If you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you experience a lot of emotions. After all, it is “the Passion that unites us all,” and Leaf’s fans most certainly have Passion. Over the last several years, how the seasons have ended brought out many emotions.
In 2020, it was an embarrassment. “How could we lose to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets??”
In 2021, it was anger. “How could we blow a 3-1 series lead to the lowly Montreal Canadiens??”
In 2022, it was hope. “Wow! We took the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champs to 7 games, and it was super close!”
After how 2023 ended, there was once again a new emotion. “Whatever.”
Despite finally slaying the dragon that was the first round of the playoffs, Leaf fans are more upset than they have been in a long time. And it’s pretty easy to see why…
The Definition of Insanity
In 2016, the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Auston Matthews with the 1st overall pick – the dawn of a new era in Toronto. With draft picks from previous years, such as Mitch Marner and William Nylander, established Leafs like Morgan Rielly, and a big free agent signing in John Tavares, this was supposed to be the beginning of a dynasty in Toronto.
Instead, do you know how many 1st round exits we’ve had since then?
It hasn’t exactly gone as planned. It seemed like Dubas’ ongoing plan was to keep the Core Four intact and then surround them with the kind of support they needed to cross the finish line.
It was said they needed veteran help, so Dubas got players like Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, and Wayne Simmonds. It was said they needed leadership, so Dubas got players like Nick Foligno, Mark Giordano, and Ryan O’Reilly.
It just hasn’t worked…
When you spend almost half of your available money on four players, you really can’t afford to surround them with quality. Yes, there was a world-altering pandemic that froze the salary cap for several years. Yes, there were some cheap players that came in that were effective such as Michael Bunting, Jason Spezza, Mark Giordano, etc.
But at the end of the day, the plan to surround four players with cheap fill-ins did not work. And despite the overwhelming proof that it didn’t work, Kyle Dubas was fine to parade these lineups out year after year, hoping that one day they would just break through.
2023 – A season of change?
When the Leafs were eliminated in five games by the Florida Panthers (after going down 3-0 in the series), there was an overwhelming feeling across Leafs’ Nation.
The fanbase was tired. Done. Spent. Whatever you want to call the feeling of perpetual defeat. But so was Kyle Dubas. For the first time since becoming General Manager in 2018, it finally seemed that Dubas was ready to change The Plan. He announced to the press that maybe it was time to think about this team and this core a bit differently.
Four days later, he was fired by President Brendan Shanahan, who then proceeded to tell everyone that the core would remain intact.
This team now belongs to Brad Treliving (or Brendan Shanahan if you believe that theory), and while some things will change, it’s become very clear that a lot of things won’t. He’s already put his fingerprints on this team bringing in players like Ryan Reaves, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Max Domi, but we know his work isn’t over.
The big elephant in the room is the new contracts for William Nylander and Auston Matthews; they still haven’t signed their #1 goalie in Ilya Samsonov, and at the time of this writing, the Leafs are about $8 million over the Salary Cap (before Muzzin’s LTIR kicks in) so something will need to be done (Matt Murray buy-out?).
This off-season, the stakes are higher than they have been in a long time; The fanbase is annoyed and restless, two stars are battling through intense contract negotiations, the old familiar GM has been replaced by a GM who had mid-level success in his last role, and the championship window seems to be closing fast. Leafs Nation has continued to be staunch supporters of this club, but unless the major changes continue and there is a significant upward climb, there will only be one emotion felt by the fans: