Take a breath Leafs Nation, the pain is over. Okay maybe not, but at least you don’t have to watch a team that doesn’t seem to have any interest in being there, anymore. Another year has come to an end but what happened? What went so horribly wrong that a promising dream season with the new poster boy in Tavares ended in relatively the same fashion as last season?
Want and desire may not show up in the box score, but they surely show up in the results. The Maple Leafs had the Bruins on the ropes and not only let them back into the series but put themselves in the hole instead. Something needs to be said that the Leafs lost the series by being outwilled by the Bruins. In terms of performance the Leafs were the better team, in terms of overall execution; the Bruins kicked the Maple Leafs’ you know what, up and down the ice in game 6 and 7 because they wanted it more. The Maple Leafs were the better team through Games 1-5 but the Bruins really showed up when it mattered. Toronto beat themselves, the Bruins played well but wow I am in awe of the lack of urge and desire to win a hockey game. The 4th line was maybe the best line for this team in this game and that right there will not win you a hockey game as they only played about 9mins in that game.
Now for the numbers in the box score, special teams were arguably the deciding factor in the series and especially in the final 3 games of the series. The Bruins were far and away better in the PP and PK department and the Leafs could not seem to figure out their powerplay and struggled with their penalty kill. There should be no excuse with the amount of talent that the Maple Leafs have that they can’t trigger on the PP and for the fact they even bother playing the second unit. I’m sorry but a powerplay unit with Brown, Ennis and Marleau on it should not be on the ice in general as a unit, let alone in a playoff game. Without the ridiculous difference in special teams this series was even closer than what it was.
So what is next for this young team? There are so many possible options on how to tweak and change this squad to fit the cap and the way Dubas wants his team to function. From free agents to trade to coaching personnel; there could be a ton on the way before the puck drops this October.
I have been in Mike Babcock’s corner since he was first introduced as Leafs head coach. However, my tone has since changed; there is no excuse for certain moves he and his coaching staff had made. From the power play and penalty kill to the matchups on the ice and which players were playing at which time. Auston Matthews was arguably the Leafs best player for the majority of this series and he played under 19mins in Game 7. 19 minutes?! In a “must win” game, he should be playing minimum 25mins to get as many chances as humanly possible to tie the game. It seems as if the players do not want to play for him and he has officially lost the room. I believe it is time for a change, a new voice and to let the stars on this team control the room. Enough is enough and in 4 years there has not seemed to be any further improvement regardless of how many players people believe he is missing on this team. They had enough to beat the Bruins and wasted a major opportunity. If the Leafs moved on, the majority of the top teams in the league have already been eliminated and sure the Stanley Cup is no cake walk but it surely would have been a little softer if you’re playing Columbus versus playing Tampa Bay. Time to make a change, with the new GM in Dubas he needs to take control and hire the coach he wants in charge and who will be able to get more out of this team filled with talent.
A coaching change may help these young kids mature. For the record, the leading scorer for the team is Auston Matthews, who is only 21. Majority of the stars on this team are barely in their mid twenties. Maturity is still a factor on this team and most people can relate that at 21 maybe you still were not mature, and your mind is arguably elsewhere, not saying that this is why they lost the series, but it could be part of it. These players and this team still have much to learn and can still grow and I think the team needs to be put into their hands for it to get to the point that players can properly carry themselves on and off the ice and arguably most nights the coach is irrelevant or not noticed.
Freddy where did you go? Andersen is now 0-4 in game 7s and is making a case to be a goalie that can keep you in it but can’t steal a series. Two of the three goals Boston put past him in game 7 should be routine saves, you can’t let those pucks in. Sure he may have kept them in it the rest of the way but by that point all the Leafs energy was gone. Andersen is a great goalie but seems to slightly disappear in make or break situations, specifically in game 7s.
Leafs fans have every reason to be upset with this series loss, the ticket prices keep increasing but the product on the ice has remained the same and ends with the same result. Some of the most passionate fans in the league that pay ridiculous prices to get into the building and on beer and even stand in the cold to watch the game on a big tv that they can easily do at home. It leads to pure frustration for the entire fanbase and I hope ownership from the top down actually listen and make the moves that properly put this team over the top. Players are asking for more money and big deals but as of yet, the results stay the same. 3rd place in the division and first round exits (even without blowing a 3rd period lead this season) are not good enough anymore. This season in my opinion is a failure for this team with the amount of talent they have and depth they have up and down the roster and owning a 3-2 series lead should have beat the Bruins. Sure, building a team isn’t easy but they seemed to have played better in the playoffs two years ago than they did this season. There should be no more excuses; this team needs to bring in real defensemen and make this team play real hockey, a complete 200-foot game.
In my opinion this roster is going to have some big changes coming towards the draft especially without a 1st round pick (traded to LA for Muzzin). Gardiner, Hainsey, Marincin, Ennis, and Hutchinson are all UFAs this offseason and Marner, Kapanen, Johnsson, and Ozhiganov are all RFA. Not all those players will remain on the roster come next season nor should all be included on this team for the 2020 campaign. There will be many moves coming in this offseason and I hope the Leafs and Dubas make proper moves to improve and steady this team and not just blow the doors off because they had another first round exit to the Boston Bruins or build a team just to beat one specific team. Many GMs have tried and lost that type of battle. Even aside from the free agents I believe Kadri has played his last game for the Maple Leafs, two years in a row he took himself out of a series and changed the whole outlook of the depth they had and I think it is time to move on from a player that is affecting the entire team with bone head plays and ridiculous hits. I understand playoffs and emotion, but you still need composure to win a Stanley Cup.
52 years…the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup. Toronto is known as the centre of the hockey universe and someone needs to get this team to play like it. As the saying goes I guess…There’s always next year right?