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Better effort but same result for Leafs signals time for change; OTP Radio

May 15, 2022, 2:31 PM ET [524 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The NHL moves to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs early next week and for every season in the salary cap era, it will go forward without the Toronto Maple Leafs. In spite of a hard-fought effort in their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Leafs could not close out two-time Stanley Cup Champions, losing in overtime in Game 6 and 2-1 in Game 7 at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday, leaving the same questions about the future direction of the franchise after another early exit.

While Toronto had the best regular-season record in franchise history, and star players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner had career years, from the very outset of the campaign the narrative was getting back to the playoffs and coming up with a different result than the five previous seasons with this core group.

That did not happen.

You can point to players like Jake Gardiner or the failures of Frederik Andersen in 2018 and 2019, the injury to John Tavares leaving the club short-handed against Montreal, or how unfair the current playoff format is that Toronto was matched up against a confident and playoff-tested Tampa squad, but excuses are for those who do not achieve victory.

Had Toronto faced Montreal with the club that made the playoffs this season, they likely would have been victorious, but that is not how things work. The Leafs were a better team, a more complete team this season, but still do not display the same multi-dimensional makeup that teams who have playoff success possess, or the ability to come through when it counts.

"It (doesn't feel different) right now, because the feeling is the same, the outcome is the same." Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said after the loss. "Whether or not there's differences or more positives or whatever, it's going to take some time to figure that out. Ultimately the outcome is the same, which is very disappointing."

As with every loss, there were individual aspects that contributed to their demise, such as Justin Holl’s interference penalty negating John Tavares goal in Game 7 and being caught out of position on Brayden Point’s OT winner in Game 6, but unlike last season, the star players like Matthews and Marner did show up.

There will be plenty of time for a detailed post-mortem of the club and what may happen going forward, including the future of UFA’s Colin Blackwell, Ilya Mikheyev, Ilya Lyubushkin, Jason Spezza, and Jack Campbell. Based on the chatter around the club in recent days, GM Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe are not in danger but is hard to imagine that Team President Brendan Shanahan and Dubas can get away with another full-throated defense of the core group that has won nothing.

That is not to say that the Leafs hierarchy will come out and promise wholesale changes to weaken their position this summer, but they have to realize that the patience of their fanbase is wearing thin and that a bold move or moves are well overdue.


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