A Message To Leafs Nation: Shut Up And Be Patient
Source: Claus Andersen/Getty Images
So here we are again, another season gone by and another 1st round exit for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Many fans were preparing for the “pain” and disappointment” with how everything has gone in recent years during this era of the franchise. It seems that everyone expects this team to lose when it counts the most, even though they have built a championship caliber roster and are one of the top favorites to win it all on a yearly basis for the last few years.
Well I got news for ya; that ain’t gonna change anytime soon. They will continue to be one of the favorites for the foreseeable future. Losing to the Montreal Canadiens was not the end of the world, but definitely a missed opportunity.
So What Happened?
They got beat by the better team, that’s what happened. The Montreal Canadiens were more physical, had the better goaltender and scored game winners in 1-goal games when it counted the most. Losing John Tavares in game one was a huge blow, and people forget the type of impact he brings to the table.
Yes the Leafs did win three games in a row after he went down, but they didn’t win four and when the series was on the line with games going to overtime in both games five and six “Johnny-C” being the gamebreaker that he is could have made the difference to close out the series when they needed that one goal the most.
Problem is, we will never know how everything would have went had this injury not occurred and anytime you have a hot goalie for the underdog combined with a major injury for the favorite that can really even up the teams and then it comes down to who wants it more.
So What Now?
Following the devastating loss in game seven I have heard everything from firing the GM to trading Mitch Marner to no longer being a fan of the team anymore. Listen Leafs Nation, I get it – they have not won a Stanley Cup in over a half century, with most of us not even being alive the last time it happened in 1967.
To make any type of major overhaul to the roster at this point would be completely foolish, as you can not make emotional decisions and trade away a superstar player like Mitch Marner as an example. If you do something like that then you make a move you will end up regretting later – like Nazem Kadri, which I argue is the worst trade General Manager Kyle Dubas has made in his three years as General Manager the team.
Yes, Kadri got suspended two playoff years in a row and now just did again as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, but you can’t deny the fact that you traded away a true 2nd-line center that was a luxury playing on the 3rd line of this Leafs team and with a good contract (3 years left at $4.5M per year) now all you have to show for it now is Alex Kerfoot and a 1-year rental of Tyson Barrie, which we can all agree turned out great, didn’t it? Yeah, sure did.
Imagine if you traded Marner what types of regrets you would have two years later. Did he have a great playoff? Obviously not, and neither did Auston Matthews. But that does not mean you trade either one of them away, that would just be a knee-jerk reaction doing a panic move and to even suggest it would be ludicrous.
So What Changes Do We Make This Off-Season?
All you can really do is make the minor changes to the roster which is something you would have to do anyways whether you lose in the 1st round or go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, as in the world of a salary cap and unrestricted free agency, no team – not even the one that wins it all – can keep the exact same roster together for the next season.
You fill your holes and take another crack at it – I get it that this market is very impatient, always see change as the answer to failure, and not winning a playoff series since 2004 is completely frustrating everyone. But when you build a team into a contender and do it the right way how this Leafs team did, you have to be patient.
There is a window for this team to win for the rest of this decade and I know this is not what Leaf fans want to hear wanting answers and results right away, but if you have waited all these years what is one more year? Or two, or three?
Seriously – Matthews and Marner are young superstars just finishing their 5th year in the NHL and both are still under 25 years of age. It took Wayne Gretzky 5 years. It took Mario Lemieux 7 years. It took Joe Sakic 9 years. And it took both Steve Yzerman and Alexander Ovechkin 14 years.
So How Do We Get Better?
The Leafs need to see who they lose in the expansion draft and then go from there. They need 4-5 players to fill the holes:
1 – a goaltender to pair up with Jack “Soupy” Campbell, preferably an insurance “safety-net” veteran that has been a starter in the league previously, given the fact that “Soupy” has never been a starter for an entire season.
They will also need 3-4 forwards, possibly including a 3rd line center should they lose Kerfoot in the expansion draft or otherwise. Should that happen, I would definitely recommend signing a 2-way center like Nick Bonino as a free agent that is good on faceoffs and can kill penalties.
There are also the questions of are they bringing back left wingers Zack Hyman and/or Alex Galchenyuk, which remains to be seen. Ideally, they need to add a couple of more physical checking wingers to round out the roster and make them more playoff-ready as they have the skill, now to go on a deep playoff run they need to have the will.
Adding more players with Stanley Cup championship experience would not hurt either, as only two players on this entire roster – Jake Muzzin and Zach Bogosian were the only ones with a ring. The lack of playoff winning experience shows at times when things start to get more physical in the postseason.
Simply put, they need to somehow bring in the right pieces with the limited salary cap room they have to put this team over the top and go for it again with mostly the same roster as last season.
Yes, year after year this does get frustrating – but with the core they have in place, their time will come and I can assure you of that. All of Leafs Nation just needs to shut up and be patient.