March 27, 2023
4 paths the Maple Leafs can take after a tough start to the season

4 paths the Maple Leafs can take after a tough start to the season

Since the 1960s, adventurers around the world have made bad trips to California.

After losing four straight games, including three in California, the Toronto Maple Leafs are feeling dizzy and need to reevaluate their entire situation.

Toronto reached a new break point after losing 3-4 in overtime to the modest Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, squandering a 3-1 lead in the process. After six straight first-round playoff losses, there are widespread calls for major organizational changes that could include the firing of head coach Sheldon Keefe or general manager Kyle Dubas.

Toronto is a market that spurs a million takes even on a weak news day, and with the Maple Leafs hitting a 4-4-2 record in the easiest part of their schedule, it’s time to explore all the options the team has can take. We consider it a form of group therapy if you wish!

The Maple Leafs are reeling after a tough road trip. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Fire Sheldon Keefe

Keefe has been behind the bench since November 2019, taking over from Mike Babcock, who was fired after the team stumbled out of goal. History repeats itself in an odd way, but the circumstances are different: Babcock was initially praised for his ability to set up a young team, but he eventually faded and his sophisticated, old-fashioned ways of dealing with his players came under fire .

Keefe, who had an extensive track record in player development with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, was considered the right man for the job. He is still very popular in the organization, but the patience of the fanbase is running out.

It would certainly be a bad time for the Maple Leafs to fire Keefe. Available last summer were Bruce Cassidy, Peter DeBoer, and Jim Montgomery, who all have the resume and pedigree to gain credibility on the list while placating the fan base. Of course, we don’t just want to reuse the same list of 40 men who keep being considered, and the Maple Leafs could have used this as an opportunity to explore alternative options and rising stars in the industry.

Barrydiot is available and recently spoke about his interest in leading an Original Six team. Despite said no decision would be made immediately and he appears to be enjoying a brief hiatus from coaching after being inexplicably dumped by the New York Islanders last spring. Defiant is the NHL’s premier defensive specialist and would overtake Toronto’s tendency to play a dangerous run-and-gun style of play. He is the third-winning coach in NHL history. Despite being a notable improvement over Keefe, it’s just a question of whether he wants the job if Keefe is fired.

There are stylistic reasons why Keefe can be dismissed. Under his supervision, the Maple Leafs have been a terrific team throughout the regular season, but they’re still prone to defensive errors, and the errors have escalated to outright defensive negligence in the first 10 games of this year. Auston Matthews is nowhere near the pace needed to score 60 again, and Toronto’s powerful top-six forwards appear to be stagnant, with the team’s overall possession numbers suggesting they’re playing at a league-average rate. average is not good enough.

There’s also a practical consideration: If the Maple Leafs are looking for immediate impact, a change in coach rather than general manager would accelerate the path to immediate results. Keefe may get the ax instead of Dubas, though it could be argued that both are equally responsible for the chaos the Maple Leafs find themselves in.

Fire Kyle Dubas

As part of our season preview, I wrote about how Kyle Dubas faces the ultimate referendum entering the seventh year of the Matthews-Mitch Marner era. October is now drawing to a close and the proverbial vote on Dubas could be brought forward.

Toronto’s struggles are a direct reflection of Dubas’. He built the current roster in his own face, choosing speed and skill above all else and dismissing the notion that the Maple Leafs would require more guts or determination to ultimately get through the first round and beyond. Dubas has been criticized for his approach to roster building, particularly the idea of ​​paying his stars top-notch money and padding the roster with minimum veteran offerings.

Dubas is almost certainly hyper-aware of all calls for his job. The traveling media contingent, flying to California to cover Toronto’s road conditions, asked Dubas to brief reporters on the team’s condition. Maple Leafs public relations denied the request, stating that his media appearances were generally planned well in advance. In itself fair game. Let’s call it what it is: The Maple Leafs — and Dubas more broadly — surely need to know they’re the top story in the league, and questions about the team’s future won’t let up unless it comes to a sudden winning streak.

Originally hailed as one of the early adopters of analytics, the rest of the league has caught up and adopted Dubas’ data-driven style of decision-making. And when you’re building a roster as talented as the Maple Leafs that consistently underperforms when compared to expectations, there must be a degree of guilt.

Maple Leafs assistant general manager Hayley Wickenheiser is poised for a promotion, and an internal option could certainly make the uncomfortable decision to fire Dubas a little easier to digest.

Swap one of the stars

Toronto’s core consists of the reigning Hart Trophy winner in Matthews, star forwards Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander, and veteran defensemen Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie and Jake Muzzin. Let’s start at the top: Matthews is the single player who cannot and should not be traded under any circumstances.

Muzzin is currently on Long-Term Injury Reserve (LTIR) with a neck injury, freeing $5.625 million from Toronto’s LTIR pool. There was no clever internal solution to accommodate Muzzin’s minutes – Justin Holl in particular is struggling miserably without his normal partner – and the team are said to be interested in chasing down Arizona Coyotes’ star defender Jakob Chychrun, 24, as a left-hander with a booming one shot and a checkered injury history of his own.

Pursuing Chychrun without trading any of the core members seems like the Maple Leafs’ optimal solution, but it would likely require a first-round pick, a top prospect like Nick Robertson or Matthew Knies, and a promising, young established NHL player like Rasmus Sandin. Will you brave the future to save what’s left of the present?

As for extracting value from the rest of the core, it’s also difficult. Marner has capped at $10.93 million through 2024-25 and, more specifically, also built in a no-movement clause. Though he often faces blunt criticism that most players of his caliber avoid, Marner wants a lifelong member of his childhood club and it seems inscrutable that he would forgo his NMC. There doesn’t seem to be a clear hypothetical trade in the mix, either, given Marner’s contract status and value as a league top-20 player: Matthew Tkachuk was just dealt to the Florida Panthers, and the Colorado Avalanche certainly wouldn’t trade Mikko Rantanen for Toronto’s star playmaker.

Nylander’s cap hit is close to $7 million, which is a steal for the Maple Leafs. There’s no reason they’d trade him unless it would also be for a player entering their prime with a deal below market or a bunch of first-round picks if they decide to add some future flexibility . Tavares was arguably Toronto’s top player earlier in the year, but he’s 32 and it’s unlikely the Maple Leafs can find someone to replicate his immediate worth.

Despite struggling earlier in the year, the Leafs seem unlikely to unravel their top defensive pairing Rielly-Brodie, particularly with the defensive corps on the move from injuries to Muzzin and Timothy Liljegren. Sending a trade would be so easy in theory, but figuring out who the next pieces might be is easier said than done.

Stay the course

No one would blame you for starting to boo here, but maybe pushing it back is the best course of action?

Benched on Sunday after a string of errors that resulted in two Ducks goals, Marner was among the star players picked by Keefe for underperforming earlier in the year. And yet he doesn’t take it personally. Marner prepared for a us-versus-the-world complex after Sunday’s game.

“We started a lot worse last year and everyone was trying to wreck our brains,” Marner said after the game on Sunday. “That won’t happen to us. We have to go home now. It is time to regroup.”

Toronto’s stars — with the exception of Tavares and Nylander — just weren’t good enough to start the year. However, there’s plenty of room for optimism about Matthews: He leads the NHL in shots and penalties taken 5-on-5 while he ranks second in individual expected goals and chances per natural stat trick. Matthews is about to face a Vesuvius eruption and the Maple Leafs should wisely follow his lead.

There’s plenty of animosity towards a core group that’s been ablaze in six straight first-round series. We’re also talking about a group that has won at least 57 percent of their regular-season games, lost to the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games last season, along with two heartbreaking losses in seven games at the hands of an equal Bruins side.

We don’t try to make excuses for Toronto’s core, and the collective apathy, anger, despair and indifference are all valid. But it’s worth remembering that it’s only been 10 games and it might be wise to exercise patience.

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