and pathetic looking at how this team is run. In 2018 they had potential, Matthews, Marner, Nylander so the offence for the future was set.
    It was obvious they needed defense and a goalie to go deep in the playoffs. Instead they sign Tavares at $11 million. Were Shanny and Dubas not aware that the NHL has a cap?
    The fact is Dubas and Shanahan could have built a winner but made bad decisions that put the Leafs where they are now.
    Shanahan’s worst decision was probably signing Dubas to GM when the job should have gone to Mark Hunter.
    Well I guess now it will be another seven year rebuild. No, make that a ten year rebuild as the Leafs only have four picks in first four rounds over the next three years.
    What a joke, worst run team in the NHL and one of the worst in the world.

      1. “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” big time issue here…I would clean house by removing the president of 8 or more years…. same old same old same old issues…. bring in fresh blood and goes from there

  4. Hopefully the insanity ends this coming week. Please end our misery and put the Shanaplan out to pasture. Same old, same old, different year same results. The core 4+1 doesn’t work, will not work and only those who are delusional think otherwise. If you care too, have a look at the game winning goal and see how much Marner, Rielly and Nylander “care” about winning the Stanley Cup! Stop making excuses, only losers do.

  5. Predictable… Leaf fans get sucked in every year one way or another and figure it’ll be a different outcome. Killer instinct is a foreign concept to this core. Treiliving actually seems to understand what it takes to win in the Playoffs with the personnel he brought in, however it’s rotten at the core (4). As I mentioned on a previous post of yours, they’ll leave you in a pile of s**t when it’s all over. Punt Shanahan and Keefe, bring in Messier as President and Quenneville as coach (if formally reinstated). If they can get Marner and Tavares to waive their no-movements… Adios. Go after Montour. Bring in Tyler Myers for 2 years. Try to lock up a Jake DeBrusk ilk. Trade some small-bodied talent from the farm for a goalie. Bury Reaves and his yap on the Marlies and bring in the big rig Pat Maroon because he’s just a good luck charm.

  6. Another inditement of the multi-millionaires that make up the most expensive yet useless, underachieving “core” of in the history of the NHL.
    I don’t think Samsanov or goaltending, defensive structure or coaching was the deciding issue in this game or series, when over $40 million “worth” of offense-first forwards can’t score 2 freaking goals in a game COMBINED!
    Since the team unfortunately shelled out for Mathews and Mylander I’d toss Marner into the lake. His arrogant, petulant feuds with the media and his perimeter hugging play have worn out his welcome.
    Sadly, this will be yet another slow motion car wreck with Pelly/Shanahan/Treliving/Keefe “taking time to evaluate” and not making “rash decisions” because they’ve got a “good group” who they “all believe in” because “winning’s hard” and you don’t “give up on talent”. Excuse me while I go puke.

  7. First and foremost, the Leafs must change the chain of command starting at the top with Shanahan. He has to go. The president had 10 years to accomplish what he set out to do and his vision has failed miserably. It’s time for a new vision and it should include that ‘big trade’ everyone’s been talking about ad nauseum. Leafs will have to give up something big, like Marner, to get something of significance in return, otherwise it’s just patchwork roster management. On a positive note, I was really impressed with the Leafs’ physical, defensive style hockey we saw in games 5 and 6. It shows they can do it and win and It should be part of the ‘master plan’ going forward.

  8. Seven years and no improvement. Lots of changes. Lots of moves. Lots of draft picks and prospects traded away. Lots of money spent. MANAGEMENT. Do it right! It’s never too late to start doing things right. Build and grow. No short cuts, no quick fixes. Can’t build a winner through free agency. Young players, play them. No fast tracking. Build up your system. Make good finds. Draft much better. Don’t draft by need. Don’t pass up on a good player because that position is filled. Stockpile good players. And of all teams, the Maple Leafs don’t know this? Ma BA VA fancul.

  9. Does MLSE really care if the Leafs win a cup?
    They have always had good corporate support and a huge fan base. I don’t see the commitment like I see with Vegas Knights, where their owner told the GM at the trade deadline to get players and we worry about the cap later. That’s commitment to winning.

  10. This team needs to be rebuilt. The easiest way to facilitate that process is to find cap space and target other assets that changes the roster construction and the team culture. Marner is not the best option to facilitate that reconstruction, but he is the easiest brick to be replaced, and to start a process of building a roster from the goalie out.

  11. My previous comment repeated regarding Matthews being toxic. It’s a theory to ponder this.
    Having said that, your take on the team is accurate.
    Stuck with this core for a minimum of another year.
    There aren’t many teams that want or can afford or stupid enough to trade for Matthews or Marner both of whom prove playoff year after year unable to carry their team through.

  12. Whether goofing around after practice or an organized drill, you can imagine the Bruins learning every carom from T-D Garden’s corner boards and incorporating that into the shoot-in & high-speed chase that netted them the winning goal.
    Rielly got beat and Samsonov didn’t see the danger in time to beat Pastrnak to the puck. Game, series, season and – maybe – era over for the Leafs.
    Tough. They rose to the occasion of a Game 7 but so did their opponent in what ended up a very fine hockey game that felt like overtime from the five-minute mark of the first period.
    10 out of 10.

  13. Well, just like every other year at this time Leaf fans will once again find comfort in at least ONE thing they’ve always known. Thank God the Stanley Cup does not actually exist!

  14. YouTube plays the Boston /American broadcast. Right before the goal, the play-by-play announcer suggests to “send it to the net and then get people to the net” and then BOOM.

    Why doesn’t Toronto play like this?

    After Matthews went out with injury, Toronto started playing winning playoff hockey. Matthews came back in and Toronto lost. You can let 1 player be the focus of the whole team. A new coaching regime is the only way this will get fixed. Shanahan should have the dignity to step down on his own volition.

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