The Toronto Maple Leafs have not been this close to a Stanley Cup in more than 50 years. Unlike past seasons, they are not travelling all over North America battling 30 other teams, scratching for every point to earn a playoff berth. No, the Leafs play the same six Canadian teams and will only have to beat two more teams to win the Cup. The path is a different one from years gone past, but the plan has stayed the same, and it could cost Toronto the best chance at a championship in recent memory.
You read it right; there are only eight teams between the Leafs and the Holy Grail of hockey. This team is essentially already in the second round of the playoffs. Toronto only plays six teams in the North Division. Before hitting a recent rut, the Maple Leafs proved they are the juggernaut in the division. When playing their best, they can handle anything; just look at what happened in Edmonton. Once they are clear of the North, they will be in the final four, meaning there would be just two teams left to beat.
Changing World Needs a Change of Plan
When Leafs’ President Brendan Shanahan implemented the Shanaplan years ago, the goal was to build a successful franchise that would be strong for years, not just one season. Kyle Dubas recently reminded reporters (and fans) of that plan when asked about the trade deadline. “I know there’s a lot of talk about winning a playoff round or bust or winning the Stanley Cup or bust,” said the general manager. “I think those can be very day-to-day type endeavours. I think, especially in this role, it has to be more long-term and can’t get caught up in how the short-run results impact that. It’s about trying to build a program that can be a team that has a high level of performance every single year.”
A documentary film crew has been following the Maple Leafs since training camp. It’s for the next Amazon Prime installment of the “All or Nothing” docuseries. Dubas did say he would trade a top prospect, but he doesn’t seem to be following the Amazon script, “It’s so hard, I think, in any sport to look at it and say that it’s X or bust.”
When the Shanaplan was introduced, it was welcomed by Leafs Nation; after years of just making or missing the playoffs, there was a road map to success. Three early playoff exits later, and that patience is wearing thin. Add to that is the fact the entire world has changed since the Shanaplan was rolled out. The pandemic altered a lot of things, including the NHL. The Maple Leafs must alter their course as well.
Dubas Not Concerned With “Outside” Objectives
Dubas is well aware of the situation but says that pressure is not inside the organization. “I know that people on the outside and media and others, and I totally understand why (they) have something in mind for what they expect from the group. That’s part of doing the job here, and I completely understand that and accept it. But I think for me, in this position, my focus has to be on the long run and building a program that can reach our objective,” said Dubas.
The future has never been more uncertain. The last year has shown us that anything can happen. Outside of the sports world, new variants of COVID-19 are spreading and causing more concern. It’s possible we could be impacted again. From a league perspective, the cap is flat; an expansion team comes next season and knows what else is on the horizon. Make no mistake, the time is now for the Maple Leafs and the organization should treat it as an all-or-nothing situation.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.