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Leafs Crash & Burn | What’s Next?

The Toronto Maple Leafs won the North Division this season. Kings of the North as many referred to them as they finished atop the division with an impressive 35-14-7 record and a threatening +39 goal differential. On paper, they were an offensive juggernaut heading into the playoffs.

Round 1 | Toronto Maple Leafs (1) vs Montreal Canadiens (4)

This was it! The dream first round matchup both #Leafs and #Canadiens fans have been dying to see. A storied rivalry between two of the #OriginalSix franchises in what would surely promise to be an epic playoff battle. Leafs fans could not wait, salivating at the thought of chomping down on the same team they’d dominated all season long, and finally getting past that first round drought dating back to 2004.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens Odds, Pick, Prediction 2/20/21

How Leafs fans saw things playing out after Game 4…

Game 1 | Montreal at Toronto – Montreal wins 2-1
Game 2 | Montreal at Toronto – Toronto wins 5-1
Game 3 | Toronto at Montreal – Toronto wins 2-1
Game 4 | Toronto at Montreal – Toronto wins 4-0
Game 5 | Montreal at Toronto – Toronto wins.

How it really went…

Game 1 | Montreal at Toronto – Montreal wins 2-1
Game 2 | Montreal at Toronto – Toronto wins 5-1
Game 3 | Toronto at Montreal – Toronto wins 2-1
Game 4 | Toronto at Montreal – Toronto wins 4-0
Game 5 | Montreal at Toronto – Montreal wins 4-3
Game 6 | Toronto at Montreal – Montreal wins 3-2
Game 7 | Montreal at Toronto – Montreal wins 3-1

History Repeats Itself

As a Leafs fan, I expected the worst outcome after the Leafs failed to close out the series in Game 5. As a realistic hockey fan – the Leafs should have no doubt been able to close it out the next chance in Game 6. On paper, the Leafs should have swept the Canadiens 4-0! Right!? Well, that was not the case. Jack Campbell shouldered every loss. He took responsibility and accountability and nobody stepped up to argue this. WHY NOT!? Jack Campbell did not deserve this outcome. He played solid for the Leafs and kept them close in every game of the series giving them multiple opportunities to stay alive and win the series. Long story short – Jack Campbell is not the reason why the Leafs organization has not won a playoff round since 2004.

The last time the Leafs won a playoff series

Leadership

The Leafs captain, John Tavares, went down with an injury in a freak accident in Game 1 and never returned to the lineup. When a captain is chosen, he is chosen for his leadership skills (both on and off the ice) and is typically a highly respected individual among his teammates and coaches. Aside from the captain, alternate captains are chosen. These are the players expected to help the captain or step up in the absence of their captain. They too are leaders in their roles. The three players who dawned the “A” for the Leafs after Tavares’ injury were Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly. These three individuals failed to step up and lead this team to victory. During Game 7, several times the camera panned across the players benches. The Toronto bench showed no emotion, no passion. Nobody was stepping up to be heard, to take control, and to wake the team up. This was GAME 7! Where was the sense of urgency? Where was the desire to win? Where was the fire that should have been burning within?

There’s no sense in arguing the Montreal series. Bottom line is, hustle beats talent when talent doesn’t hustle. The Leafs simply did not out-hustle the Canadiens and the hungrier team one.

Who’s to Blame?

Get rid of Marner! Fire Keefe! The refs were horrible! Where was Matthews? Fire Dubas! The Shana-plan failed!

Toronto Maple Leafs fans everywhere

As always, the emotional fanbase was out with torches and pitchforks after 60 minutes. Emotions riding high, anger and frustration, with many members of Leafs Nation left in utter disbelief. Many are still processing what happened trying to understand how it was possible and many are talking about burning their jerseys or cheering for a new team moving forward.

I’m a Leafs fan and there’s no changing that for me. Call me stupid, call me whatever you want – I’m a die-hard and will always bleed blue. In fact, the departed Mike Babcock got one thing right…

If you think there’s no pain coming, there’s pain coming.

Mike Babcock, former coach

Babs was wrong about a lot of things – but this was one thing he was bang on about. We hate to admit it as most of us knew there was pain to endure before achieving greatness – we were just hopeful that it wouldn’t be this long. We can sit here and point fingers all day long; but at the end of the day, the Leafs were once again not only unable to win a playoff series – but they once again squandered a 3-1 lead!

What’s Next?

Well, several things are happening this offseason. Several rental players will be off the books, several contracts are set to expire, and of course the NHL entry draft where the Leafs will lose someone to the #SeattleKraken. Here’s an outlook on player contracts, salaries, etc. from our friends over at CapFriendly.

So as you can see from the above snapshots, the Leafs will have only 14 signed roster players as of July 1st when free agency opens up with a projected $12.5M to spend. Oh look, and Phil Kessel enters the last year of the retained $1.2M salary as well. What does this mean? Well, the Leafs have some money to spend – of course ensuring they lock some up prior to the start of the upcoming season while also ensuring they strategically protect the right players from the entry draft. Zach Hyman definitely needs to be locked in and somehow protected – nothing further to say about him. Of the veterans added by Kyle Dubas over the last couple seasons, I personally would love for them to find a way to bring back Jason Spezza, Alex Galchenyuk, and Nick Foligno. Jack Campbell will enter the final year of his deal at a bargained $1.65M with a decision needing to be made to perhaps extend Jack and for the number two goalie to back him up moving forward – I’d be shocked if the Leafs brought Freddy Andersen back.

FTB: Leafs management to speak today - Pension Plan Puppets

The big question is – what happens with the core? Auston Matthews is a generational goal-scorer. You can’t make a rash decision based on his playoff performance – imagine the Oilers reacted the same way with McDavid or the Penguins with Crosby? Let’s be real.

Auston Matthews Could Miss Milestone Goal Total Because Of Coronavirus  Stoppage

William Nylander has been the favorite trade bait to Leafs Nation for years since his hold-out when it came to his latest contract. But in the end, the Leafs brass put together an offer for both sides to be happy and statistically it has paid off. The contract itself is $6.9M and his production and playoff performance make it a very appealing and tradeable contract IF the Leafs were to consider moving him.

What to expect from William Nylander this summer

Mitch Marner – ahhhh, this one hurts. I have always been a Marner fan from when the Leafs drafted him 4th overall in the 1st round in 2015. Unfortunately, his monster contract that sees him earning $10.9M through to 2024-25 is one that the Leafs may really need to consider moving – especially since it comes with a NMC for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons. Let’s face it. Mitch Marner has been an absolute monster performer since 2016-17 with over 67 points each year he has been at the NHL level. His playoff numbers are what gets people’s blood boiling. In 35 playoff games, Marner has 5 goals and 20 assists with a frustrating 12 penalty minutes (90% of which have been for delay of game – clearing the puck over the glass).

Mitch Marner Talks Video Games, Bon Jovi, and His Mom - Sharp Magazine

At the end of the day – the powers that be will make the decisions that are best for the team and hopefully moves that fans will welcome. Is a rebuild in order? Absolutely not. We have enough expiring contracts to make things work and perhaps build a team that can make the playoffs while keeping in mind tweaks can and will be made on or prior to the deadline depending on where they sit in the standings at that time. So rebuild, no. Re-tooling maybe, yes.

There’s always…

I know, we hate to hear it, but it’s true. There’s always next year. We’ve been used to hearing it and it’s truly starting to get old. I think the most painful thing for me after being eliminated in another first round series, was seeing the image below. If that stat doesn’t light a fire under their asses, I’m not sure what will. So with that said, to next season!

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