There comes a point in time where you start to feel sorry for Toronto Maple Leafs fans. I just haven’t reached that point yet.
Another Game 7 loss in the first round means another summer of ‘what if?’ around Hogtown and anyone who supports the Toronto Maple Leafs. I mean, yeah, I can see where it’s a tough result. The Leafs had a decent regular season but the regular season only settles where you find out who you play in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Ask the Tampa Bay Lightning how that went three years ago when they were the absolute best team in the regular season only to get rolled by the Columbus Blue Jackets in four straight in round one. My mortgage says the team and city were figuring out the logistics for the parade that year.
And that’s what Leafs Nation was doing this year. So many predicted the Stanley Cup was coming home but everyone who isn’t a Toronto Maple Leafs fan knew better. This team has no killer instinct. For some reason, they always find a way to lose when the chips are down. With the Game 7 loss to Tampa Bay, the Leafs have become the first team in National Hockey League history to lose a deciding do-or-die game five years in a row. No other team has managed to do that. I’ve been listening to pundits and the streaming crowd going on about how the Leafs threw everything they had at the Lightning and didn’t roll over. Maybe so, but they still lost.
This is a team that has been built to win. They plowed tens of millions of dollars into three players — Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares — and built a team around them. Matthews had a great season and should be the Hart Trophy winner as the league’s most valuable player but that’s nothing. The Leafs were so sure this was their year (never mind the fans because they think every year is the year) and it all came crashing down.
I’ve been getting a kick out of all these amateur officials talking about how that disallowed goal in the second period of Game 7 was the difference. Justin Holl got called for interference because he set a pick on Tampa’s Anthony Cirelli. That’s a penalty, no matter what anyone says, because, unlike in basketball, you aren’t allowed to do that. Now I know I’m going to be inundated with comments telling me how it wasn’t a penalty, the referees favoured Tampa Bay, if it’s a penalty then why isn’t it called at other times, blah blah blah. It’s a penalty. Live with it. No goal for John Tavares.
So what now? Does head coach Sheldon Keefe lose his job? How about general manager Kyle Dubas? I don’t know if either of those are the answer. It’s Dubas who locked in Matthews, Marner and Tavares to huge long-term contracts that could never be traded away and those guys haven’t gotten the job done when it counts so you can make that argument. On the other hand, Keefe is the director of the on-ice product and he hasn’t been able to take the Leafs over the hump so there’s that. It’s all up to Brendan Shanahan, the club’s president, he of the “Shana-plan.” What a success that’s turned into. Five straight first-round losses when the series is on the line.
You can’t even make the argument that this is a young, inexperienced team. The core of this group has been in the National Hockey League for several seasons and teams always get tinkered with but do you stick with this group? Easy to say blow it up and re-build (like has happened several times before in Toronto) but it will probably have to happen with Matthews, Marner and Tavares as the cogs. Dubas could never trade those contracts away unless he agrees to eat a good chunk of their average annual value in return. I also highly doubt either of those guys will want to be part of any re-build, especially Tavares.
And so we’ll just go on with life and we’ll keep on counting upward. It’s 54 years and counting. While you Leafs fans are doing that, I’ll be watching my Edmonton Oilers in the Battle of Alberta versus the Calgary Flames in round two. I invite you to watch two Canadian teams who will no doubt do this country well because at least there will be one left standing with a shot at the Stanley Cup.
It’s good to be me.