Better Luck Next Year: It is time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to make some kind of major change
They finally advanced to the Second Round, but even then the season ended in a major disappointment. They need to shake things up here.
Welcome to Better Luck Next Season. As each NHL team gets eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we will take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and what sits ahead for them. Today we look at the Toronto Maple Leafs who finally won a playoff series, but still missed a great opportunity to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.
When you keep producing the same result you have to eventually reach a point where you need to try something different.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have reached that point.
Their latest postseason flop concluded on Friday night with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers, ending their Second Round series in a five-game defeat.
The good news is they finally got through the glass ceiling that was the First Round of the playoffs. After six straight First Round exits it is at least some sort of progress. But they followed that by falling flat on their faces in the Second Round, losing three consecutive games to open the series and did not come close to advancing to the Eastern Conference Final.
It is not only a massive disappointment for a team that has been defined by disappointment, it also represents a staggering missed opportunity to seriously compete for a Stanley Cup.
Their long-time playoff nemesis and the best team in the NHL this season, the Boston Bruins, was eliminated before they had to play them.
They took a big step on their own and knocked out the Tampa Bay Lightning in the First Round.
Longtime Eastern Conference contenders Pittsburgh and Washington did not even make the playoffs.
The two top goalies in the East — Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin — were knocked out of the Metropolitan Division bracket.
Even Carolina, as good as it is, has its share of flaws with the massive injuries to Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty.
If there was ever going to be a year for Toronto, this was it. Everything aligned. Everything fell into place. And they still only managed five of the 16 necessary wins. They did not even get halfway there. Or even close to halfway there.
Over the past seven years they have tried so many different things and lost in so many different ways. They have lost in Game 7s. They have blown series leads. They have lost as the higher seed. They have lost as the lower seed. They have lost as heavy favorites. They have lost as heavy underdogs. They have lost because of goaltending. They have lost because the offense went cold. They have lost with different coaches. They have lost with different general managers. They have acquired gritty, veteran playoff type players and still lost.
The two common denominators through all of that have been 1) the fact they keep losing, and 2) their core players.
In general, I am not a fan of looking at a team that loses in the playoffs and screaming that they have to tear it all down. If you have great players, you should try to keep them. There is only one team lifting the Stanley Cup at the end of the season, and there is no problem with falling short of that. Sometimes it takes a few years to get there.
But when a team keeps showing you who they are and what they are, you should probably start believing them.
This Maple Leafs team as presently constructed around this core has never won its own division outside of the makeshift Canadian Division in 2020-21, it’s never finished with a top record in the league, and it’s never won more than five playoff games in a single postseason. I know the playoff format and the divisional alignments has produced some tough matchups, and maybe even some unfair matchups. But if you are going to be a Stanley Cup team you are going to have to get through those eventually.
Other than beating a worn down Tampa Bay team this year, they have never done that.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe might get replaced this offseason. Maybe general manager Kyle Dubas leaves and takes over another team, like the Pittsburgh Penguins. All of that might be necessary. But the changes can not stop there.
They need to make a change with the core. They might be wise to take a look at the team that just eliminated them as to how that could be done.
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