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In this edition of the hotstove, we share our thoughts on what the Toronto Maple Leafs should do following *another* disappointing 1st round exit.
I know frustration is at an all-time high – understandably so – but I don’t think Kyle Dubas should panic and make sweeping changes to the core of the roster. The outside? 100%. But probably not the core. You’re just not going to get equal value in a trade.
Realistically speaking, most teams would kill to have Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander on their roster. Getting stars like that is the hardest part. Dubas and co. need to do a better job of surrounding them.
Dubas caved and bought into the grit/leadership hype after a few years of failure. He traded a 1st round pick for Nick Foligno and signed the likes of Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian. The problem is none of those guys move the needle. At all. Foligno was hurt, sure, but he’s maybe worth 1% in win probability on any given night. They didn’t provide secondary scoring, and that’s what Toronto was desperate for.
Do Marner and Matthews need to be more productive? Absolutely. I’m not giving them a free pass. They weren’t facing the ‘03 Devils so more production should be expected, for sure. But even if they were playing well, they’re not going to find the scoresheet every night. And Toronto didn’t have enough support to step up when those guys failed to produce.
After Tavares went down with injury, it was all on Matthews/Marner/Nylander because the bottom-6 was almost entirely dead weight. That’s the biggest concern, in my opinion.
Yeah, the Leafs can’t afford to sign Craig Smith-types. But players like Valeri Nichushkin (for 2019-20), Corey Perry, Erik Haula, and Nick Cousins are available cheap every single year. The Leafs need more of those guys. They’ll bring some of the grit everyone always talks about but, you know, they can also produce some offense.
They need that badly. I mean, let's zoom out and look at this series again. Brendan Gallagher had one point. Josh Anderson, Montreal’s most expensive forward, had one point. Tomas Tatar, their 2nd highest paid forward, was routinely scratched. They didn’t get much from the top of their roster and still won.
Joel Armia (2.6M) had a multi-goal game. Eric Staal ($1.625M on Montreal’s cap) had four points. Corey Perry (850K) came up with some big goals. That was the difference.
Montreal’s depth – even cheap players – stepped up while most of Toronto’s (Foligno, Simmonds, Thornton, Ilya Mikheyev) tossed up 1s and 0s.
Trim the fat and find better depth. It's as simple as that.
I'm not going to lie, part of me would have loved to sit here and type about how Toronto needs to trade Matthews before he demands a trade or see what they can get for Mitch Marner before his value completely plummets... just to drive the knife in a bit deeper into the backs of Leafs fans.
All that being said I have to give my honest opinion; that as much as this loss is devastating for the Leafs organization and fans, they absolutely should not be looking to make wholesale changes. Toronto dominated the Canadiens in almost every game in terms of scoring chances and xGF%. The biggest factors that played against Toronto's favour were Carey Price, and some unfortunate poor Sh% from the likes of Marner and Matthews. I know a number of Leafs fans are ready to ship Marner out after another playoff no show but this is a 24 year old elite player. If you trade Marner you're going to spend the next decade looking for the next Marner.
So where to go from here? The only big move I could see Toronto making is firing Keefe if they feel he is responsible for the lack of offense from the team. This is a talented young core and they should stay together. The only thing that becomes more difficult now is dealing with the cap. Toronto has about 12 million in cap space but will need to fill out a number of spots on the roster. Players like Zach Hyman and Alex Galchenyuk may want to test the free agency waters and be out of the Leafs price range. Replacing those guys with limited cap and few draft picks could prove difficult.
This was Toronto's best chance at making it to the Finals and they fell far short. It sucks but panic is not the best option for the organization moving forward.