How far do the Maple Leafs have to go this season to prevent serious changes?
The Toronto Maple Leafs currently hold the longest Stanley Cup drought in NHL history at 54 years and counting. They last lifted Lord Stanley’s Trophy overhead in 1967. Prior to that, the New York Rangers ended it after 53 seasons in 1994.
Over the last few years, they have gone out and added plenty of big name stars either in or past their prime. Yet, not only does the Cup elude them, but playoff success in general.
This past season, playing in a weak North Division they finished first. However, the Leafs blew a 3-1 series lead against the 4th seed Montreal Canadiens. It was a shocking collapse and it has the players and management on notice.
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Toronto Maple Leafs Management know change could come soon
Kyle Dubas is considered one of the game’s best executives. The fact that he’s just 35 years-old and the youngest active GM in the NHL is even more impressive.
Since taking over for Lou Lamoriello as the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs in May of 2018, his teams have gone 117-67-24. That’s good for the 8th best record in the league over the last three seasons.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, they are just 8-11 in the playoffs over that same span. That was capped with a first round exit against the Montreal Canadiens. Which has some fans wondering how Dubas is still around?
This season, Dubas knows another quick ouster could mean his job.
“I think it’s certainly fair to say that if there aren’t changes to our performance in the end that there will be changes to the organization,” Dubas told Bob McCown on his podcast this offseason. “That comes with the territory in operating in a market like this and operating with a team that hasn’t reached its potential in the playoffs.”
Team President, Brendan Shanahan was also asked about the future. His response acknowledged but also seemed to downplay the precariousness of the situation.
“I’ve felt pressure from Day 1 on the job. I welcome pressure.” Shanahan told the Toronto Sun. “There’s never been a time in any job I’ve ever had where I didn’t feel pressure. I’m attracted to jobs with pressure. I don’t think I’d like to have a job without pressure and urgency. You can look back now, three-four years ago, when we were building things up, you felt that urgency every day. I still feel it. It’s part of the job.”
The Core Four must deliver
The Leafs will be banking on their core four of John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander more than ever this season. That’s because some key players are no longer with the club.
Zach Hyman’s departure via free-agency to the Oilers was a big hit, and replacing him with Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase isn’t going to help. The Leafs are going to bank on Ilya Mikheyev to step up a play a more prominent role and will need him to produce.
However, the biggest hole could be in goal with Frederik Andersen signing with the Carolina Hurricanes. Hoping Jack Campbell can be an everyday #1 goalie and adding Petr Mrazek for insurance could spell disaster for Toronto.
“I think it’s certainly fair to ponder [changes], and especially given the fact that we’re going to return the same core group, which I have great belief in,” Dubas said via NHL.com. “If I didn’t have belief in it, knowing the consequences to the team, we wouldn’t have returned it.”
The players themselves are pretty sick of it too. Heading into the new season, even Shanahan wanted to reassure fans everyone feels their pain.
“The feeling the fans have exists within our players and our dressing room,” Shanahan said. “There is an anger, even at themselves, and anger might be the wrong word, but there is a sort of determination to get the job done. That’s what I feel heading into camp.”
So what will it take to avoid big changes?
Change is inevitable, but what will it take for this current cast of Maple Leafs to avoid major turnover?
A Stanley Cup will be the only thing that would keep everyone’s job safe. One thing is certain, missing the playoffs or another first round exit will cost both Shanahan and Dubas their jobs.
There is just no way ownership can go forward with them should playoff futility continue this season.
Same goes for the players. Aside from Matthews and Tavares, no one on the club would be safe from a trade. Matter of fact, if the team were to fall in the second or third round, I could easily see a player like Nylander or to a lesser extent, Marner moved.
Ultimately, it really is going to likely be Stanley Cup or bust for the 2021-22 Maple Leafs to avoid serious changes.