Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Team Failure, Need for Mean & Ceci

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the fall out from the organization’s media interviews yesterday on the state of the franchise and comment about what might happen going forward. That look includes a poll where more than 27,000 fans responded to what they believe the organization should do after the most recent failure to advance past the first playoff round.

Related: Deconstructing Dubas: How The 2020-21 Toronto Maple Leafs Were Built

I’ll also look at what Elliotte Friedman believes the team needs to go over the hump – a mean as dirt presence who can play top-six minutes. Finally, I’ll look at what’s happened to Cody Ceci and how he’s doing this postseason with his new team the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers, by the way, advanced to the second round of the playoffs and play in the Battle of Alberta against the Calgary Flames later today.

Item One: The Biggest Question Facing the Maple Leafs

The biggest question facing the Maple Leafs organization is whether the 2021-22 NHL season was a failure or whether it was a step closer to the goal. Yesterday, in their media conference, Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, general manager Kyle Dubas, and head coach Sheldon Keefe were all outwardly united and on the same page. 

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There would be no big change in the organization’s management and its philosophy. And, while the team didn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs (again), the belief was that improvements were made and team would be staying the course. No big changes.

Sign up for our regular 'Maple Leafs Newsletter' for all the latest.

An article written by Sportsnet’s Luke Fox later yesterday included a Twitter poll that he had put out after the media conference yesterday. As he said, the goal was to see who the fans thought was at fault and who should be made to “pay for another long golf season.” He got a high response, which suggests that fans care. But, to me it was a surprise that more than two-thirds of the 27,200 Maple Leafs’ fans who responded (66.9 percent) are happy to run this core back with minor changes on the fringes.

In his recent 32 Thoughts post where he talked about the Maple Leafs fallout, Elliotte Friedman noted that he should be (initially) counted in to the group of people who believed “this was not a massive failure for Toronto. Some of their previous losses (the second one to Boston, Columbus, Montreal) were much more egregious than a hard-fought, seven-game, one-goal loss to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. A lot of their (Maple Leafs) players improved, with career-best seasons. Even if the Lightning looked beatable, they are still the Lightning, with an indomitable will and several future Hall-of-Famers.”

Item Two: The Maple Leafs’ Need for Mean

In that same 32 Thoughts post, Friedman noted that, over the years, the Maple Leafs had brought in several veterans to “prod the youth.” He noted Kyle Clifford, Mark Giordano, Ron Hainsey, Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, and Joe Thornton among them. In fact, creating a winning culture was a key element of the so-called Shanaplan. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Shanahan Re-Signed: The History of the Shanaplan

As Friedman noted, he’s heard younger players on the Maple Leafs talk at length about how much they’ve learned from these veterans. However, Friedman suggests that one “kind” of player who has not been brought into the roster has been “an experienced, nasty piece of work who can play top-six forward minutes with their core four. An absolute (fill-in-the-blank with your adjective of choice).”  

Tom Wilson Washington Capitals
Tom Wilson, of the Washington Capitals, the definition of big and nasty
(Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Friedman suggested that those players are hard to find, but he believed they were a priority for a winning team. 

Item Three: Cody Ceci Has Become a Top-Flight Defenseman

Don’t look now, but the much-maligned when he was in Toronto Cody Ceci has turned into a first-pairing defenseman with the Edmonton Oilers. In fact, he was one of the key players in leading his team to a first-round win over the surprisingly tough Los Angeles Kings. 

Related: 4 Maple Leafs Unlikely to Return Next Season

In the Oilers’ 2-0 Game 7 win over the Los Angeles Kings, Ceci broke a scoreless deadlock by scoring a goal on a nice pass from Connor McDavid at 13:15 of the second period. It was Ceci’s first goal of the playoffs, but he did register five assists in seven playoff games. That’s not the Ceci fans remember in Toronto.

Cody Ceci Edmonton Oilers
Cody Ceci, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 28-year-old Ceci has turned into one of the most reliable of the Oilers’ defensemen. During the playoffs, he’s also added 12 blocked shots and has a plus-8 rating playing top-four minutes.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

My interest over the offseason is to see what big moves Dubas will make. I can’t possibly know what he’s like, but I have a sense that he’s highly competitive and he takes losing as hard – or harder – than many of his players. He’s an intelligent guy and his intelligence is being challenged by this team. 

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: Dubas’ Future, Player Pride & Physicality

I would guess that Dubas wants to have a legacy of NHL success. (I would if I were him.) Dubas has another year left on his contract. He has a lot to prove and I think he’s going to go all in. I’d look for something big coming down the tracks. He might move in ways we haven’t seen him move before. He doesn’t have a lot of draft capital, but he has a ton of solid prospects. I’m betting they all won’t be here come training camp.

I predict that, yesterday’s media conversation or not, something big is coming this offseason.