Toronto Maple Leafs Future
The Toronto Maple Leafs failed in the NHL playoffs once again and the time has come to look at what need to be done to get over the hump.
Here We Are Again!
Another NHL playoff first round has come and gone and once again to the shocking surprise of some and glee of some others, the Toronto Maple Leafs have lost another series. The Leafs failed to close out the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning despite going up three games to two and having home ice advantage for game seven. The Leafs came out strong in Tampa for game six and for a time looked like the curse was over.
After getting the lead at the end of the second period, many fans took to twitter and began to congratulate the Leafs before they had actually closed out the series. The Lighting tied the game in the third period of game six forcing overtime which led to a Brayden Point game winner. It was at this moment that the Leafs fans went into instant dread mode with a sinking feeling in their stomachs. The Leafs are no stranger to blowing series in the playoffs and are now 0-10 in close out games. With home ice and all their fans behind them, the Leafs were unable to overcome the outstanding performance of Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Bolts.
Now comes the time Leafs fans are most familiar with and begin the ever-constant blame game and yet this is one instance in which there was very little the Leafs could have done. Despite being injured in the first period of game 7, Point attempted to take a shift in the second. While unable, Point never left the team’s bench. Offering help and showing teammates video and providing the needed inspiration to propel the Bolts to a victory on the back of two Nick Paul goals. This is the point when the media and fan base turn against the team.
These emotions, while over the top, are understandable but let’s break down and work through them. Many fans want the firing of head coach Sheldon Keefe, General Manager Kyle Dubas and or the firing of team president Brendan Shanahan. The other ideas generally lean toward blaming star talent for lack of presence in the big game situations. Here is the problem; doing any of those things are not going to help the Leafs get any closer to making it out of the first round or winning the Cup. Regardless of how you feel about the Leafs, one thing is certain: they are a very strong team that is knocking on the door and will soon take the next step.
So, getting rid of the GM or president is not going to help because there are very few people who could have done a better job and are available to be hired. Those who want the head coach gone are lacking an understanding of what they just witnessed. The Leafs did not fall apart from a lack of leadership in the coaching department. The Leafs had one of the best teams in the League on the ropes for a solid amount of time and were very close to winning.
Sheldon Keefe has this team inspired and ready to go. Now, let’s look at the players; star power was not the issue this time. Granted their highest paid players failed to score in game seven so did Tampa’s. It came down to depth scoring to decide the game. How about goaltending? That is not the issue either. Jack “Soup” Campbell is one of the best goalies in the NHL and only happened with the injuries of Freddie Anderson who still is not available for the Carolina Hurricanes.
How to Get Over The Hump
So, the question becomes, how does this team turn it around? The answer is not going to be liked by many but that is what hard truths are for. The only hope the Leafs have for winning a playoff series is simple. A complete and total mentality change from both the fans and media covering the team. There is no media market more toxic towards star players or an organization than Toronto. Every bad game and the entire arena is potentially booing home town players with media members calling for them to be traded for nothing in return. The other thing that needs to change is the mentality of the entire organization, fan base and media. No longer can this team have a poor mentality.
Post loss all of the media was practically begging the winners to say nice things about their Leafs. The mentality of life is unfair and the referees are against us is why we lose will ensure that this team never finds success. The only way to be the best is to beat the best. Unfortunately in the NHL playoffs there are no easy rounds. It comes down to pure skill and determination. Who wants it more? The Leafs faced an opponent that has the chance to etch their names into immortality. A three peat is no easy task to accomplish. The determination shown from the Lighting is the only thing the Leafs failed to match.
This team needs to harness the miserable feeling of losing these past two years in this fashion and come to next year’s playoffs with a renewed determination. Lastly, roster moves that will improve the situation. Resigning Mark Giordano to a veteran minimum deal is a good start. He brings veteran leadership to help young Defensemen and now does not have the high cap hit. Resigning Jack Campbell, and other key contributors to strong team friendly deals. Clearing up cap space where they can and moving on from Peter Mrazek if possible.
This team is not far from taking the next step. This off season the front office should not look for a scapegoat nor should the owner. Focus on finding bottom six talent that will help you climb the mountain. The most important part that is overlooked in the playoffs is how key, bottom-line scoring is for teams. Bring back guys that will contribute without overpaying. Do a good job finding guys that work into this lineup in the draft and clearing cap room.