32 Teams in 32 Days: Toronto Maple Leafs
Why good teams fail and what they can do about it.
Good morning. Let’s continue on our journey around the NHL with a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs and why good teams sometimes fail.
Be sure to check out yesterday’s look at the Minnesota Wild and the struggle of winning on a budget.
A few years ago I was in Washington for the Eastern Conference Finals between the Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. It was Game 6, the Capitals were facing elimination, and on the verge of blowing yet another multiple game lead in a playoff series. In hindsight it was a fascinating matchup involving two franchises facing the same problem: Great regular season teams loaded with superstar talent that kept falling short in the playoffs in disappointing fashion.
This was before the Lightning’s current core had won its two Stanley Cups. It ended up being the season that the Capitals finally won their first championship.
Going into Game 6 I wrote this, which basically argued that professional sports was not really about winning. It was about losing and coming to terms with the reality that, no matter how good your team is, no matter how great it looks on paper, no matter how many star players it has, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you when it comes to being the last team standing in the playoffs.
Good teams fail all the time.
Great teams, even.
Sometimes it comes down to a fatal flaw somewhere on the roster that keeps getting exploited. Maybe it’s a poorly timed injury. Or the wrong matchup early in the playoffs. And sometimes it comes down to that one four-letter word nobody likes to acknowledge for why a certain team does not win: Luck.
Despite constant outside pressure to make sweeping changes to their core and their rosters after repeated playoff shortcomings, the Capitals and Lightning stuck with their players and believed in their talent. They didn’t trade Alex Ovechkin, or Nikita Kucherov, or Steven Stamkos, or Nicklas Backstrom, or John Carlson, and they did not make major sweeping changes. The Lightning didn’t even make a coaching change.
Both were eventually rewarded for their patience. Washington finally broke through in 2018 to win its cup, while Tampa Bay continued its ascent to the top of the NHL by winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021 and playing in a third straight Stanley Cup Final in 2022.
All of this brings us to the latest talented roster that keeps falling short in the playoffs and facing calls to break things up: The Toronto Maple Leafs.
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