Maple Leafs: After Another Tough Exit, What Comes Next?

The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs are rolling on, but the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t playing which means much of the talk in hockey is about why the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t playing.

If you’ve been anywhere near the various media outlets over the last few days, you know much toner has been leaked in post-mortems, interviews, pull quotes, and fragments in order to determine exactly what went wrong ­this time.

This time.

Expectations are high for the Maple Leafs because this is supposed to be the sort of team that wins it all. But what is that based on?

Talent? Without a doubt, the Maple Leafs have an incredible amount of that. They’ve paid for it, with $57 million committed to the forwards this season and a slew of bonus-heavy contracts set up to pinch everyone into the salary cap range. $20 million was on tap for D this season, but that’ll drop about six mill next season.

But talent alone doesn’t win championships or close out important games, as we all know. Defence and goaltending are vital to building winners, but this group is zero-for-four in elimination series. You don’t have to look further than the Leafs’ third game against Columbus, where a three-goal lead turned into a loss.

It’s easy – and more fun – to talk about the great, big comeback in Game Four, but that only delayed the inevitable. The Blue Jackets were better, and the Blue Jackets are still playing hockey.

Toronto has gone all-in the last three seasons, rolled through two GMs and two coaches, and come out with that zero-for-four stat. In part, that’s because their best players can be a little tough to pin down. There’s Auston Matthews and John Tavares, two untouchables who show up and create opportunities and score goals.

But then there’s Mitch Marner, dubious in the Columbus series and generating plenty of buzz in Toronto for all the wrong reasons. General manager Kyle Dubas went to bat for his player and rightly so, but that doesn’t nullify the fact that there are fair questions about his young star.

There are, of course, fair questions about everything.

Toronto has to consider Frederik Andersen, for example. He’s a year removed from UFA status, but he stole some games and played really well against the Blue Jackets. On many nights, Andersen was the only reason Toronto ensured a W.

And without adequate defensive support, it’s hard to blame him for the losses when they do come. Every goalie coughs up a bad angle goal, but Andersen’s been mostly reliable. Moving on from him may be a matter of necessity, but it’s not advisable to make a goalie move the first play out of the gate.

Something does have to change in Toronto if they’re going to enjoy any real success. This team can’t keep riding on the idea they should win and it’s time for the press, fanbase, and commentators to treat this team accordingly. Talent alone doesn’t hoist the Stanley Cup at the end of the year, whenever that is. And there certainly is more to the fine art of winning it all than signing good-to-great players.

Image: Getty

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