March 20, 2023
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TRAIKOS: From firing the carriage to firing the GM, here are five ways to fix the Maple Leafs

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You should fire the coach. Or the manager. Or make a trade. Or put the lines back into the blender.

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Something has to back down after the Toronto Maple Leafs returned home from an ugly road trip that saw them lose four of five games to some of the NHL’s worst teams. Nothing is working for her right now. The stars aren’t producing like they’re supposed to, the defense are allowing far too many chances and the goalies aren’t saving them like they used to.

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When you add it up, it’s not surprising that the Leafs are starting 4-4-2. And while it’s not the end of the world, it also doesn’t point to a team that started the season as top contenders for the Stanley Cup.

Here are five ways to fix the problems:

1. Fire the trainer

This is one of the simplest fixes the leaves can make. And the reason has less to do with Sheldon Keefe sounding like he lost the team and more to do with who’s out there waiting for a call. Yes, we’re talking about Barry Defiance. The 60-year-old veteran coach is everything the Leafs need right now: he’s structured, he’s respected and he knows how to turn a high-flying offensive team into a championship contender. The only problem is that the sacking of the coach blames Keefe for everything that went wrong. That is not right. Still, look around the league and you’ll find plenty of examples where a new voice behind the bench (Philadelphia, Boston and Vegas to name a few) has produced positive results.

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2. Fire the GM

Talk to fans and that’s the change they want. And for a good reason. In five years on the job, GM Kyle Dubas hasn’t built a championship team. He hasn’t even built a team that can win a playoff round. And with so much money stuck in so few players, it’s arguable that things are getting worse – not better. The Leafs lack depth up front, in defense and at net. That’s more down to Dubas than Keefe or the players. The problem is that changing GMs mid-season isn’t easy. Just ask the Oilers or Canucks. As a replacement, you could turn to GM’s former assistant, Mark Hunter, who was ousted when the team promoted Dubas. Or perhaps let President Brendan Shanahan call the shots until someone more permanent can step in.

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3. Make a trade

With Jake Muzzin out indefinitely and Timothy Liljegren and Jordie Benn still with injuries that could keep them out for about a week, the Leafs’ defense doesn’t meet NHL standards. Justin Holl looks totally lost out there. Mark Giordano looks old and slow. And Rasmus Sandin looks like he’s going through the typical ups and downs of someone who hasn’t played 100 games. Toronto needs a top 4 defender – maybe two of them. And the only way to get them is through a trade. That could mean packing a squad player like Alex Kerfoot or Nick Robertson to Arizona for Jakob Chychrun or Anaheim for John Klingberg. The way the defense has let them down, Toronto could use both.

4. Switch the lines

It’s time to break up Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. While the two forwards have worked well together in the past, they just don’t get the job done at the moment. And it has more to do with Marner, who was benched for a couple of shifts against the Ducks on Sunday, than it does with Matthews. An easy way is to bring William Nylander back to Matthews and bring Marner to John Tavares in a line. It’s a familiar spot for all four players who played this way under Mike Babcock in 2018/19. That year, Marner had 94 points, Tavares had 47 goals, and Matthews averaged 1.07 points per game. Not bad considering this was also the year Nylander went AWOL with just seven goals and 27 points in 54 games.

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5. Do nothing

The Leafs, who have lost four straight games, start the season 4-4-2. It’s bad. But it’s not terrible. Last year the team also went 4-4-2 and ended up with 115 points. A win against Philadelphia on Wednesday would put them back in a playoff spot. Most of their problems are self-inflicted and could be fixed once Matthews and Marner start producing the way they’re supposed to. Or as soon as part of the defense becomes healthy. Or once they regain their confidence. After all, this team is still far too talented to be a .500 team. You just have to start showing it consistently – for 60 minutes.

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