What do the Toronto Maple Leafs do now? A team that has seen more bitter playoff disappointments in the past, this year, they simply lost to a better one in seven games. The Maple Leafs didn’t fold or collapse in the first round versus the defending Stanley Cup Champions. At the same time, they didn’t have enough to get past a beatable team. Another year of playoff disappointment has to bring on change, but the question about how much change is required seems valid.
If you’re the Maple Leafs’ ownership group, do you blow it up? Do you make change for the sake of change? It’s hard to know and the varied, emotional responses from many close to this organization is understandable.
The first reaction from fans to another early exit by the Maple Leafs is a universal sense of disappointment. The second reactions seem to differ. Some believe this team has no choice but to make big changes. Others think the club has as deep a team as it ever will and should bring back largely the same group for next season.
Here are a few different reactions from insiders closer to the team than many of us might be.
Some Feel There Doesn’t Need to Be Big Changes
NHL Sportsnet analyst and hockey insider Elliotte Friedman noted on the network’s broadcast after the game that he didn’t feel the team needs to undergo a big shakeup in the front office, behind the bench, or on the roster. Instead, Friedman explained that the Leafs did well this season, finishing fourth overall in the Eastern Conference, but losing out to the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
They lost in one final game that would decide their fate in the series and while there will need to be some tweaks, no one should be fired. His take is that you don’t destroy a very good hockey team and kick people out of their positions because you lost one game. Chris Johnston of TSN and the Toronto Star agreed when he wrote, “They were one bounce, one favorable call, or one more converted power play away from entering the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs as the likely favourite to come out of the Eastern Conference.”
Changes Are Needed Because Enough Is Enough
Kelly Hrudey was sitting opposite Friedman on the panel and was in agreement that no one deserves to be fired but he also s there has to be change. Not only did the Maple Leafs not get past the first round again, he felt they had a couple of opportunities to put away a beatable Tampa Bay Lightning club and they didn’t do it.
He noted that the Leafs failed to take the 3-1 series lead in Game 4 and then couldn’t finish off the Lightning when they had the 3-2 series lead. There will be many who agree with Hrudey, simply because losing is getting tiresome. Mitch Marner said it during his post-game avail with the media: “We’re getting sick and tired of feeling like this.”
What About Coaching?
Darren Dreger of TSN writes, “There will [be] changes to the Maple Leafs’ roster based on salary cap and free agency, but, I don’t foresee drastic changes or sense that the coach or GM are in trouble.” Suggesting the team made big strides and didn’t fall into any of the traps that have plagued him in the past, the players didn’t quit or not show up. This failure isn’t on the coaching staff, suggests the NHL insider.
The argument can be made that players would perform better under Keefe than anyone else. He’s had Michael Bunting twice and both times Bunting has taken massive steps in his development. Can the same be said if the Leafs go another direction and hire someone like Barry Trotz?
James Mirtle of The Athletic writes:
The coach is maybe a little bit of a harder decision — but only a little bit. And only because a veteran like Barry Trotz is available. But if you commit to a front office, you commit to its coach, and for now, given the gains Sheldon Keefe made this season, I can’t see him not being Kyle Dubas’ guy.source – ‘Mirtle: What changes do the Maple Leafs need after another early exit?’ – James Mirtle – The Athletic – 05/15/2022
What About Maple Leafs Management?
Kristen Shilton of ESPN.com writes that a lack of killer instinct is the issue for the Leafs and they need to go out and acquire that missing ingredient. But, that doesn’t just mean roster changes as she believes that issue stems all the way up to the front office and that team president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Kyle Dubas should have to answer for yet another first-round failure.
Both execs have doubled (and tripled) down on the Leafs and their core over the past two years in particular. The plan hasn’t worked. Has the time come to go in a new direction? Toronto didn’t play badly in the postseason. It was a better series than any other they’ve played under Shanahan and Dubas. And it’ll be difficult to make massive alterations considering the Leafs have little cap space with which to maneuver.
Maybe Just Small Tweaks, But Bigger Picture Questions?
There are a few insiders who believe only small adjustments need to be made. Outside of Friedman, who we noted earlier thought there might be some movement around the edges, Jonas Siegel of The Athletic doesn’t believe the organization will make earth-shattering moves either.
Siegel doesn’t see their core forwards being moved, and defensemen Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie aren’t going anywhere. He writes that questions about John Tavares’ role will need to be addressed and the club will need to figure out what’s happening with their goaltending. Outside of that, he writes:
Falling short of the Stanley Cup makes the season a failure. There’s enough here, though, enough going on, to think a similar team, with some upgrades, will be in position to contend — again. Change for the sake of change is rarely good. And yet, it’s also important to take stock of the big picture. Matthews and Nylander have only two years left on their contracts. Marner and Tavares are up the year after that.source – ‘Maple Leafs have to stay the course (with some tweaks) despite suffering same outcome’ – Jonas Siegel – The Athletic – 05/15/2022
Maybe this team gives it one more shot? If the same thing happens next season, the conversation will be entirely different.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”